It's official: Hillary Clinton now faces two looming campaign challengers, Republicans and their allies in the press. But don't take my word for it. The anti-Clinton press campaign is now an open secret in the media, and it marks a whole new chapter in campaign journalism.
Election seasons always usher in debates about press coverage, with the assumption being coverage can affect electoral results. Which candidates are getting the most positive coverage? And which ones are being dogged by journalists?
Journalists traditionally wave off any allegations of unfair treatment for particular candidates and insist the claims are nothing more than sour grapes, or partisan plots to boost the candidate's chances. Instead, scribes claim, they always play campaigns down the middle.
But in a new twist, some members of the Beltway press corps are stepping forward to announce categorically that Hillary Clinton, despite her envious standing, is the obvious target of media derision. And that the press is actively trying to harm her campaign.
"The national media has never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton," Politico's Dylan Byers observed late last week, as he surveyed the unfolding campaign season. The same press corps, he added, stands poised to "elevate a Republican candidate."
That's a rather astonishing revelation from inside the Beltway media bubble, right? Openly taking down a Democrat, while elevating a Republican? Wow.
The weird part was that campaign journalists didn't seem to object to the description. There was very little pushback regarding Byer's rather shocking claim; it barely caused a ripple. Journalists don't seem ashamed of that fact that Clinton faces a tougher press than her fellow candidates, or think it reflects poorly on the state of political journalism. More and more journalists are simply admitting the truth: The press is out to get Clinton. Period.
How is it the likely Democratic Party nominee for president has become a constant target of press derision and that journalists admit the media's out to get her? Whatever happened to journalism's role of reporting on what happens in a campaign, and not trying to determine the outcome?
And could you imagine the seismic revolt that would unfold if reporters openly targeted Republicans? But don't hold your breath. When was the last time you read an article, or heard a single television discussion, in which Beltway media elites opined about how their media colleagues despise Gov. Scott Walker, are out to get former Gov. Jeb Bush, or want to take down Sen. Marco Rubio?
That kind of talk could kill a journalist's career because it would ignite the right wing's Liberal Media Bias mob. But publicly admitting the press is "prime" to try to disrupt and dismantle the likely Democratic Party's presidential nominee seems to represent perfectly acceptable behavior.
Talk about the Clinton Rules.
Media are parroting conservative lawmakers' and activist groups' characterization of the D.C. Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) as an "abortion law," an inaccurate portrayal the GOP is pushing in its effort to repeal the legislation. The law actually provides women vital protection from discrimination based on reproductive health decisions, like assisted pregnancy and even premarital sex.
Serial misinformer and GOP activist Peter Schweizer's forthcoming book Clinton Cash speculates that Clinton Foundation donors may have influenced State Department activities during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state. Consistent with the author's long history of shoddy reporting, media are highlighting how the book presents "little evidence" and "no smoking gun" proving that speculation.
Recent news reports on Republican presidential candidates' current support for pre-viability bans on abortion after 20 weeks have failed to mention that such bans are clearly unconstitutional, and have been repeatedly struck down as such by the courts.
It's no secret that the likely candidates for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination are extremely anti-choice. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was recently in the news for his sponsorship of "personhood" bills that would legally define life at conception, rendering abortion and some forms of birth control the criminal equivalent of murder -- perhaps even without exceptions for rape or incest. With less attention, Paul's potential primary opponents have also staked out far-right positions on American women's access to abortion, and recent reporting indicates their consensus position is coalescing around pre-viability 20-week abortion bans. In addition to Paul, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are all reportedly on board with these bans, despite the fact they flout decades of Supreme Court precedent protecting the constitutional right to abortion.
In reporting on these candidates' current lockstep for bans on abortion, however, mainstream media outlets are neglecting to mention that these 20-week measures are blatantly unconstitutional -- despite the fact that some of these same candidates repeatedly emphasize their fidelity to the "rule of law" and the U.S. Constitution.
