Politico contributors, guests on CNN and MSNBC join chorus claiming Clinton will bring "drama" to sec. of state office

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

Since initial reporting that President-elect Barack Obama was considering naming Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, many in the media have raised the specter of personal and political "drama" -- which they claim follows Hillary and Bill Clinton wherever they go -- negatively affecting the Obama administration. The Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page acknowledged that the media are hoping for "drama" resulting from a Clinton appointment; Page responded to the question of how Obama is "going to keep the drama at bay" by saying: "Well, do we want that? We're journalists."

Responding to reporting, followed by confirmation, that President-elect Barack Obama intends to nominate Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, many in the media, including contributors to Politico and people appearing on CNN and MSNBC, have raised the specter of personal and political "drama" -- which they claim accompanies Hillary and Bill Clinton wherever they go -- negatively affecting the Obama administration. The Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page acknowledged that the media are hoping for "drama" resulting from a Clinton appointment; Page responded to the question of how Obama is "going to keep the drama at bay" by saying: "Well, do we want that? We're journalists."

John Isaacs, the executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, summarized the "torrent of media coverage" focused on Obama and Clinton's relationship in a December 1 piece comparing the two Democrats' foreign policy positions:

President-elect Barack Obama announced today that he will nominate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) to be Secretary of State. Selecting a former rival for the most prestigious of cabinet positions has unleashed a torrent of media coverage, most of which has focused on grossly exaggerated disagreements during the presidential campaign and behind-the-scenes political maneuvering.

This reporting misses the point. As Lt. General Robert Gard, chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, wrote recently, "It's not Hillary, it's the policy stupid!" Reporters tend to exaggerate conflict because it makes for more interesting copy. The fact is, however, that when it comes to foreign policy, Obama and Clinton agree far more than they disagree. [bold in original]

Media Matters for America previously noted that several media figures speculated that Clinton would pursue her own agenda and not Obama's as secretary of state, with at least one pundit speculating that she would attempt to set up a "parallel government" while others speculated that Obama was considering the nomination because if Clinton remains in the Senate, she poses a threat of challenging him for the presidential nomination in 2012 and can "mak[e] trouble" for him in the Senate.

Politico references to purported Clinton "drama"

  • In a December 2 Politico column, chief political columnist Roger Simon described Obama's nomination of Clinton as one that "took some struggle and considerable drama" and asserted: "Drama and Hillary seem to go hand in hand, though this is not always her fault. Her husband seems the source of much of it."
  • In a December 1 article, chief political writer Mike Allen and executive editor Jim VandeHei stated that Obama's nominations for his national security team "offer some important evidence on the best-kept secret of the past two years: how will a President Obama actually govern in these troubled times?" Allen and VandeHei later asserted that Clinton at the State Department could "be a disaster if the Clinton family's penchant for personal and political dramas distract the Obama presidency."
  • In a November 18 article, senior political writer Ben Smith claimed that unnamed members of the Obama campaign view "Clinton as a relic of a drama-filled Democratic past." Smith wrote: "So the transition from viewing Hillary Clinton as a relic of a drama-filled Democratic past to the top choice to run the foreign policy of an Obama administration has been difficult for some campaign veterans, to say the least."

CNN references to purported Clinton "drama"

