Media revive characterization of Clinton as "calculating" after emotional moment in NH

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS & KATHLEEN HENEHAN

While discussing a recent campaign event during which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's voice broke as she talked about why she is seeking the presidency, several media figures described Clinton's actions as "calculated," reviving a characterization frequently made by the media that Clinton is "calculating."

While discussing a recent campaign event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) voice broke as she talked about why she is seeking the presidency, several media figures described Clinton's actions as "calculated," reviving a characterization frequently made by the media that Clinton is "calculating." For instance, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin asserted that "this woman [Clinton] is all about calculation," while Weekly Standard editor and New York Times columnist William Kristol said, "I think no Clinton cries without calculating first" and nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh described the occurrence as "[e]motional blackmail," adding: "This is calculated."

The January 7 incident occurred during a question-and-answer exchange at a coffee shop, during which Clinton responded to a question asked by Marianne Pernold-Young, a local freelance photographer: "How do you do it? How do you keep up ... and who does your hair?"

According to CNN, Clinton responded that "she had help with her hair on 'special days,' and that she drew criticism on the days she did not." Clinton then provided the rest of her response:

CLINTON: It's not easy, it's not easy. And I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards, you know? So.

[applause]

You know, this is very personal for me. It's not just political, it's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it. And some people think elections are a game. They think it's like who's up or who's down. It's about our country, and it's about our kids' futures. And it's really about all of us, together. You know, some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds. And we do it, each one of us, because we care about our country.

But some of us are right and some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. Some of us know what we will do on day one, and some of us haven't really thought that through enough. And so, when we look at the array of problems we have, and the potential for it getting -- really spinning out of control, this is one of the most important elections America's ever faced.

So, as tired as I am -- and I am -- and as difficult as it is to kind of keep up what I try to do on the road, like occasionally exercise and try to eat right -- it's tough when the easiest food is pizza -- I just believe so strongly in who we are as a nation. So I'm going to do everything I can to make my case, and, you know, then the voters get to decide. Thank you all.

During the January 7 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, co-host Heather Nauert referred to the incident and asked Malkin, "Is that something that you think is sincere or you think was calculated to try to let voters know a little bit better who she is, show that softer side?" Malkin replied:

MALKIN: I think the question answers itself. The Clintons don't have a spontaneous bone in their collective body. Hillary Clinton doesn't sneeze without it being planned, and I really think that this is going to backfire on the campaign.

Look, you've got Bill out there. Hillary dragged her mother out and Chelsea to remind everyone that she has a womb, that she's a woman, that she's a human being. And look, there are tears in her eyes. She's not the glacier that everybody thinks she is. But I think, you know, that practically speaking, it does remind people that this woman is all about calculation.

Discussing the event on Fox News' Special Report that same day, Kristol stated:

KRISTOL: And I don't believe it was genuine. I think no Clinton cries without calculating first. This -- and I think this was -- if it was genuine, it was entirely solipsistic and narcissistic. It's all about her.

Why is she crying for the country? Is Barack Obama not going to be liberal enough for her? Is Barack Obama not going to appoint the kinds of people she wants to the Supreme Court? Is Barack Obama not a stronger candidate in the general election than her?

She's crying for herself, and I don't even believe it's genuine. I think it's entirely calculated.

During the January 7 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh played the audio clip in which Clinton's voice broke and later said of it: "Emotional blackmail. This is calculated. Make no mistake about it, folks. This is not spontaneous. Because nothing with the Clintons is coincidence."

While Malkin, Kristol, and Limbaugh asserted that Clinton's actions were "calculated," CNN political contributor Bill Bennett appeared on the January 7 edition of CNN's The Situation Room and told host Wolf Blitzer, "I'm not going to criticize her. Donna [Brazile, CNN political analyst] says it was unscripted. OK." However, Bennett went on to add: "But it tells you about our politics, Wolf, and I guess something about the Clintons that so many people think it wasn't."

MSNBC Live anchor Peter Alexander also revived the "Clinton as calculating" characterization by saying on January 7, "I think the presumption by a lot of people who have lost support for Clinton is that she seemed to be calculating. This for the first time, I think most will say, doesn't seem calculated at all. It seems very real."

Reporting on the incident later on MSNBC Live that same day, anchor Norah O'Donnell claimed that "Clinton choked up while talking about how much she wants to win." But as video footage of Clinton's remarks indicates, she "choked up" while saying she "passionately believe[d] it [running for president] was the right thing to do" and adding: "You know, I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards, you know?" Contrary to O'Donnell's claim, Clinton did not remark on "how much she wanted to win."

From the January 7 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson and Heather Nauert:

NAUERT: You just mentioned the word "calculation." And today, we had some news that developed -- Hillary Clinton became very misty-eyed out on the campaign trail. I imagine you saw that. What is your reaction to that? Is that something that you think is sincere or you think was calculated to try to let voters know a little bit better who she is, show that softer side?

MALKIN: I think the question answers itself. The Clintons don't have a spontaneous bone in their collective body. Hillary Clinton doesn't sneeze without it being planned, and I really think that this is going to backfire on the campaign.

