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“The Hunt For Clinton ‘Scandals'”: Newly Released Emails Reveal The Hillary You (Still) Don’t Know

With the release of the first batch of the thousands of emails that Hillary Clinton turned over to the State Department, what has America learned about the former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate?

Nothing voyeuristic or venal to thrill journalists ever on the hunt for Clinton “scandals” — but just a few things that voters might be learning for the first time, if all they know about her is what the mainstream media always tell them.

According to the New York Times – a “liberal” newspaper that no longer attempts to conceal its longstanding animus against the Clintons – this initial batch of 3,000-plus emails is “striking” in its “banality,” because so many of the messages from her early months as the nation’s third-ranking official deal with daily problems like scheduling, fax machines, and snow days at Foggy Bottom. Seeking to embarrass her whenever possible, the Times account leads with her apparent concern over possible press comment on a 2009 joint interview with her most notorious predecessor.

Evidently she fretted, for a few minutes at least, that her “distant” relationship with President Obama might be compared invidiously to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s leech-like fastening upon his old boss, Richard M. Nixon.

“In thinking about the Kissinger interview, the only issue I think that might be raised is that I see POTUS at least once a week while K saw Nixon every day,” noted Clinton in an email to aides, using the abbreviation for President of the United States. Then the woman who helped to impeach Nixon snarked: “Of course, if I were dealing w that POTUS I’d probably camp in his office to prevent him from doing something problematic.”

Like so many matters dredged up in her old emails, that fleeting anxiety has faded into oblivion. As for weightier decisions, declares Times reporter Peter Baker, those must have been discussed and debated on the telephone rather than via email, where she seemed “acutely aware that anything she wrote could someday be read by a wider audience.” (A strange observation in a newspaper where the working assumption is that she schemed to conceal her emails from public scrutiny forever, but never mind.)

Still, if these emails offer no hint of titillating scandal or slander, they cannot be said to offer no insight into America’s best-known female leader. While the Times grudgingly concedes that these messages reveal “hints of personality,” Time magazine found a woman in full – and someone whose very existence may surprise voters more familiar with the secretive, imperious, self-centered figure so often caricatured in American media over the past 25 years.

Time informs us that the “complex portrait” of Clinton emerging from the emails shows “a management style that is efficient under pressure and reflective in the late hours of the day,” with “bursts of thinking” that sometimes erupted during “sleepless nights circling the globe.” Nothing new there: Everyone knows she is sharp, thoughtful, and driven to get stuff done. But Time describes her with adjectives rarely used in conventional profiles: “humble,” “self-deprecating,” “concerned,” “generous,” and “one of the best bosses” that members of her staff have ever had.

Humble? She usually went out of her way to meet with friends and colleagues, rather than insisting they come to her. Self-deprecating? She joked constantly about herself and her foibles. Concerned? She repeatedly sought ways to help a young girl she had met in Yemen — and she admonished John Podesta, an old friend who now serves as her campaign chair, to “wear socks to bed to keep your feet warm.” Generous? She often expressed gratitude to staff and kept close track of births, illnesses, and other milestones affecting friends, acquaintances, and employees.

Does any of that sound familiar? Not unless you’ve spoken with people who know Hillary Clinton well. The point isn’t that she is any kind of paragon. She is simply a human being, whose friends and former staffers might also mention her flashes of impatience and temper, her wariness toward the press, her efforts to protect family privacy that can sometimes seem excessively secretive.

The question is whether major media outlets, often hostile and suspicious toward Clinton, can yet draw a fuller portrait of a candidate who is so well known; a candidate whose true character, in all its complexity, has been obscured by negative coverage for so many years; a candidate who, despite those persistent distortions, may yet make history again.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Featured Post, Editors Blog, The National Memo, July 3, 2015

July 5, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Media, Press | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Affront To The Power Of The Press”: The Political Media Don’t Like Hillary Clinton. But What If She Doesn’t Need Them?