In a recent article about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who has yet to officially announce his candidacy, The New York Times noted that Walker's newfound support for a 20-week abortion ban was a "shift in emphasis and tone," but never discussed the constitutional flaw in such bans. USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times omitted the same fact in their political coverage of Walker's position on reproductive rights, with the LA Times choosing to describe a 20-week ban in terms of a "sharper-edged tone" rather than the unconstitutional measure it is.
The trend culminated in an April 17 Politico article that called 20-week abortion bans the "new litmus test" for all Republican candidates. While Politico detailed how anti-choice groups are lobbying Republicans to "make 20-week abortion ban[s] a centerpiece of their campaigns," the article never once noted that those bans are unconstitutional.
Less than one week into Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and it's a blurry image from a fast-food restaurant security video that's emerged as the defining media image. After "news" broke that Clinton, en route to Iowa to meet with voters, stopped in at an Ohio Chipotle for lunch and that the order was captured on film, the press corps basically went bonkers, treating it like a Tupac sighting and going all-in with fevered reporting.
The New York Times first got hold of the security cam video and reported that Clinton's order "included a Blackberry Izze drink, a soda and a chicken salad, and was filled just after 1 p.m." (1:20 p.m., to be exact, according to the New York Daily News.) Who carried the tray after payment? Clinton herself, the Times explained to readers.
Stories like the original Times report are not entirely out of the ordinary for campaign coverage. But the way the rest of the press went completely overboard in its wake suggests we could be in for a long and painful 19 months before the 2016 election.
More tick-tock details followed. "The newly-minted presidential candidate ordered a chicken bowl with guacamole, a chicken salad and fruit juice," according to ABC News, which interviewed the restaurant's manager. (The guacamole and fruit juice information was considered a mini-scoop; Business Insider noted guacamole "costs extra.")
For days, Clinton's Chipotle stop served as a treasure trove of information: Who made Clinton's burrito bowl? Politico sent a reporter to Maumee and determined, "The 25-year-old who cooked the chicken that went into the burrito bowl Hillary Clinton ordered at the Chipotle here on Monday makes $8.20 an hour and splits rent with two roommates." And assistant general manager Jef Chiet got Clinton her drink, Politico confirmed, "first a blackberry Izze, which she decided she didn't want after she read the ingredients, so he replaced it with an iced tea."
But campaign sleuths weren't finished. Bloomberg confirmed that, "The change from the meal totaled less than a dollar, but it was pocketed rather than deposited in the tip jar as many customers at the restaurant do."
Could any political analysis be gleaned from the mundane lunchtime stop? Of course:
"Hillary Clinton Goes Unnoticed at Chipotle In Botched Retail Politicking Bid" (Washington Times)
"Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle" (Wall Street Journal)
"What Hillary Clinton's Chipotle Stop Says About Her Campaign" (Christian Science Monitor)
Is it possible that maybe she was just hungry?
The Chipotle nonsense reached such heights (or depths), that even starstruck E! called out the political press for its ridiculous overreaction to the story, and the fact that "ChipotleGate 2015" triggered "all sorts of in-depth analysis, from what her choice in burrito bowl means for America, to whether her decision to don sunglasses means she's unfit to be president."
During her first week on the campaign trail, Clinton has avoided any defining, self-inflicted gaffes. The same cannot be said of the press.
News organizations have gone on a "staffing binge" in preparation for the 2016 campaign, according to the Washington Post. That means political units have to produce content, no matter how trivial and innocuous. The machine must be fed (clicks must be harvested). And right now, that machine is spitting out some dreadful, breathless, and gossipy campaign dispatches that are divorced from anything remotely connected to a public discourse.
Just think about the Chipotle story. Was Clinton in hiding at the time? Had she dared the press to find her out? Was there any reason to think her highway pit stop for food was newsworthy? No, no and no. Maybe -maybe -- if it were the final weeks of an historically close White House campaign, that kind of myopic attention paid to a lunch order would be warranted. But 70-plus weeks before voters go to the polls? It's unfathomable.
Chipotle Week was so bad it produced a sense of dismay among some media observers and practitioners, as expressed on Twitter.
