For a candidate who enjoys historically strong polling support for her possible White House push, Hillary Clinton is sure getting heaps of bad press as supporters await her decision on whether to run for president in 2016.
According to endless Beltway commentary regarding her non-candidacy, Clinton's overseeing an ominous "shadow campaign" that features a "political hit list" to keep track of "treacherous" foes. She's linked "to a culture of payback and bare-knuckles politics." Her non-candidacy is peaking too soon and it lacks "transparency"; it's a "predestined" "train wreck." "Indecision" is becoming a trademark. She's taking a "wrong turn" and repeating her mistakes from 2008. Her presence "unsettles" Democrats, she doesn't stand for anything, and her campaign needs a better manager!
Keep in mind Clinton isn't even a candidate yet. And the general election won't be held for more than 1,000 days. But that hasn't stopped the Beltway press from obsessing over her on a daily basis and routinely detailing all the things wrong with Clinton's would-be run. Because being the dominant would-be Democratic frontrunner and leading all GOP contenders in the polls is suddenly a bad thing?
Well, it's certainly not a good thing:
Politico: Hillary's No Slam Dunk in 2016
The Atlantic: Can Anyone Stop Hillary? Absolutely
National Journal: Why You Shouldn't Pay Attention to Hillary Clinton's Massive 2016 Lead
Can you spot the trend? And can you image the negative tone of the press coverage if Clinton's poll numbers were soft?
Obviously, candidates ought to face media skepticism. And over the last 20 years, few have faced more doubts in the press than Hillary Clinton. But isn't it odd that right now it seems the widely agreed-upon Beltway narrative regarding Clinton is that her possible campaign is already in deep trouble. That's the spin despite the fact that poll after poll puts her in one of the most enviable positions of any potential candidate in modern American history.
Talk about a vast disconnect between the people and the press.
Here's what's curious: Look at the sour assessments that surround the chattering class's Clinton appraisal and then compare that to the last time the Republican Party had a presidential campaign-in-waiting. As is the case with Clinton today, that featured a candidate with global name recognition, a big lead in the primary polls and a seemingly bottomless well of generous donors. That was George W. Bush prior to 2000, and the press had very few doubts about his mission.
"The national news media have built up George W. Bush like a rock star," observed one Florida newspaper columnist in 1999. And that media worship started long before Bush formally declared his candidacy in June of that year. It began in earnest when Bush won a re-election landslide as the governor of Texas in 1998.
Back then, while Bush lurked on the sidelines and gobbled up endorsement and campaign cash prior to his official candidacy, the press was amazed by his good fortune. There was no chronic hand-wringing. Instead, reporters and pundits marveled at Bush's standing and the unmatched infrastructure his team had built.
Tapped to interview President Barack Obama on Super Bowl Sunday, professionally hostile Fox News host Bill O'Reilly insists he's deeply interested in what the president has to say. "We do want to hear his side," O'Reilly said last week. "I think that's the key thing. I'm genuinely interested in hearing his response to my questions."
If the Fox host wants to pay attention to Obama's comments, maybe he'll let the president actually answer his questions this year? In 2011, the last time O'Reilly sat down to interview Obama for a Super Bowl telecast, the host famously interrupted Obama.
He cut the president off, constantly interjected comments, and redirected the interview midstream. O'Reilly often asked Obama questions that required complicated answers and then jumped in with new ones after giving Obama just a few seconds to answer the first query. It seemed like he didn't want the president finish a sentence. O'Reilly kept up the constant stream of interruptions even when the interview shifted towards non-combative topics, such as the pending Super Bowl. (O'Reilly: "You know blitzes and coverage and all that?")
Here's the clip Wonkette put together of O'Reilly spending much of his 2011 White House interview trying to talk over Obama, butting in nearly 50 times during a 14-minute Q&A. (That's once every 17 seconds.)
But maybe that's just O'Reilly's style, right? Perhaps he's trying to drill down and not let his interview subject off the hook? Following the Super Bowl interview, O'Reilly defended his interview-by-intrusion by insisting, "The truth is that TV interviewers who want to get answers must--must--interrupt their guests."
But when he sat with President George W. Bush for an exclusive interview in 2006, those trademark O'Reilly interruptions were nowhere to be seen. Previewing his three-part interview with Bush, O'Reilly told viewers that you "cannot be confrontational with the president of the United States. You can be direct, but you can't be disrespectful." He certainly kept his word during his sit-down with Bush.
Noted one analysis:
In the entire 14-minute interview of Obama in 2011 the President's longest answer was 51 seconds long. President Bush's first answer to O'Reilly's question lasts 69 seconds. Later in the interview Bush is allowed to speak for two minutes straight, something President Obama could have only dreamed of 2011.