Hillary Clinton doesn’t like the media, and they don’t like her. Both have legitimate reasons for feeling as they do, but there’s no getting around that simple fact. Clinton’s grievances go back two and a half decades, and what has reporters agitated at the moment is that Clinton is making it difficult for them to do their jobs, by not talking much to the them or providing the steady stream of public events out of which they can write stories.

Their frustration is starting to bubble to the surface. New York Times reporter Jason Horowitz, following Clinton in Iowa, wrote a story today about how her campaign is keeping reporters at arm’s length, then tweeted a link to the story with the description: “Queen Hillary and the Everyday Americans of the Round Table distribute alms to the clamoring press.”

But if Clinton is overly concerned about their feelings, it’s hard to tell. Instead, she’s acting as though she isn’t afraid of the press at all.

We’re in the midst of the second media revolution Bill and Hillary Clinton have lived through, both of which changed how politicians relate to reporters. In the first one, which occurred in the 1990s, the media universe expanded and became more partisan, as conservative talk radio became a major force and cable news emerged to cover politics around the clock (Fox News was founded in 1996, in time for the Lewinsky scandal). The incumbent news organizations found themselves pressured by the right, bullied into covering stories they might have paid little attention to and forced to accelerate their news-gathering. Talk radio and cable were perfect for taking allegations against the president — legitimate or otherwise — and forcing them onto the agenda of the “old media” outlets, where they gained legitimacy and shaped the events of the day.

But despite all the scandal fodder his administration (and his private life, and his past) provided, Bill Clinton managed to not only survive but leave office with approval ratings in the 60s.

Fifteen years later, Hillary Clinton is running for president in the midst of another media revolution, one that not only pressures mainstream news organizations and the reporters who populate them, but makes those reporters feel threatened and even marginalized.

Look what has happened since she began running. We’ve already had a couple of supposed scandals — her State Department emails and the Clinton Foundation’s donors — which were given blanket coverage in the mainstream media. And how have Clinton’s fortunes been affected? Barely at all. She’s still leading all her potential general election opponents by eight or nine points.

Don’t forget, in ordinary circumstances, reporters love scandal. Scandal is exciting, it’s dramatic, at its best it’s full of juicy revelations, scrambling politicians, and uncertain outcomes. Clinton scandals, on the other hand, have gotten awfully boring. Some accusation emerges, we learn that Bill or Hillary (or both) did something questionable, Republicans cry that it’s worse than Watergate, the Clintons are less than forthcoming with information, and in the end it turns out to have been a tempest in a teapot. Go through it over and over and it ceases to be interesting, for both reporters and the public.

And while I don’t have any direct evidence for this, I suspect that to at least some degree reporters share conservatives’ frustration that all the Clinton scandals and mini-scandals and pseudo-scandals haven’t taken them down. In a way it’s an affront to the power of the press. When we splash headline after headline about allegations of misbehavior across our papers, when we devote hour after hour on television to the fact that “questions are being raised,” well that’s supposed to make an impact. It’s supposed to drive the politician in question to the depths of ignominy. It’s not supposed to leave them in exactly the same position as they were when it started.

Unlike the last media revolution, the current one may work in Hillary Clinton’s favor. She seems to understand that a snarky article in the New York Times is not going to hurt her, not when she’s already so well-known and there are so many other sources of information competing for voters’ attention. She can reach those voters through local news, through YouTube, through Twitter, through Facebook, and through a hundred other channels. And without a strong primary challenge, she has all the time she wants. If she doesn’t feel like taking reporters’ questions for a couple of weeks at a stretch, she doesn’t have to.

All that, of course, will make the reporters covering her even more perturbed. They’re professionals, but they’re also human beings whose feelings, worries, and resentments inevitably leak through into their work. They already know Clinton is suspicious of them, and they don’t like it when they get shunted to the back of the room, unable to ask what they hope will be tough questions, while Clinton makes dull small-talk with another group of Iowans.