  • On the December 1 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull, host Campbell Brown aired a segment by CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns on Clinton's nomination in which Johns referred to the Clintons as "America's reigning king and queen of political drama." Johns' segment aired again later that night during Anderson Cooper 360. Host Anderson Cooper introduced the segment by saying, "Food fight or partnership? Animal House or Casablanca? Either way, plenty of drama ahead, on top of plenty of drama just to get here. We wanted to know what deals were actually made to get the Clintons on board."
  • During the November 23 edition of Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz said to New Republic senior editor Michelle Cottle, "[T]he mood swings here are almost comical. The New York Times on Friday quoting an unnamed Hillary friend as saying, 'She decided, well, she's not going to do it.' Then she decided maybe. So, is the Clinton style, or are reporters ginning this up by talking to everybody they can?" Cottle responded: "Well, you know, every time the Clintons are involved there must be high drama. This is kind of the defining characteristic of the Clintons. So, I'm sure on some level it's, you know, fun for Bill and Hillary to be out there, and they're the ones who are kind of like, well, playing hard to get or, you know, along these lines."
  • On the November 21 edition of Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull, a panel discussed Peggy Noonan's November 21 Wall Street Journal column, in which Noonan wrote that the "downside" to Obama's selection of Clinton is that "[t]o invite in the Clintons -- and it's always the Clintons, never a Clinton -- is to invite in, to summon, drama that will never end. Ever." Stephen Hayes, senior writer for the conservative Weekly Standard, called Clinton's nomination "a logistical disaster for the Obama administration." CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin later said in response: "I think it's a journalistic obsession more than a public obsession. I really don't think there are a lot of people out there who care what day she accepts this nomination. She's either gonna be a good secretary of state or not."

New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis then stated: "[I]t is curious. I mean, even something simple like opening an office in New York for Bill Clinton -- remember that? There was, the back and the forth, and it couldn't be this place and it couldn't be that place. And then he goes to Harlem. You know, I mean, 'drama' is the right word. I think, though, that you're right, that the drama may not mean that much. But you're always gonna get the drama." Toobin replied, "You are -- we love drama."

  • While discussing Noonan's column during the November 21 edition of The Situation Room, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank asserted, "[O]f course there's going to be drama. They could book out the Kennedy Center and sell tickets." Later, Hayes claimed, "Peggy Noonan is exactly right," adding: "And this is, I think, why it's going to be a problem going forward."
  • During the November 20 edition of Larry King Live, CNN contributor Amy Holmes said, "I think Republicans would love the get their hands on her [Clinton] in a nomination hearing and start asking all those tough, sticky questions about her husband's financing." She continued: "You know, Barack Obama, he campaigned and he said, 'No drama.' Well, this last week, the Clinton drama has been back. And I think he might have some second thoughts about whether or not he wants that in his Cabinet."
  • On the November 17 edition of Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull, Brown said that "it appears Bill Clinton isn't exactly helping her [Hillary Clinton's] case." Brown later asked if Bill Clinton is "a hindrance" to Hillary Clinton. In response, Louis said:

Well, he's been a -- look, they're a package deal, and I think we always -- we've always known that. And -- but I'll tell you, as far as the vetting, I don't think that this rules Hillary Clinton out by any means. Just as they say "no drama Obama," the Clintons, you get really pretty much the opposite. They're deliberate. They're early boomers. They're the center of attention. They agonize in public.

MSNBC references to purported Clinton "drama"

  • During the December 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Page asserted: "The only thing about having Hillary Clinton there is we know her and her husband to be drama people, and we've got 'no drama Obama' as the chief executive." Host Chris Matthews responded: "Well, how is he going to keep the drama at bay?" Page answered: "Well, do we want that? We're journalists."
  • On the November 20 edition of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard asserted that "there is a difference between actually working for former President Clinton and -- and the former first lady and actually having Mrs. Clinton in a Cabinet position, particularly as the secretary of state, because her husband brings so much baggage." Bernard continued: "It is -- it's the Clinton era of drama all over again. And really, you know, we should be sort of basking in the election results of November 4th, and already we're back in the middle of Clinton drama." Host David Gregory responded: "Right."
  • Appearing on the November 19 edition of Hardball, Bernard claimed "[t]here is always drama" surrounding the Clintons. Earlier, Bernard stated that Obama is "now the president-elect, and once again, all of the headlines in the news are about Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton." Bernard added: "And again, I have to say to myself, 'Who is the president-elect?' Is it Senator Obama -- former Senator Obama -- or is it Hillary Clinton? When does it end?" She continued:

She is a leader. She is not a follower. If she's going to be a good diplomat for the United States government, she has to be able to follow Obama's lead. And let's face it. Senator Clinton probably still is looking to 2012 and 2016. You can't do that and be an effective diplomat and also be an effective follower of the president-elect of the United States.

