USA Today failed to challenge claim Clinton presidency was "extraordinarily fatiguing"

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS

In a March 29 front-page USA Today article -- bearing the headline "Question for Hillary: What will Bill's impact be?" -- reporter Jill Lawrence, after noting that a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that "70% of Americans say Bill Clinton will do more good than harm for his wife's campaign" and that "[t]hree-quarters said the state of the Clintons' marriage shouldn't matter to voters," went on to write an 1,800-word article that purported to examine the question of whether the former president harms or helps Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) presidential candidacy.

In reporting comments by political psychologist Stanley Renshon, who wrote a book about President Bill Clinton in 1998, Lawrence noted without challenge Renshon's false suggestion that the public's views of the Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies are comparable and his claim that the public suffers from "extraordinar[y]" Clinton "fatigu[e]." Lawrence reported: "Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York Graduate Center, says the Clinton and Bush presidencies have been 'extraordinarily fatiguing' for Americans, who may be seeking 'a somewhat calmer presidency.' " In fact, according to USA Today's own polling, Clinton's approval ratings remained in the 50s and 60s through most of his presidency; in the wake of 1998 impeachment proceedings, Clinton's approval rating jumped to 73 percent. Lawrence noted earlier in the article that Clinton's current approval rating is 60 percent and that "[i]n the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 71% said he was a good president -- more than double Bush's 34% approval in the poll."

Lawrence also reported that Clinton "revived talk of her husband's past" when she "made the comment about having dealt with 'evil and bad men' to an Iowa audience in January, with a smile on her face." Lawrence continued, "The crowd laughed knowingly for a full half-minute, assuming it was a joke about her husband." In fact, as Media Matters for America noted at the time, claims about the meaning of Clinton's joke and about what the crowd understood her to have meant varied widely. According to a January 29 McClatchy Newspapers report: "Some [in the audience] said afterward they thought she was referring to her suffering with a philandering husband. Others thought it was meant to conjure up people such as President Bush or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich." Clinton dismissed the idea that the crowd thought she was referring to her husband: "Oh, come on. I don't think anybody in there thought that."

From Lawrence's March 29 USA Today article:

In a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 70% of Americans say Bill Clinton will do more good than harm for his wife's campaign. Yet questions about their marriage -- as well as the Lewinsky sex saga that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment by the U.S. House in 1998 -- remain close to the surface. The reminders include a stream of jokes on late-night TV and even Hillary Clinton's own words, such as her recent joking reference to her experience with "evil and bad men."

[...]

That hasn't deterred late-night comics, who continue to joke about the Clintons and their marriage. Hillary Clinton herself has revived talk of her husband's past at least twice this year.

She made the comment about having dealt with "evil and bad men" to an Iowa audience in January, with a smile on her face. The crowd laughed knowingly for a full half-minute, assuming it was a joke about her husband.

[...]

Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York Graduate Center, says the Clinton and Bush presidencies have been "extraordinarily fatiguing" for Americans, who may be seeking "a somewhat calmer presidency."

Whether the Clintons can deliver that is unclear, says Renshon, a psychoanalyst who wrote a book about Bill Clinton. Renshon says people "hardly ever turn on a dime" if they've thought and acted a certain way through middle age. "The best she can do is make good use of him," Renshon says of Hillary Clinton. "She's riding the tiger."

Network/Outlet
USA Today
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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