Everything she’s doing communicates to them that they aren’t as important as they once were. It’s bound to get them angry and make them like her even less than they already do, which could make their coverage even harsher. And though like any politician she’d rather have friendlier coverage, at this point it looks like a bargain she’s more than willing to make.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 22, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Media, Press | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Something Out Of Nothing”: Obama’s ‘No Strategy’ Moment Is A Non-Story

It’s all so predictable. As expected, media pundits are having a field day dissecting President Barack Obama’s statement yesterday that, when it comes to dealing with the Islamic State (the militant group also known as ISIS), “we don’t have a strategy yet.” That sentence came in response to a journalist’s question regarding whether Obama needed Congress’ approval to go into Syria militarily, and came after an extended analysis by Obama regarding the Islamic State and the situation in Iraq and Syria.

As I suggested in this previous post prior to Obama’s press conference, the president’s caution regarding how to deal with the Islamic State is warranted, given the fluid nature of the situation in Iraq and Syria, and because there remains a great deal of uncertainty among his foreign policy experts regarding the extent to which the Islamic State presents a security threat to U.S. national interests.

For most Americans who saw Obama’s press conference in full, his candid statement explaining why his administration has not yet settled on a military strategy for dealing with the militants is likely to hardly raise an eyebrow. But for media pundits determined to extract a digestible sound byte or headline from Obama’s rather nuanced and lengthy discourse, the specific statement regarding the lack of a strategy was manna from heaven. Not surprisingly, the twitterverse exploded in consternation that the president would make such an admission, and many news outlets used Obama’s statement to lead their press conference coverage. As a result, Obama administration spokesman Josh Earnest went on the news shows to clarify that by lack of strategy, the president referred specifically to military tactics for dealing with the Islamic State, and that he in fact did have a plan for addressing broader regional concerns.

Earnest’s explanation notwithstanding, pundits were quick to assess the damage Obama’s statement would have on a) his political standing, b) the nation’s foreign policy, c) the Democrats’ chances in the upcoming midterms and d) all three. The most common media theme was that Obama’s statement reinforces the impression conveyed by recent polls that Obama is not tough enough when it comes to foreign policy, and that – as Hillary Clinton implicitly suggested in her recent Atlantic interview – Obama’s foreign policy approach lacks any underlying guiding principles. And, not least, it allowed the pundits to recycle all the previous stories about the damage done by presidential gaffes.

Here’s the problem with these instant analyses. They are wrong. Obama’s statement, by itself, will almost surely have no substantive impact on either his political standing or the effectiveness of his foreign policy. Nor will it change the outcome of the 2014 midterms. This despite the best efforts by pundits to fit this statement into a larger media narrative that will surely dominate the next few news cycles.

How do I know this? Consider some other celebrated gaffes that are even now being recycled in light of Obama’s latest statement. For example, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake likens the “we don’t have a strategy yet” to Mitt Romney infamous 47 percent statement during the 2012 presidential campaign, in which the Republican presidential candidate claimed that “47 percent of the people ….are dependent on government” and thus would never vote for him. Blake writes, “As with all gaffes, the worst ones are the ones that confirm people’s pre-existing suspicions or fit into an easy narrative. That’s why ‘47 percent’ stung Mitt Romney so much, and it’s why ‘don’t have a strategy’ hurts Obama today.”

The problem with Blake’s analogy, however, is that despite wide-spread media coverage of Romney’s 47 percent statement, including pundits’ claims that he had essentially killed his chances to win the election, it actually had almost no impact on the outcome of the presidential race, a finding documented by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck in their careful study of the 2012 presidential race. They conclude that, “In terms of the most important decision – who to vote for – there was no consistent evidence that much had changed” as a result of the video. Indeed, they argue that whatever its immediate impact, the video’s effect largely dissipated by the time of the first presidential debate a few weeks later and that it had no lingering influence on Romney’s support. They conclude, “Whatever the explanation, it was striking that this video, a supposed bombshell, detonated with so little apparent force in the minds of voters.”