  • On the November 17 edition of Hardball, Matthews asserted, "The Clintons are drama." Matthews stated:

When I first heard that the president-elect could pick Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state, my impulse was, "trouble." The Clintons are drama. They have ambition, and they also have a story to tell, and to be just by themselves. Why, I asked, does Obama, who has the nickname "No drama Obama," want to marry himself to drama?

  • On the November 14 edition of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Gregory asked NBC News political director Chuck Todd: "[B]ut if you were Obama, and you were concerned about the drama factor with Hillary Clinton being on your team when you were considering her or not considering her for vice president, what happens if you bring her into the fold in such a big way and it doesn't work out now?"

From the December 1 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: Food fight or partnership? Animal House or Casablanca? Either way, plenty of drama ahead, on top of plenty of drama just to get here.

We wanted to know what deals were actually made to get the Clintons on board. [CNN senior correspondent] Joe Johns has the inside story and the "Raw Politics."

[...]

JOHNS [video clip]: And so what did Barack Obama have to give up to get Hillary Clinton as secretary of state? Well, he had to agree to share the domestic and international spotlight with America's reigning queen and king of political drama.

From the December 1 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull:

BROWN: Joe Johns is here with more on the give and take that put Obama's former rival into the top spot at the State Department. What happened?

JOHNS: Well, Campbell, if you're a political junkie like I am, and you love to hear about old-fashioned wheeling and dealing, this story has it all -- the story of how former rivals and a former president brokered an agreement to put Hillary Clinton on the world stage.

[...]

JOHNS [video clip]: And so what did Barack Obama have to give up to get Hillary Clinton as secretary of state? Well, he had to agree to share the domestic and international spotlight with America's reigning queen and king of political drama.

From the November 23 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Your -- your phone keeps ringing.

Michelle Cottle, the mood swings here are almost comical. The New York Times on Friday quoting an unnamed Hillary friend as saying, "She decided, well, she's not going to do it." Then she decided maybe. So, is this the Clinton style, or are reporters ginning this up by talking to everybody they can?

COTTLE: Well, you know, every time the Clintons are involved there must be high drama. This is kind of the defining characteristic of the Clintons. So, I'm sure on some level it's, you know, fun for Bill and Hillary to be out there, and they're the ones who are kind of like, well, playing hard to get or, you know, along these lines.

From the November 21 edition of Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull:

BROWN: Well, Steve, the big hurry may be to -- to try to tamp down some of this drama, which we know that the Obama camp hates. I mean, Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal today "to invite the Clintons is to invite in, to summon drama that will never end. Ever."

I mean, are we seeing that play out right now? And if she does go to work for Obama, is he gonna be able to keep her on message? Will he be the boss?

HAYES: No, seriously, I mean, this is hilarious. We are now on, like, day nine of this drama. This is a simple transaction, in theory. Will you accept the job? Yes, I will accept the job. No, I won't accept the job. I mean, it should be as simple as that. Or maybe I need to take a day or two to think about it, I'll get back to you. Instead, really, just what we've seen, Campbell, you point out, in the last 24 hours, you've seen, yes, she's going take it. Well, no, she's not, that's premature. It's on track. Maybe it's not on track.

This is exactly, I think, the problem with picking Hillary Clinton. As much as I am sort of relieved as a conservative that she's a good choice for people who believe what I believe in terms of foreign policy -- she's better than a lot of other options -- this is, I think, a logistical disaster for the Obama administration.

BROWN: So -- so, Jeff, what -- what are these quote, unquote "discussions" about? What do you think they're still negotiating? What are the sticking points?

TOOBIN: Well, they are discussing, certainly, Bill's finances. But to call this a disaster is such a total overstatement. It matters not at all whether she accepts this job on Jan -- on November 21st or December 1st. That is of zero significance. Barack Obama isn't even going to be president for two months yet. This is a total fake noncontroversy of no consequence to anyone.

