photo courtesy the government of Chile on Flickr
Journalists have a tendency to fall in love with politicians who seem to reflect the journalists’ own goals and values. Journalists are human, after all.
But news professionals should bear in mind that political love is always unrequited.
A case could be made that large parts of the mainstream media have long been unduly sympathetic to Hillary Clinton, going back to her marital victimhood when her husband was in the White House. But that is not how she sees it. As far as she is concerned, journalists are apt to be collaborators, willing or otherwise, with the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that was out to get Bill Clinton and is now bent on thwarting her dreams of being the first female president.
Politicians, like journalists, are only human. We all want to control what happens to us - and news stories happen to politicians. Hence the need to assign a young staffer to follow a New York Times reporter to the washroom at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York last week.
Amy Chozick, the reporter in question, wrote that the press aide “waited outside the stall in the ladies’ room at the Sheraton Hotel,” in the name of what CGI aides termed security.
The Clinton camp was not really interested in anything that happened in that bathroom, of course, but it was very interested in making sure that Chozick did not wander off and encounter any news that was not carefully framed and presented to her by the Clintons.
While the level of control is new to CGI this year, it is certainly not new to the Clintons, who have long regarded the press as neutral at best, an obstacle at worst. Chris Cillizza, a blogger for The Washington Post who covered the 2008 presidential election, described journalists and Clinton campaign staff as “at each other’s throats daily and often more than daily.” Even when not engaged in an election, Hillary Clinton has displayed a talent for treating the press as combative with little real grounds for doing so beyond not being the one absolutely in charge of a conversation. Consider her appearance on public radio’s “Fresh Air” a few months ago, for example.
While Clinton has had her share of bad press, her reaction can seem overly defensive from the outside. For instance, thought there are many legitimate reasons she may choose not to take a run at the presidency in 2016, several of those closest to her have indicated that the largest reason she might decline is the media.
Clinton is far from alone in finding the media useless at best. The Associated Press recently covered in detail some of the ways in which the Obama administration continues to make it difficult for journalists to do their jobs. Sally Buzbee, the AP’s Washington bureau chief, said the “Day-to-day intimidation of sources is chilling.” Shutting the press out is certainly not an oversight.
Nor is politicians’ distrust of the press anything new. After all, Joe McGinniss’ book “The Selling of the President 1968” focused on Richard Nixon’s media team during that year’s election. The details of stage managing a campaign, specifically regarding the press, were on full display decades ago.
But at least back in those days, the press acknowledged that it was being used as a sales tool. Supine journalists blithely purveyed the Obama campaign’s “hope and change” mantra in 2008, using all the visuals that the Obama campaign presented. Have you ever seen a picture of Obama with a cigarette in his hand? Almost certainly not. And that’s no accident.
Republicans engage in these media control strategies too, of course. But with some notable exceptions, such as Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, most of the members of the national press corps have been inclined to worship Clinton and Obama from afar, and to consider either superior to any option offered by the GOP.
It thus comes as an even greater heartache to these journalists when it turns out that, from the other side of the bed, this love affair was never more than a one-night stand.