Despite the media fixation, this will almost certainly be the case with Obama’s latest “gaffe” as well. The reason is that voters are not blank slates whose opinions toward politicians and policies are largely determined by the latest media meme of the day, no matter how pervasive the coverage. Instead, history suggests that voters’ assessment of Obama’s handling of foreign policy will be driven much more by their perceptions of events, including the Islamic State’s progress in Syria and Iraq, as mediated through voters’ own ideological predispositions, than they will by pundits’ single-minded focus on one sentence in a presidential press conference. Nor will it overshadow the more fundamental factors – the state of the economy, incumbency status and the typical seat loss experienced by the president’s party – that primarily determine midterm election outcomes.

Nonetheless, the fact that Obama’s statement will matter little to most of the public won’t stop pundits from endlessly replaying and analyzing it for the next few news cycles in the fervent, albeit misguided, belief that it may turn out to be the equivalent of “‘read my lips’ signature of a failed presidency”. That is, unless another non-story comes along in the next few days to push this one from the headlines.

 

By: Mathew Dickinson, Professor, Middlebury College; Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, August 29, 2014

August 30, 2014 Posted by | Journalism, Media, Press | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stop Complaining About Obama’s Golfing”: It’s Not About Optics, It’s About Doing Your Job

Of course, Obama is hardly the first president to vacation – President John Adams took an amazing eight months off in one year in office, and President John F. Kennedy went away almost every single weekend of his presidency. And Obama’s not the first president to get criticized for it either. President Ronald Reagan, who was on vacation for more than 300 days of his presidency, took an incredible amount of heat for not coming rushing back to the White House after the death of two Marines in Lebanon, an attack that would lead to the 1984 bombing of the Marine barracks there. But he blew off the criticism and even campaigned for two days before returning to Washington.

We don’t let our son watch the news anymore. Growing up with parents who are big consumers of news, my boy—at the ripe old age of three—already knows something is amiss if Diane Sawyer is taking a night off. If David Muir is at the anchor desk he has been known to ask, “Is Diane sick?” (We haven’t started explaining the more permanent transition going on at ABC just yet because we don’t know how he will take it.)

But between Ferguson, ISIS, Gaza, Ukraine, Ebola and every other tragic news story happening, there are too many questions that newscasts raise now that a three-year old shouldn’t have to wonder about. Too many sad faces on the screen, and it’s too soon to explain why.

Being president of the United States means engaging on all of those issues every day, often multiple times – whether you’re on vacation or you’re not. And regardless of the location, this president – like every occupant of the Oval Office before him – is making decisions based on the welfare of the nation, far ahead of what his vacation schedule is.

Something unspeakable happened to James Foley, and his grieving family lives with the tragedy created by the ruthless monsters who took him from them. I can’t say how I’d react if someone took my son from me in the same way. No one can know who hasn’t gone through such a horrible thing. But I can guess. My guess is that I’d want the entire world to stop. That I’d want a moment of silence that never ended. I would want people to stop laughing and businesses to close. I have no judgment for the impulse of any American who feels any hint of that sadness at Foley’s loss.

But I have little patience, and our country has little need for, the people who play politics with his life. One mindless commentator tweeted that people who share my view support golfing while Americans are being beheaded. The New York Times wrote that the president was “seemingly able to put the savagery out of his mind,” as he went on to continue his vacation with his family and his friends after addressing the incredible tragedy.

I’m not sure why the New York Times thinks it can read minds, but knowing this president, I know one thing with great clarity: The savagery of those who attack Americans is never far from his mind. This notion that he can detach is mostly wrong. For the man who gave the green light to take out Osama bin Laden and is often first to hear the reports of American servicemen and women who die in missions that he ordered, the savagery of this world is not far from the forefront of his mind at every moment of the day.

I don’t remember, but I assume that I was one of the many Democrats who gleefully took shots at President George W. Bush for the time he spent at Crawford—and if so I regret it. Presidents are better for having time out of Washington, even better for time away with their families.