Daily Beast executive editor Noah Shachtman:
Hillary's campaign is only three days old and it has already been the subject of some of the worst political "journalism" of all time.-- Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) April 15, 2015
New York Times writer Nate Cohn:
A lot of the analysis of the nascent Clinton campaign is unusually vacuous--and that says something-- Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 15, 2015
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen:
Detecting a sense of dread coming over watchers of campaign coverage after the first few weeks... Plotting how to write criticism into that.-- Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) April 15, 2015
The irony was that while the campaign press freaked out over the trivia surrounding Clinton's lunch order, some pundits were simultaneously castigating the candidate for not rolling out a sweeping campaign agenda.
Politico assigned no fewer than eight reporters for an article about how, just 72 hours into her likely 18-month campaign, Clinton "has been slow" to articulate detailed positions on issues such as fast-track trade agreements and the need for reform at the National Security Agency.
The team at NBC's First Read agreed: "That lack of a message was on display at her Iowa event yesterday." Well, actually that wasn't true. NBC conceded that Clinton had already detailed four fights she wants to wage: "1) building an economy for tomorrow, 2) strengthening families and communities, 3) fixing America's political system by getting rid of "unaccountable" money, and 4) protecting the country."
Additionally, NBC reported Clinton had struck a "populist tone" and condemned income equality in America. But NBC didn't think any of that counted as much of a "message" from Clinton because she was just saying "what you hear from 90% of Democratic candidates running for downballot office."
Clinton didn't say anything entertaining and newsy! "She didn't say anything unique, which was always going to be the shortcoming of a rollout emphasizing theater over substance/message," according to NBC.
And there's the media's inadvertent punch line: It's Clinton who's guilty of emphasizing "theater over substance."
The staff at the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle might disagree.
Mainstream media outlets are pushing the campaign message from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) that he is inclusive and is reaching out to diverse voters, including minorities, women, and low-income Americans, while ignoring his extreme policy positions that may adversely affect those voters.
Mainstream press are relying on a flawed timeline to suggest former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of an iPad to send State Department emails is a contradiction to her explanation that she established a private email account in order to use only one mobile device to conduct email correspondence. But such speculation ignores the fact that the iPad did not exist until the year after Clinton's private email account was established
National Review editor Rich Lowry is painting Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee to be the next attorney general, as a controversial pick who should "never be confirmed," because she has suggested that the president's executive actions on immigration are lawful. Not only is Lowry's analysis of the legality of the actions contradicted by experts, his erroneous description of such prosecutorial discretion as "executive action" has been debunked, and presidents generally do not nominate chief enforcement officers who promise to go after their sponsor.
Right-wing media have been hard-pressed to find a legitimate reason to oppose Lynch's nomination, instead relying on specious attacks and, in one instance, going after the wrong Loretta Lynch. Lowry's March 18 op-ed for Politico was likewise devoid of any substantive critiques of Lynch's legal positions or her qualifications. Still, Lowry argued that Senate Republicans should "never" confirm Lynch because she believes -- as is the wide consensus among legal and immigration experts -- that the president's executive actions on immigration, a modified Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), are lawful.
As all the Republicans opposing her nomination make plain, the issue is her belief that President Barack Obama's executive amnesty is lawful.
This isn't a mere matter of policy or personal preference. It implicates her view of the constitutional order that she will be sworn to uphold. Whether she thinks the executive branch can in effect write laws on its own is a threshold question. Her answer in the affirmative should be disqualifying, no matter how impressive her career has otherwise been, or how historic her confirmation would be.
On the merits, when should Republicans bring her up for a vote -- now delayed because Democrats are filibustering a sex-trafficking bill? Never. When should they confirm her? Never.
The Senate shouldn't confirm any attorney general nominee, from whatever party, of whatever race, ethnicity or gender identification, who believes the president can rewrite the nation's laws at will.
Media outlets are holding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a higher standard by scandalizing her use of personal email while at the State Department, claiming the practice raises questions about her "transparency." In reality, other public officials -- including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R), who is attacking Clinton over the emails, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell -- have exclusively used personal email.
