September 18th, 2020


Hillary And The Media: No Mutual Admiration, But Mutually Beneficial?

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published July 10, 2015

Right after the airing of Hillary Clinton's interview with CNN — her first sit-down with a national news network since she launched her presidential effort — I fired off this op-ed.

What I can't understand: why a candidate who stands to benefit enormously from a bow-wave of sympathetic media coverage a year from now, seems to delight in messing with the same Fourth Estate that, consciously or subconsciously she'd have to admit, might be the difference in getting her over the top next November.

Figure it this way: in March, Mrs. Clinton went out of her to way to court the media — well, at least telling them what they wanted to hear. At an event honoring the late New York Times reporter Robin Toner, and in front of an audience of D.C. reporters, she had this to say: "I am all about new beginnings. A new grandchild, another new hairstyle, a new e-mail account. The relationship with the press. So here goes: no more secrecy. No more zone of privacy. After all, what good did that do me?" What came next, after she started making the rounds on the campaign trail: almost a month of ignoring the media in attendance, until the candidate took six questions at an Iowa event.

And after that: more ignoring of the national media until, finally, Tuesday's sit-down with Brianna Kellar.

So how to explain what's going on here?

I believe three things are at work:

1) The lack of real competition in the Democratic primaries. Yes, Bernie Sanders is drawing attention. Then again, he's not the same long-term threat to Mrs. Clinton as was Barack Obama. Simply put: in 2015, she doesn't have to work as hard to work the press so as to hold on to supporters and keep donors calm. So, at times, Mrs. Clinton will engage with reporters; at other times, she'll keep the press at arms's length until enough pressure builds to get close again. Engage. Disengage. Re-engage.

2) Banking on the media to take care of her when it counts — which would be after the national conventions. Which is the more likely scenario for media overkill between now and Election Day: nominee Clinton going out of her to placate the left wing of her party; Republican nominee-to-be-named potentially alienating moderates? Perhaps the Clinton calculation is as cynically simple as this: no matter what differences reporters have with her and her campaign tactics, the odds are they'll like the GOP alternative even less come deciding time.

3) The Clintons' media paranoia. Let's assume some wounds last longer than others — Gennifer Flowers, Whitewater, Vince Foster, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky. And in 2015: her email server; his willingness to chase a sleazy buck. Legitimate stories all. But, in some cases and in the Clintons' eyes: invasions of their privacy. Let's assume that, after nearly a quarter of a nagging media trying to get a straight story out of Bill & Hillary (never, it seems, on the first try), the Clintons' think the press are out to get them. Btw. the Clinton's aren't the only prominent Democrats with a Nixonian view of the reporters who cover them.

The funny thing is: on paper, at least, this should be a marriage of convenience. Political reporters love to have front row to history (better story replacement, book deals, speaking honoraria). Mrs. Clinton offers both history (cracking the political glass ceiling) and a compelling biography (daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, fighter, survivor. etc.).

For now, Hillary Clinton and the media hardly constitute a mutual-admiration society. Perhaps, at some point, her handlers will convince her that the relationship that could be mutually beneficial.

But if Mrs. Clinton's campaign continues to run hot and cold with the press — sit-down interviews, goat ropes at public events -will reporters play along and give her the same fawning coverage they afforded then-candidate Obama back in 2008?

Call it the love-hate relationship of 2016: the Clinton campaign hates the media, but must love the thought of reporters carrying her water when it counts the most.

07/08/15: The Sixties . . . In 2016?
07/03/15: Four 4th Observations
07/02/15: Should Jeb Play A Trump Card?
07/01/15: Christie Almighty?
06/15/15: Did Hillary Flunk A History Lesson?
06/11/15: Thursday Candidates Quiz
06/10/15: First Best Second Choice
06/08/15: Game of Inches
06/03/15: The Power Of Narrative Politics
06/01/15: Sorting The Republicans' 2016 Kingdom
05/28/15: To Command Without Having Served
05/21/15: 2016: Do Looks Matter?
05/15/15: John Bolton's Swan Song

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: “The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain.” During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.

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