Whether you’re a partisan or a cynical reporter who has been making the same critique about presidential vacations for decades, I assume you probably agree that human beings function better when they get a little time away. I wouldn’t want my surgeon to be some woman who hasn’t had a break in 4 years. I wouldn’t want to share the road with a truck driver who hasn’t had enough sleep. It doesn’t matter what your occupation is; you will do your job better if you recharge your batteries. And even though the president is never really on vacation, giving him at least a little downtime is good for all of us.

In the end, it’s not about the optics. It’s about doing your job. And if the president is doing his – which he is – we should all be able to appreciate the fact that he is taking the opportunity to be a dad, a husband and even a leader of the free world who can clear his head on the golf course.

 

By: Bill Burton, Executive Vice President at Global Strategy Group; Politico, August 25, 2014

 

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Media, Presidential Vacations, Press | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Full Swoon Mode”: Rick Perry And How The Press Loves To Treat GOP Campaign Losers Like Winners

Thirty months after flaming out on the Republican primary campaign trail, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose aborted 2012 run logged a fifth-place finish in Iowa and a sixth-place showing in New Hampshire before being suspended, is suddenly enjoying a Beltway media resurgence. With the issue of America’s border security and the influx of unaccompanied children generating headlines, Perry has been out front criticizing President Obama, and the governor’s performance is earning raves.

“People love his ass” is what “one Republican operative close to Perry” told Buzzfeed (anonymously). On The McLaughlin Group this weekend, so many panelists sang Perry’s praise (“shrewd,” “winning,” “absolutely terrific”) that host John McLaughlin announced, “a star is born.”

Time has been in full swoon mode lately, touting Perry as “swaggering,” “handsome and folksy,” and insisting he’s “refreshed his message, retooled his workout routine and retrained his sights toward the national stage.” Meanwhile CNN’s Peter Hamby claimed Perry is “completely underrated” as a 2016 contender. Why? Because “other than Chris Christie, it’s hard to think of another Republican candidate with the kind of charm and personal affability, and frankly just good political skills, that Rick Perry has.”

Keep in mind, Perry recently compared gays to alcoholics (and then acknowledged he “stepped right in it”), and suggested that the Obama White House might somehow be “in on” the wave of immigrant refugees crossing the U.S. border. He also became something of a punch line last week when a sourpuss photo of his meeting with Obama lit up Twitter.

As for the issue of border security, Fox News’ own Brit Hume noted on Sunday, Perry’s demand that the National Guard be sent to patrol the border doesn’t make much sense since, by law, Guardsmen aren’t allowed to apprehend any of the refugee children coming into the country. (Children who are turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents.)

Apparently none of that matters when the press coalesces around a preferred narrative: Perry is hot and perfectly positioned for 2016. (He won the week!)

Perry’s soft press shouldn’t surprise close observers of the Beltway press corps. It’s part of a larger media double standard where Republican campaign trail losers now routinely get treated like winners. (Think: John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney.) The trend also extends to Republican policy failures, like the discredited architects of the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq, who have been welcomed back onto the airwaves to pontificate about Iraq, despite the fact they got almost everything wrong about the invasion eleven years ago.

And no, the same courtesy is not extended to Democrats. John Kerry did not camp out on the Sunday talk shows after losing to President Bush in 2004 and become a sort of permanent, television White House critic, the way McCain did after getting trounced by Obama in 2008.

But wait, Hillary Clinton lost in 2008 and she’s treated as a serious contender, so why shouldn’t Perry be? First, Clinton collected nearly 2,000 primary delegates during her run, whereas Perry earned exactly zero. Second, Clinton enjoys an enormous lead in Democratic nomination polling if she chooses to run. Perry barely even registers among GOP voters.

