Columns » Gene Lyons

The press vs. Hillary

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In a sane world, the 2016 presidential election campaign would begin about this time next year. However, the political infotainment wing of our esteemed national news media seems intent upon pushing the contest ever earlier — whether voters like it or not. TV ratings and enhanced career opportunities depend upon it.

Unfortunately, Dan Merica, a CNN producer who followed Hillary Clinton to South Carolina, appears to have mislaid the script. Instead of shouting rude questions, Merica sought out an ordinary voter Hillary had chatted up in a bakeshop. What had they talked about?

Corinthians 13, as it happened: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud."

A Baptist minister, Rev. Frederick Donnie Hunt was sitting in a Columbia bakery reading his Bible when Clinton stopped by. "I was impressed and glad that she knew the scripture that I was reading and studying ... ," Hunt said. "It impressed me that someone running for president has that background. It is important to me that we have a president that has some belief."

An Obama voter in 2008, Rev. Hunt now plans to support Clinton. "God bless you," he told the candidate as she got up to leave.

Make of it what you will. But if you're like me, you learned something interesting from the CNN story. Too many like it, however, and Merica's career in Washington could be endangered.

According to a recent "political memo" by Jason Horowitz in the New York Times, Clinton's Democratic rivals have no realistic chance. "That leaves the news media," he opines "as her only real opponent so far on the way to the Democratic presidential nomination."

Well, it does have the virtue of honesty.

To be fair, Horowitz's point is that the press clique has grown so hostile that "it makes all the political sense in the world for Mrs. Clinton to ignore them."

He describes scenes in which reporters, bored and angered by Hillary's announced strategy of traveling around talking with nobodies like Rev. Hunt, have treated her rare press availabilities as virtual bear-baiting exercises: shouting questions of the when-did-you-stop-looting-your-Foundation kind, which she "obfuscated ... with ease."

Horowitz provides no examples. Readers have to take his word for it. In this carnival-like atmosphere, he adds, "it is not clear what Mrs. Clinton gains politically from playing the freak."

Yowza!

Stung by reader outrage, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan expressed chagrin at her newspaper's "sometimes-fawning, sometimes-derisive tone in stories about Mrs. Clinton," particularly that last "startling line."

Times editors were characteristically dismissive, arguing readers had misunderstood the author's meaning — as if it were a T.S. Eliot poem rather than a newspaper story. Believe me, I've been there. No matter how dead-to-rights you've got them, they're the New York Times, and you're not. It's like arguing with a bishop.

A reader comment by Paul Goode of Richmond put everything in perspective: "It's never a good strategy to patronize readers. And don't make it worse by peddling self-interest as a profile in courage. The Horowitz piece was not only invidious; it was a not-so-veiled threat about what Ms. Clinton can expect if she doesn't get in line."

Can expect? How Hillary handles the never-ending barrage of gossip and contumely directed against her and Bill Clinton by the Washington media clique could decide the 2016 election. The Times itself, Bob Somerby notes, has all but openly declared war, and the Washington Post isn't far behind.

Last Sunday's 2,200-word opus by Deborah Sontag about Bill Clinton's appearance at a fundraiser for Czech model Petra Nemcova's "Happy Hearts Fund" must have set a world record for fact-free insinuation. A one-time Sports Illustrated cover girl, Nemcova started a charity supporting Third World kindergartens after a near-death experience in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Clinton spoke at Nemcova's event in exchange for a $500,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation to be spent on a joint project building schools in Haiti. Anyway, since Nemcova doubtless looks a lot better in a bathing suit than anybody in the Times's Washington bureau, you can probably guess at the insinuations. Sontag even found a Columbia professor who pronounced the event "distasteful," without saying why.

Ronald Reagan's $2 million speaking fees forgotten, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus (a Hillary fan, she claims) nevertheless uses the Yiddish word "chazer" to describe her. "It means 'pig,' " she explains, "but has a specific connotation of piggishness and gluttony. This is a chronic affliction of the Clintons."

This is what Hillary's up against. Her opponents could call for abolishing Social Security and appointing Jim Bob Duggar to the Supreme Court, and the character assassination would never end. Everybody knows the script: Hillary's what my sainted mother would have called a false article, insincere, untrustworthy, out for herself and nobody else. She thinks she's better than you.

Anyway, people always say they hate this stuff, but then they pass it on.

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