HAYES: No, I'm sorry. It is not -- it is not a fake noncontroversy. It's -- it's not as much what it's -- what's happening today -- yeah, fine, she could've accepted it a week ago, it doesn't change it. It's what it says about what's likely to come. And I think to deny that is frankly just naive. If you think that this is not a preview for what we're likely to see of a Hillary Clinton secretary of state in the Obama administration, I think it's just naive.

TOOBIN: There are a bunch of conservative journalists who hate the Clintons with such a passion that everything that they do they find offense at some level.

BROWN: But -- but, Jeff --

TOOBIN: And taking a few days to decide is not a big deal.

HAYES: Come on.

BROWN: It's not just -- in fairness, it's not just conservative journalists. I mean, look at the way the media in general -- I mean, we're all guilty of this -- covers the Clintons. I mean, every little up and down is a story, like it or not. And that comes with choosing her, inevitably. So -- so, don't you think that --

TOOBIN: But -- but I -- I think it is -- it is much more --

BROWN: -- it's a story just by virtue she's -- of the fact she's there.

TOOBIN: I think it's a journalistic obsession more than a public obsession. I really don't think there are a lot of people out there who care what day she accepts this nomination. She's either gonna be a good secretary of state or not.

LOUIS: Jeffrey, it is -- it is curious. I mean, even something simple like opening an office in New York for Bill Clinton -- remember that? There was, the back and the forth, and it couldn't be this place and it couldn't be that place. And then he goes to Harlem. You know, I mean, "drama" is the right word. I think, though, that you're right, that the drama may not mean that much. But you're always gonna get the drama.

TOOBIN: You are -- we love drama.

BROWN: OK, right.

From the November 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

WOLF BLITZER (host): Yeah. Listen to what Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal. She's a former speechwriter for President Reagan. "To invite in the Clintons -- and it's always the Clintons, never a Clinton -- is to invite in and to summon drama that will never end. Ever. This would seem to be at odds with the atmospherics of Obamaland."

What do you think about that?

GLORIA BORGER (CNN senior political analyst): Well, I think it tells you a lot about Obama, because you think he doesn't know that? Of course he knows that. He'd have to be living under a rock not to know that.

But I think he's self-confident enough. I think he really wants Hillary Clinton in that job because of the face she's going to present to the rest of the world. And I think he -- he can tell her, if things aren't working out well, things -- things have gotta change. So, I think it shows a very self-confident president-elect.

BLITZER: A lot of people are saying that, Dana. Don't you agree?

MILBANK: Yeah, I think Gloria is absolutely right. I mean, of course there's gonna be drama. They could book out the Kennedy Center and sell tickets. We know that. And it's -- it's going to be very --

BORGER: You'd be in the front row.

MILBANK: It's going to be very exciting for us. But it is a sign of confidence. And he said her assets, which are this huge personality who carries a lot of weight around the world, outweighs whatever little drama we're gonna have over at the Kennedy Center.

BLITZER: Yeah, and I think it's clear -- at least this is the impression I'm getting -- that this relationship that is emerging between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is -- they're getting closer and closer on a daily basis. But, you know, I'm not on the inside.

HAYES: Well --

BLITZER: That's just the impression I'm getting.

HAYES: I -- I would say I get a different impression. I mean, you look at just what's happened over the past 48 hours. She was going to take it. No, she wasn't. She's thinking seriously about it. Maybe not. Was it offered, was it not?

I mean, we have honestly had six different turns in this story in 48 hours. This -- this is unprecedented drama.

MILBANK: That was just the first act.

HAYES: And -- and it's a preview -- it's a preview of what is to come.

BLITZER: Yeah, but, you know, a lot of those leaks are coming from aides -- whether Obama aides or Clinton aides -- who may or may not be reflecting their own personal feelings, as opposed to the principals' feelings.

HAYES: There's no doubt. You're right about that. But those aides are going to go with her to the State Department, in all likelihood.

BORGER: Maybe.

HAYES: I mean this is -- this is exactly the kind of drama that he was known for avoiding. Peggy Noonan is exactly right. And this is, I think, why it's going to be a problem going forward.

