Hillary Clinton was back in the news last week thanks to a Sunday speech at the PEN America World Voices Festival, which sounded custom-designed to give Donald Trump a nosebleed.
Pulling no punches, Clinton slapped Trump for his assault on such public goods as the arts, self-expression, knowledge, dissent, and basic reality. “We are living through an all-out war on truth, facts, and reason,” she declared.
But the bulk of her hits were directed at Trump’s war on the media, and the First Amendment more broadly. She lamented that “today, we have a president who seems to reject the role of a free press in our democracy,” and who “has referred to the media as an ‘enemy of the people.’” Citing Trump’s crusades against Jeff Bezos and CNN, she asked, “Given his track record, is it any surprise that, according to the latest round of revelations, he joked about throwing reporters in jail to make them ‘talk’?” She even managed to work in a reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid’s Tale.
Considering Clinton’s own complicated relationship with the media (actually, it’s not that complicated—she hates us), it was heartwarming to hear her passionately defending the Fourth Estate. Admittedly, she couldn’t resist taking some shots at coverage of the 2016 presidential race. She brought up “the Russian disinformation campaign” and how it “has been abetted to some degree by the way politics has been covered.” She pointed to studies “showing how the mainstream political coverage was influenced by the right-wing-media ecosystem and other factors to depart from normal journalistic standards,” and she name-checked the Harvard professor Thomas Patterson for calling “the false equivalency in the coverage ‘corrosive’” and saying “the relentlessly negative news has had a ‘leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans.’” Even so, she couched her criticism in praise for some media outlets that have recognized their mistakes and taken the “brave step” of “publicly examining” their screw-ups and working henceforth to “avoid the errors that helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.” Coming from Clinton, that’s practically a mash note.