There are two reasons for a national politician to participate in a lengthy story about how overbearing the media can be: Because you are naive about the media or because you are trying to guilt the media into being less critical. When that national politician is Hillary Clinton, the options narrow.
In its exhaustive overview of Clinton's longstanding aversion to the press, Politico presents all of her available defenses. Clinton entered the national stage through a curtain of fire, thanks to her husband's appetites. The relentless and savage attacks from the conservative media that blanketed Bill's two terms are legendary. And then she ran for president, and lost, and blamed — in part — the press' drooling attention to her opponent. It is hard to argue with those things.
But this! "If she doesn’t run," Politico's Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush write, "the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article." She is "ambivalent" about the race, and "has yet to commit to a presidential race" in part because she's frustrated by the media.
So let's get one thing out of the way up front. Neither Clinton nor anyone else has committed to running for president yet in part because no one ever commits this early. President Obama, John McCain, and Mitt Romney all announced in the spring or summer of the year before the election. And About.com has a lengthier list of when people announce; zero of them did so before the preceding midterms. Why would you? Why do the FEC filing and hire staff and so on when there's no need to do so?
"She wants to be president; she doesn’t want to run for president," a "Clinton veteran" told Haberman and Thrush. "The worst part of running for president for her, clearly, is dealing with the press." One might assume that your political opponents don't make the experience a walk in the park, but, fine. The worst part is the media.
Then it snaps into focus. Clinton doesn't have any immediate competition in 2016. She's essentially uncontested in the Democratic primary at this point; she leads most Republicans in most states, including, as a new poll reveals, leading former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 8 points in Florida. This propaganda campaign is simply Clinton trying to neuter the only opponent she sees.
There is certainly valid criticism of the media to be offered. Clinton aide Philippe Reines, famously combative with reporters, blames the changing nature of political reporting, in part. "The pressure to produce is so overwhelming that reporters are filing two, three times a day," he said. "The emphasis has completely shifted away from quality, to quantity and speed, and it’s come at the expense of accuracy and fairness." Filing two or three times a day! Imagine such a world.
And there is certainly reason for Clinton to hate the press. The "vast right-wing conspiracy" that she bemoaned in the Lewinsky era has, as pointed out by the author of the internal White House memo that made the case for its existence in the 1990s, become atomized through a million Twitter accounts and blogs and a muscular cable network that's not terribly interested in seeing another Clinton in the White House.
But that's different than the media pressing hard for information about what Hillary Clinton would or could do if she were elected president. Clinton lost in 2008 not because the media turned against her but because she ran a bad campaign that was unprepared for a challenger well-suited to the political moment. That loss was clearly wounding, and Clinton and her allies are obviously working to build even more robust barriers against all enemies, print and web.
Reines talked to Politico not because he wanted to commiserate with Haberman and Thrush over how Hillary Clinton has been treated. He participated in the story in an effort to make reporters think twice about how they cover her candidacy. It's the same thing front-running candidates do when they see primary challengers in their rear-view mirrors: they inoculate against the threat. Clinton sees her primary opponent (in both senses of "primary") as the press. Reines — and everyone that spoke to Politico — is simply running a negative ad campaign.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.