Early news coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign has tacitly allowed the GOP to disingenuously rebrand itself as a party of the middle class, despite the fact that the party's new rhetoric doesn't align with its policy positions that continue to exacerbate income inequality. When highlighting Republican rhetoric about the need to reduce income inequality, media should take care to hold the GOP accountable for its actions, not just its words.
Recent Gallup polling shows "two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S.," and Republicans have taken note. Prospective GOP presidential candidates have suddenly started talking about income inequality ahead of the 2016 elections, apparently heeding advice from the Republican National Committee's (RNC) post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned that the GOP had been "increasingly marginalizing itself" and urged the party to improve its optics by recognizing the fact "that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty."
During the January 25 Koch brothers-sponsored Freedom Partners Forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) each took the opportunity to bemoan income inequality and blame the Obama administration for a growing income gap. Mitt Romney claimed that "income inequality had worsened" during President Obama's time in office in a January 28 speech at Mississippi State University, while Jeb Bush's "Right to Rise" PAC has declared that "the income gap is real."
The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, and Bloomberg Politics each reported on the 2016 hopefuls' Freedom Partners comments, highlighting the senators' statements lamenting income inequality and focusing on "issues such as the minimum wage ... [and] tax reform." The Wall Street Journal featured Republican policy proposals "aimed at boosting the middle class," and applauded Bush, Romney, Rubio, and Paul for "promoting or seeking ideas for shoring up the middle class." The Post's Post Politics blog and NBCNews.com's "First Read" emphasized Romney's recent focus on income inequality and poverty, pointing to speeches at the RNC and Mississippi State University.
These media outlets acknowledged the fact that Republicans are changing their rhetoric on inequality -- but it's actions and policies that count, not just rhetoric. Media cannot take GOP candidates at their word when their policies continue to exacerbate inequality and burden the middle and lower class.
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all oppose recent calls to raise the minimum wage. At a January 25 private donor event, each of these senators argued that raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs. Cruz claimed "the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable," while Rubio called focus on raising the minimum wage "a waste of time." During the same event, none of the senators "said they could stomach any tax increases," and Rubio called the ACA a "perfect example" of "cronyism," blaming health reform for halting job creation. Just this month, Cruz introduced a bill to repeal the health care law, while Paul echoed calls to repeal and suggested instead to "try freedom for a while." Such positions are consistent with the GOP's historic stances on these issues. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, supposed Republican attempts to address income inequality, "in practice, ... apparently mean endorsing an agenda that cuts off unemployment benefits, slashes food stamps, cuts funding for public services, eliminates health care benefits, and rejects minimum wage increases."
Economists have often noted that wage stagnation has a profound impact on aggravating income inequality, and as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out, raising the federal minimum wage just to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers." The Congressional Budget Office has also reported on the "ripple effect" of raising the minimum wage, saying it would benefit 16.5 million workers and lift nearly one million people out of poverty. And according to a Center For American Progress report, a $10.10 minimum wage would cut food stamp participation and taxpayer expenditures by $4.6 billion annually. Support for anti-poverty government programs -- like SNAP, unemployment benefits, school lunch programs, and the like -- cut the country's poverty rate "nearly in half," according to research from the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Rather than alleviating income inequality, lawmakers have worsened inequality by consistently cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to a 2013 EPI study. Economist Larry Summers has emphasized the importance of "closing [tax] loopholes that only the wealthy can enjoy," noting that would "enable targeted tax measures such as the earned-income tax credit to raise the incomes of the poor and middle class more than dollar for dollar by incentivizing working and saving."
And despite countless Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care law will reduce income inequality, boost the incomes of lower and middle-class Americans, and extend coverage to 15.1 million uninsured adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Media acknowledging the GOP's new talking points and mottos is one thing. But given the 2016 hopefuls' apparent commitment to policies that stand in contrast to their rhetoric on income inequality, media should make sure and hold these Republicans accountable for their actions, not just their words.