Look, you've got Bill out there. Hillary dragged her mother out and Chelsea to remind everyone that she has a womb, that she's a woman, that she's a human being. And look, there are tears in her eyes. She's not the glacier that everybody thinks she is. But I think, you know, that practically speaking, it does remind people that this woman is all about calculation.

From the January 7 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

CLINTON [video clip]: You know, I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards.

BLITZER: All right, Donna, what do you think? This is a much softer side of Hillary Clinton than we saw Saturday night at that debate, where she really went on the offensive against Barack Obama.

BRAZILE: Look, I know Hillary Clinton, and that was a very spontaneous moment. She was answering a question from a woman who talked about what it's like and how does she keep herself going. And I think Hillary, you know, really got inside herself, and it reminded her of why she's doing it. She's been a passionate fighter for children all her life.

I think it was an unscripted moment for a candidate who is so-called scripted. And I don't believe voters will at all take offense at the fact that she really just spoke from the heart. And it was truly a touching moment.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bill?

BENNETT: Well, who knows? I'm not going to criticize her. Donna says it was unscripted. OK. But it tells you about our politics, Wolf, and I guess something about the Clintons that so many people think it wasn't.

I have to tell you, in terms of Clinton moments today, it was Bill's comments about Hillary, where he said, "I wish she were taller and younger and male," that I thought were truly bizarre. And he really should know better.

Something's happening to the Clinton camp, obviously. The numbers are not looking good. We shall see what else happens. But these are not good days for the Clintons.

I think, charitably, they're running -- she's running on no sleep. Adrenaline happens when you're winning. You know, you get more energy. And when you're hurting like she is in the numbers, at least the polls, it can take you down.

BLITZER: Is that a fair point, Donna?

BRAZILE: Oh, no question. This is an endurance test. The first test is about vision. And we saw in the debates leading up to this season that, you know, Hillary Clinton has a vision. The second test is about temperament. And I think, at this point, you know, during the primaries and the caucuses, Senator Clinton needs to recast the conversation, talk about the economy, talk about things where she can highlight her experience.

From the January 7 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

KRISTOL: I think you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Mrs. Clinton's plight, but sometimes --

BRIT HUME (host): Why are you smiling, then?

KRISTOL: Sometimes it's good -- well, sometimes, it's useful to have a heart of stone. And I don't believe it was genuine. I think no Clinton cries without calculating first. This -- and I think this was -- if it was genuine, it was entirely solipsistic and narcissistic. It's all about her.

Why is she crying for the country? Is Barack Obama not going to be liberal enough for her? Is Barack Obama not going to appoint the kinds of people she wants to the Supreme Court? Is Barack Obama not a stronger candidate in the general election than her?

She's crying for herself, and I don't even believe it's genuine. I think it's entirely calculated.

From the January 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

CLINTON [audio clip]: It's not easy, it's not easy. And I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards, you know? So.

LIMABUGH: Aw. Aw.

CLINTON [audio clip]: You know, this is very personal for me. It's not just political, it's not just public.

LIMBAUGH: Of course it's personal. It's called power!

CLINTON [audio clip]: I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it. And some people think elections are a game. They think it's like who's up --

LIMBAUGH: All right, that's enough. We've heard enough of it. Here's the thing. This is the sympathy play. This is the gender card again. I'm going to tell you exactly what this is. This is the latest version of "invading my space." This is a re-enactment with tears of the Rick Lazio moment, ladies and gentlemen. Should a man get away with bringing Mrs. Clinton to tears? Should a man -- be it me, be it Obama -- should a man get away with bringing Mrs. Clinton to tears, who has -- she says, "I have so many opportunities for this country." "I have so" -- how about "we have so many opportunities together," Mrs. Clinton? Rather than "I have so many" -- "I" this and "I" that. Emotional blackmail. This is calculated. Make no mistake about it, folks. This is not spontaneous. Because nothing with the Clintons is coincidence.

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of the January 7 edition of MSNBC Live:

ALEXANDER: Obviously, we haven't seen emotion from her -- certainly, not like this -- in the course of this campaign that's now really beginning its second year for the Clinton family, hoping to become the Comeback Couple, if you will, in 2008. And right now, as we know that she's speaking in Dover, New Hampshire, in the McConnell Center, did you have a chance to speak to her staff? I think the presumption by a lot of people who have lost support for Clinton is that she seemed to be calculating. This for the first time, I think most will say, doesn't seem calculated at all. It seems very real.

ATHENA JONES (reporter for NBC News and National Journal): Well, I haven't spoken to her staff. We spent most of the time scrambling to try to talk to the woman who asked the question, talk to the people on the roundtable, find out what the reaction was because certainly -- I overheard two women there saying, "I wonder if the press is going to make this into an Ed Muskie moment." And at the same breath, one of them sort of put her hand to her chest and said, "It was a beautiful moment."

We talked to one of the only men on the roundtable -- there were only two men on the roundtable -- and he said he didn't have a problem with Clinton showing this emotion. And we talked to the woman who asked the question who said that she had come in undecided but that Clinton sort of shook her up and that she was leaving decided.

From the 3 p.m. ET hour of the January 7 edition of MSNBC Live:

O'DONNELL: With Hillary Clinton trailing Barack Obama by double digits in the polls, the question today, is her campaign panicking? Today, Clinton choked up while talking about how much she wants to win.

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