See here as O'Reilly sat respectfully silent and stone-faced while Bush answered question after question, uninterrupted, for more than a minute at a time.
The Fox hosts insists he respects the presidency and wants to get Obama's take on key issues. If so, he should let the president actually answer the questions this year.
Forty-four weeks ago, in the wake of its lopsided loss to President Obama, Republican Party leaders unveiled a blueprint for expanding the GOP's base and opening up more doors to electoral success by directly appealing to, among others, women. And 44 weeks later the branding plan has flopped, with a new Pew Research poll revealing the party is widely still seen as "more extreme in its position" compared to the Democratic Party. (The GOP's also seen as far less interested in everyday people.)
Why the marketing failure? Because while the Republican Party talks about wanting to reach out with soothing reassurances, right-wing commentators keep launching barbed attacks that mock and belittle the personal choices women make.
Last week's far-right chatter from Fox News host Mike Huckabee about how Democrats supposedly tell women they have uncontrollable libidos and need government handouts, coupled with the unfounded attacks on Texas Democrat Wendy Davis for being a bad mom (she abandoned her kids to build her career!) who lived off a "Sugar Daddy" husband simply confirmed the conservatives' deep-seeded contempt; a disdain that can't be papered over with new RNC talking points.
The gender worldview conservatives are promoting? It's one where women sufficiently "control" their "reproductive system," and one where men are the sole approved providers, or supporters, for families; not working moms and certainly not "Uncle Sugar," as Huckabee referred to the federal government.
Condemning women for having too much sex and being bad mothers. Aside from that, who's to say there's a conservative War on Women?
We told you so.
We told you back when Glenn Beck was a Fox News host that he was a blight on our media and political culture and was doing great harm to the country. Beck now admits as much himself. Returning for an appearance on Fox this week, Beck recalled his time there by conceding he made "an awful lot of mistakes." "I think I played a role," Beck reflected, "in helping tear the country apart. "
Sure there's reason to be skeptical about Beck's latest public confession. He told Megyn Kelly he regretted dividing Americans while at Fox between 2009 and 2011. But he didn't stop peddling hateful conspiracies when he left for his own independent network. In 2013, as the city of Boston and nation recoiled from the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, what did Beck do? He led a mindless crusade against an innocent Saudi national student who was actually injured in the blast.
And keep in mind, Beck's network, The Blaze, is currently in the middle of a marketing campaign to convince cable operations around the country to add his channel to their television offerings. It would make sense for Beck to strike a conciliatory public tone in hopes of addressing fears that operators might have about hosting the guy who was too crazy for Fox News.
So yes, I'm reluctant to assume Beck's apology means serious change is in order, or to pretend his entire media empire doesn't revolve around feeding his loyal followers an hourly dose of Obama Derangement Syndrome programming.
But if we take Beck's comments at face value they amount to a complete vindication for Media Matters, which helped lead the charge in highlighting his dangerous rhetoric, and warned about the long-term implications of Beck's effort to use cable TV to tear the country apart.
Trying to explain New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's unraveling political career as allegations mount about the bullying ways of his office, the New York Daily News' Mike Lupica, in his latest column, quoted a local operative who diagnosed Christie's sudden implosion this way: Hubris.
Christie's January-to-forget at first featured the startling revelation that his senior aides and appointees were in on a plan to seek political retribution by wreaking havoc on the city of Fort Lee, in the form of a massive, four-day traffic jam concocted under the phony guise of a traffic study.
New revelations in the days since suggest that the scandals reflect a culture of bullying and retribution that's become pervasive inside the governor's office. Over the weekend, the Democratic mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, alleged that two senior members of Christie's administration threatened to hold Hurricane Sandy relief money hostage from the city until the mayor approved a redevelopment plan favored by the governor. Christie's office denies the charge; an editorial in the state's largest newspaper, which endorsed Christie three months ago, calls the extortion allegation "believable."
Zimmer hasn't been alone in alleging payback. According to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, after he failed to endorse Christie's re-election last year a series of meetings he had scheduled with previously supportive Christie officials were abruptly canceled and never rescheduled. And Elizabeth, NJ's longtime mayor, Christian Bollwage, claims that after he opposed parts of Christie's legislative agenda in 2010, the state retaliated with collective punishment for Elizabeth locals by closing the city's only Department of Motor Vehicles department.
In the wake of the mounting revelations, the Daily News' Lupica quotes a political insider who described described Christie's mounting woes this way: "Christie has been on a continual roll and he thinks he's invincible. And once you think you are invincible, you've got a problem."
Question: Who was instrumental in convincing Chris Christie's political team that the governor was invincible? The Beltway media.
