Amy Chozick is a reporter who covers the Clintons – and the run-up to the now almost inevitable presidential bid by Hillary Clinton. What had appeared an enviable assignment for The New York Times changed this week, when a press aide for the Clinton Global Initiative followed her into a ladies’ lavatory.
Ms Chozick described a “friendly 20-something press aide… tasked with escorting me to the restroom”. She added: “She waited outside the stall in the ladies’ room at the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference is held each year… An escort is required wherever we go, lest one of us with our yellow press badges wind up somewhere where attendants with an esteemed blue badge are milling around.”
The strictures on the press at the Clinton Global Initiative are the stuff of legend, but the episode also reflects the dark and, frankly, paranoid view the Clintons have towards the national media. Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.
“If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline,” Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University in April. “And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, everything that happens, into the storyline, even if it’s not the story.”
That view, according to Politico magazine’s Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, informs and impacts the Clintons’ thinking on a 2016 bid. They wrote: “As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, [Clinton sources] told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.”
It also colours how the media are treated. While Ms Chozick’s experience may be on the extreme end of the spectrum, reporters who have spent any time with the Clintons describe a candidate and an operation that always assumes the worst of the press horde and acts accordingly.
In theory, Hillary would be a candidate who needs the political press as little as any person seeking the presidency in modern memory. She is known by much of the electorate and, thanks to her massive national network and the spate of technological innovations over the past decade, can almost entirely avoid the media filter when she wants to communicate with supporters.
The media – as viewed by the couple – are, at best, a neutral factor and, much more often, a negative.
And yet, any objective analysis of the 2008 primary campaign would conclude that the remarkably adversarial relationship between the Clinton campaign and the media hurt her chances. The media and their relationship with her was far from the determining factor in the nomination fight. Barack Obama’s superior understanding of delegate allocation was.
But it’s hard to deny that the friction between Mrs Clinton, her campaign and the media didn’t help. Access was non-existent. Simple questions were routinely ignored or treated as adversarial.
Regardless of who was to blame, by the end of the campaign, reporters and the Clinton operation were at each others’ throats.
In the wake of that campaign – particularly as it became clear that Mrs Clinton was interested in running again – some of those in Clintonworld promised a different approach to the press in 2016.
They understood, they insisted, that while she was very well defined to most voters, there was a generation of younger people – who were a pillar of Obama’s electoral success – who knew little about the former Secretary of State other than her famous name, and would use media coverage of her to form their opinions.
The early returns on those pledges do not look so promising now. How a campaign deals with the media is a direct result of how the candidate views the media. And the Clintons have as dim a view of the political press as any modern politicians.
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