In advance of the Federal Communications Commission's February vote on net neutrality rules, media have promoted distortions of the proposed regulations, suggesting net neutrality is an unpopular, "Orwellian" takeover of the internet that may stifle innovation, hurt the economy, and raise costs for consumers. In reality, net neutrality has broad bipartisan support, promotes competition, and has been the guiding principle behind Internet innovation since its inception.
With a new editorial team recently in place, Politico has published a news article comparing multiple allegations of rape and assault against Bill Cosby to Bill Clinton, accompanied by a warning that its own false analogy could be politically damaging to Hillary Clinton.
After making the comparison, Politico itself points out how it makes no sense. While "several women have come forward recently" to lodge new complaints against Cosby, in Clinton's case "there have been no new women to come forward in recent years or other scandals to propel it forward."
"The hits just keep coming on with the Bill Cosby," Rush Limbaugh claimed. "And you know, somewhere Bill Clinton has to be chuckling because, back in his day, these would just be called bimbo eruptions. And Hillary or somebody would deal with it."
"I think the Bill Cosby issue, as it were, could be a real problem for Bill Clinton and, therefore, for Hillary Clinton," former Nixon dirty trickster Roger Stone warned on Fox & Friends.
While providing no evidence, Politico posits that Republican operatives may see social media as having the potential to dredge up old Clinton news and repackage it for a new audience.
"Social media is also forcing old events to be held to current moral standards," Politico reported, adding that it remained "unclear if Republicans could successfully create a viral issue out of Clinton's past."
The article then undercuts its own speculation.
"So far, Republicans outside groups say they aren't planning to engage in a smear campaign similar to what has happened to Cosby," Politico reported.
But those outside groups might not need to when they have the right-wing echo chamber doing their dirty tricks for them and Politico to amplify their smears.
Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
Politico's Roger Simon distorted President Obama's record to claim that his request for emergency funding to deal with the recent flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the border was tantamount to waking "from a deep slumber ... to fight a problem he has ignored for years." In reality, Obama has supported legislation in the past that addressed many of the underlying issues but the legislation has been blocked by the GOP.
A growing number of mainstream media outlets are holding Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accountable for flip-flopping on his support of a deal to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban capitivity.
McCain joined in the right-wing outcry that followed the White House's May 31 announcement that it had secured the release of Bergdahl, the only U.S. service member remaining in enemy hands from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling Politico that he "would not have made this deal" if he was the president and denying that he was ever told of the potential prisoner exchange in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.
McCain's rejection of the deal stood in stark contrast to his position on the issue just months ago, when he told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he "would be inclined to support" "an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man," depending on the details -- an inconsistency the media initially missed.
He went on to day the exchange was "something I think we should seriously consider."
McCain's February position was already a change from the position he held in January 2012, when Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings reported that McCain "reluctantly came around" on the idea of exchanging the five Guantanamo detainees in question for Bergdahl.
After Media Matters raised the issue of McCain's inconsistency on Bergdahl's release, CNN's Jake Tapper noted McCain's conflicting stances on the prisoner exchange on the June 5 edition of The Lead. The New York Times wrote that McCain "switched positions for maximum political advantage." And MSNBC's Rachel Maddow criticized McCain for standing "against his own idea."
Days later, Tapper went on to press McCain on the inconsistency. McCain disputed the "flip-flop charge" by noting that he'd made his support contingent on "the details." McCain said the details of the deal that secured Bergdahl's release "are outrageous" and "unacceptable."
This attempt to rewrite history was short-lived. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler weighed in the following morning, pointing out that "the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners -- was known at the time he indicated his support" and stamping McCain's statements with the upside-down Pinnochio that denotes "flip flop":
McCain may have thought he left himself an out when he said his support was dependent on the details. But then he can't object to the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners-that was known at the time he indicated his support. McCain earns an upside-down Pinocchio, constituting a flip-flop.
The New York Times called McCain on "switch[ing] positions for maximum political advantage" and Politico included the flip-flop in a list of times McCain has complained of misrepresentation this week.