And so who might deserve some of the blame for the bullying abuse of power sponsored by Christie? The Beltway media.
Right now, Fox News is Chris Christie's best friend.
As New Jersey's Republican governor struggles to regain his political footing in the wake of the George Washington Bridge dirty tricks scandal, Fox News has been one of the few places to mount any kind of sustained defense on his behalf. That defense has alternately come in the form of downplaying the scandal at first, invoking Benghazi as often as possible, blaming a "feminized atmosphere" for the governor's troubles, and championing Christie's alleged brand of "leadership" in response to the scandal.
The strategy might be scattershot but at least Fox is coming to Christie's side at a time when many conservative voices are not.
Which leads to the question: is Fox chairman Roger Ailes once again advising Christie? It's worth asking given that Fox is now acting as Christie's de facto War Room, stressing the governor's talking points and doing its best to deflect attention away from the growing questions about why so many of his senior aides knew about the four-day scheme to choke off Fort Lee, N.J. with nightmarish traffic, yet Christie, he says, remained clueless.
And if Ailes is pitching in, it wouldn't be the first time he sat down with Christie in the role of an informal political advisor.
On Monday another shoe dropped on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's political career when it was reported he's facing a federal investigation regarding the state's use Hurricane Sandy relief funds.
This, of course, comes in the wake of the political bomb that detonated last week when a key Christie aide was revealed to have conspired, via email, with a Christie transportation appointee to enact political retribution by wreaking havoc on the city of Fort Lee, in the form of a massive, four-day traffic jam. The nightmare congestion was deliberately planned by shutting down vital lanes to the George Washington Bridge under the phony guise of a traffic study.
Since the scandal erupted, much of the conservative media has been scrambling to try to protect the possible presidential candidate from long-term political damage. They've done that via obfuscation (i.e. "Benghazi!") and by claiming Christie's response to the crisis has offered a clear lesson in "leadership"
The irony is thick because the unflattering portrait that has emerged of Christie in the last week is the exact same portrait conservatives have tried, unsuccessfully, to paint of Obama for five years: A thuggish politician with a thirst for revenge who's mired in corruption. Obama, we're reminded by Fox News, is a corrupt bully who's at the center of every alleged administration scandal, from the IRS targeting conservatives, to the wide-ranging Benghazi "cover-up."
Yet despite the hundreds of hours Republican Congressional committees have spent trying to ferret out Obama scandals, and the thousands and thousands of hours the right-wing media has devoted to that same goal since 2009, the New Jersey governor's office last week produced the type of smoking gun document ("Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee") that Obama's critics can still only dream about.
But of course they'll keep dreaming.
"Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical." Time's Mark Halperin appearing on Meet The Press, November 10 2013.
A political bombshell detonated in my home state of New Jersey yesterday when published emails and text messages revealed that Gov. Chris Christie's deputy chief of staff conspired with a Christie transportation appointee to create a four-day traffic jam last September, allegedly to punish a local Democratic mayor who refused to endorse the governor's re-election. The unfolding drama not only raises doubts about Christie's political future but also about the way the mainstream press has presented him over the years.
The widening dirty tricks scandal features patronage and political retribution wrapped in an unseemly culture of intimidation. In sharp contrast, the national political press has spent the last four years presenting, and even marketing, Christie as an above-the-fray politician who thrives on competence.
He's been relentlessly and adoringly depicted as some sort of Straight Shooter. He's an authentic and bipartisan Every Man, a master communicator, and that rare politician who cuts through the stagecraft and delivers hard truths. Christie's coverage has been a long-running, and rather extreme, case of personality trumping substance.
But now the bridge bombshell casts all of that flattering coverage into question. How could the supposedly astute Beltway press corps spend four years selling Christie as a Straight Shooter when his close aides did things like orchestrate a massive traffic jam apparently to punish the governor's political foes? When an appointee joked in texts about school buses being trapped in the political traffic backup? How could Christie be a Straight Shooter when he's been caught peddling lies about the unfolding scandal and now claims he was misled about what people close to him were up to?
The truth is Christie was never the Straight Shooter that political reporters and pundits made him out to be. Not even close, as I'll detail below. Instead, the Straight Shooter story represented appealing fiction for the press. They tagged him as "authentic" and loved it when he got into yelling matches with voters.
Someone alert Bill O'Reilly, Matt Drudge, Michelle Malkin and the rest of the right-wing media team that spent last year alternately belittling and hysterically hyping Chicago crime: their argument just fell apart.