Last month the Texas Republican Party held a straw vote and among possible 2016 hopefuls, the Texas governor finished a distant fourth, among Texas Republicans. Outside of Texas, his support remains even thinner. A recent WMUR Granite State poll from New Hampshire had Perry winning a barely-there two percent of Republican support for the 2016 GOP primary.

How bad of a candidate was Perry during the 2012 push? Really, really bad. Not only did he suffer a famous brain freeze when he couldn’t remember which three government agencies he boldly promised to dismantle if he became president (“oops”), but he also called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and dined with birther Donald Trump.

Less than three years ago, Rick Perry showed himself to be an extraordinarily bad campaigner with a tin ear for retail politics (i.e. an absent-minded quasi-birther). Yet today, the same Rick Perry is touted by the Beltway press as a “handsome” and “underrated” campaigner who stands poised for greatness in the next presidential campaign.

Somewhere Al Gore must be shaking his head.

After he lost the 2008 election to a Supreme Court ruling, Gore was not treated to pleasing, Rick Perry-like press coverage. Rather than treating Gore as a “swaggering” star of American politics, the Beltway press basically told Gore to get lost. (The caustic coverage continued the endless media slights Gore had suffered during the campaign season.)

When the former vice president grew a beard, the catty D.C. press corps erupted in mockery:

Gore “look[s] more like an accountant on the lam from the IRS than a White House-compatible action figure” (Time); it’s “scrawny and grey-patched” (the New York Post); it “might cover up some of the added chin heft” of his rumored post-election weight gain (the Boston Herald).

And when the former vice president stepped forward in 2002 to offer a prescient warning about against with in Iraq? On CNN’s Reliable Sources, The New Republic’s Michelle Cottle described her colleagues’ reaction to Gore’s speech: “[T]he vast majority of the staff believes this was the bitter rantings of a guy who is being politically motivated and disingenuous in his arguments.”

Note that after losing an electoral landslide in 2008, Republican McCain was showered with the exact opposite type of coverage. As Media Matters noted five year ago, “[T]he media treated McCain as though his loss last November endowed him with even greater moral authority and quickly took up his crusade as their own.”

In fact, despite a wildly unsuccessful presidential campaign and his lack of senior standing inside the U.S. Senate, McCain made at least 15 Sunday talk show appearances in 2009. (By contrast, after he lost his White House run in 2004, Sen. John Kerry appeared on just three Sunday talk shows during the first eight months of President Bush’s second term.) In 2013, the New York Times reported McCain had appeared on more than 60 Sunday talk shows in less than four years.

He wasn’t the only candidate to have their reputation weirdly burnished by losing badly to Obama in 2008. Sarah Palin was catapulted into media superstardom after she helped lead the GOP to magnanimous defeat. In 2009, as she readied her book release, the obedient Beltway press treated her like a political “phenomena.” (“It’s as if she’s like a senator or something,” marveled NBC’s David Gregory.) On the day her book arrived in stores, the Washington Post commemorated the event by publishing no less than four articles and two columns. That week, the paper also hosted nine online Palin-related Q&A sessions.

What did most of the awestruck commentary often politely ignore at the time of the media’s Palin “phenomena”? The fact that the vast majority of American voters were united in their conviction that Palin should not run for president. That included a majority of Republicans.

While Palin likely became the first losing vice presidential candidate exulted into D.C. media celebrity status, Republican Dick Cheney probably also made history by becoming not only the least-liked vice president in modern American history, but the first veep from an utterly failed administration to be treated by the press as a sage upon leaving office.

Cheney’s media return in recent weeks, where he continually blames Obama for the troubles in Iraq that Cheney and President Bush first uncorked with their misguided war and faulty planning, was telegraphed five years ago when the D.C. press, just weeks after Cheney left office, hyped his anti-Obama utterances as news events. Keep in mind, at the time Cheney’s approval stood at a not-to-be-believed 13 percent.

But for some reason, Republican losers get treated as winners by the press.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America, July 15, 2014

July 17, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Media, Press, Rick Perry | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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