Conservatives, led by O'Reilly, Drudge, and Malkin, callously used Chicago crime to attack President Obama and push back against his support for stronger gun laws. Pointing out that Obama's hometown is Chicago and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is the city's mayor, they frequently highlighted the fact that the city struggled with well-publicized gang shootings despite some of the tightest laws in the country. The right tagged Chicago as a gun control test case and deemed it a miserable failure. (Fox contributor Katie Pavlich: "Slaughter in Gun Control Chicago")
O'Reilly has alternately compared Chicago's murder rate to "many Holocausts," and "Afghanistan." The Drudge Report linked to 134 "CHICAGOLAND" crime headlines last year, all meant to convey the image of a lawless city on the verge of bloody collapse. And Malkin let loose with her usual invective, denouncing Chicago as one of many Democratic-run "hellholes"; urban centers teeming with "juvenile delinquency, organized crime, ruinous government dependency, corruption and out-of-control spending."
Conservative conspiracists such as Rush Limbaugh even claimed Democratic politicians want the city's murder rate to remain high so they can use the killings to advocate for stronger gun laws. It's all part of a larger conservative media movement to portray Obama's former hometown as being driven under by murder and violence. They seem to want the city to become a symbol of doom and "urban decay," just as conservative pundits have enjoyed mocking Detroit's tough times.
It was also part of a larger, racially-tinged and hollow attempt in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial to accuse Obama of ignoring crime, which according to the conservative media telling is raging out of control. (It's not; it remains on a steady decline.)
But suddenly the Chicago taunts have gone quiet. Suddenly the claims that strict gun laws are useless and that Democratic mayors oversee killings zones have disappeared. No more "CHICAGO LAND" links or cries of "Holocaust," and Malkin has for now stopped referring to Chicago as "America's Bloody City."
Why? Because even world-class misinformers like those would have a tough time making a case against "Obama's Chicago," given the fact that the murder rate there last year fell to its lowest level since Lyndon Johnson was president, while the booming metropolis welcomed a record number of 46 million tourists last year.
That's right, despite the endless right-wing attacks on Chicago and the permanent conservative depiction of the Second City as a hell hole, Chicago last year experienced the fewest murders since 1965; 413 in 2013. (Context: Chicago at its worst tallied 943 murders in 1992.) The city's overall crime rate in last year fell to a level not seen since 1972, and every one of the Chicago's 22 police districts registered a decrease in crime last year.
"The drop is legitimately stunning," noted The Atlantic's Philip Bump.
With their conspiratorial, knee-jerk claim that New York Times' lengthy investigation into the Benghazi terror attack of 2012 was really an elaborate effort to aid Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in three years -- to "clear the deck" as Chris Wallace put it -- right-wing journalists seem to have mistaken the newspaper of record for one of their own conservative "news" outlets. It's the right-wing media, not the Times, that has a record of peddling purposeful misinformation for purely political reasons.
David Kirkpatrick's Times series, "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," undercut a number of favorite right-wing Benghazi talking points. Among them, the Times debunked claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the terror attacks -- a central tenet of the Benghazi hoax that conservatives have deployed to attack President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and others for engaging in a "cover-up" of the attack.
Since its publication, far-right commentators have have rushed to engage in lazy speculation about what motivated the Times to investigate Benghazi (aside from the fact that far-right voices have demanded for more than a year that news organizations like the New York Times investigate Benghazi).
But when the Times came to the 'wrong' conclusions and Fox News and friends needed to explain to their loyal customers why the year-long Benghazi tale they've been telling had been demolished by the Times, critics announced the story was all part of some vast, left-wing conspiracy.
The allegation is pure conjecture, though. Conservatives don't, and can't, cite any sources inside the Times who confirm the sprawling claim of a Clinton cover-up because there's zero evidence to bolster the allegation. Instead, the fact that the Times never mentioned Hillary Clinton in its Benghazi report simply confirms that the report was all about Hillary Clinton. And the fact that a Times editor pointedly denied the report was about Clinton simply confirms that the report was all about Clinton. (See how that convenient, closed loop works?)
Conservatives have become so used to the idea that their own outlets are, and should be, used to advance political agendas that they've convinced themselves that's how reputable news organizations go about gathering and disseminating information.
In this case, conservatives have convinced themselves, without being weighted down by facts or evidence, that senior editors at the Times assign long-term investigative pieces based on how the predetermined outcome of the reporting will benefit Democratic politicians, and specifically Democratic politicians who might run for president in 2016. It's journalism as political cover. Or, pretty much the opposite of how the trade is actually practiced.
The notion is pure fantasy, not to mention insulting, and reveals a complete lack of understanding of how journalism functions in a democratic society. The Fox and Republican assumption is that journalists act as unpaid advisers and advocates for politicians and that their work revolves around advancing a partisan agenda. Why do they think that?
Because that's how conservatives behave. And they're often quite open about it.