From the November 20 edition of CNN's Larry King Live:

LARRY KING (host): And, of course, Senator Hillary Clinton. What do you think -- how would Republicans feel about her as secretary of state?

HOLMES: That's an interesting question. I think Republicans would love the get their hands on her in a nomination hearing and start asking all those tough, sticky questions about her husband's financing. You know, Barack Obama, he campaigned and he said, "No drama." Well, this last week, the Clinton drama has been back. And I think he might have some second thoughts about whether or not he wants that in his Cabinet.

From the November 17 edition of Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull:

BROWN: I mean, once again, it appears Bill Clinton isn't exactly helping her case. And at the time that the VP debate was happening, we heard, frankly, that that was a reason among the Obama team that she wasn't really considered. I mean, is he a hindrance here, truly?

LOUIS: Well, he's been a -- look, they're a package deal, and I think we always -- we've always known that. And -- but I'll tell you, as far as the vetting, I don't think that this rules Hillary Clinton out by any means. Just as they say "no drama Obama," the Clintons, you get really pretty much the opposite. They're deliberate. They're early boomers. They're the center of attention. They agonize in public.

From the December 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Now, let me start with this one -- Clarence, you first. He makes Hillary Clinton, his chief rival, who won 18 million votes, the secretary of state. But then he takes Susan Rice, who he really trusts on foreign policy, makes her ambassador to the U.N., and says she doesn't have to report to Hillary Clinton. She's going to report to me directly. Two Cabinet secretaries sitting next to each other at the Cabinet desk. Explain. It seems to me that that is how you deal with rivals -- you keep them separated.

PAGE: Well, this is a case, to torture what is becoming a cliché, keeping your friend, Susan Rice, close, and your former enemy, Hillary Clinton, closer. As secretary of state, she gets the higher position --

MATTHEWS: And not close to each other.

PAGE: -- not close to each other, but reporting directly to him, which is not that unusual. In the past, you know, national security adviser has always been kind of a rival to the secretary of state, as well. So it is going to be interesting. The only thing about having Hillary Clinton there is we know her and her husband to be drama people, and we've got "no drama Obama" as the chief executive.

MATTHEWS: Well, how is he going to keep the drama at bay?

PAGE: Well, do we want that? We're journalists.

[crosstalk]

MATTHEWS: OK. Do we want a good story? Chris Cillizza [washingtonpost.com writer], your thoughts. I want to take these one at a time.

From the November 20 edition of MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

GREGORY: Well, Michelle, this is the line that they've been threading all week -- and last week, too -- as they have named these Clinton veterans to positions of prominence. And, of course, if Hillary Clinton becomes secretary of state, it doesn't get anymore prominent than that. The Clinton era is back.

BERNARD: Absolutely. This is, I believe, could be a potentially very significant problem for the brand new Obama administration. I mean, think about it, we just had the election on November 4th. Most of us are talking not so much about the president-elect, but about former President Bill Clinton and about Hillary Clinton.

[...]

BERNARD: But there is a difference between actually working for former President Clinton and -- and the former first lady and actually having Mrs. Clinton in a Cabinet position, particularly as the secretary of state, because her husband brings so much baggage. It is -- it's the Clinton era of drama all over again. And really, you know, we should be sort of basking in the election results of November 4th, and already we're back in the middle of Clinton drama.

GREGORY: Right.

From the November 19 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

BERNARD: When do you ever see in the history of the United States government, people who are up for Cabinet positions negotiating before the American public? I do ask: How does this end up in The Washington Post? We call him "No drama Obama." You know, he ran such a disciplined campaign. He's now the president-elect, and once again, all of the headlines in the news are about Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton.

And again, I have to say to myself, "Who is the president-elect?" Is it Senator Obama -- former Senator Obama -- or is it Hillary Clinton? When does it end? She is a leader. She is not a follower. If she's going to be a good diplomat for the United States government, she has to be able --

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

JOAN WALSH (Salon.com senior editor-in-chief): Well --

BERNARD: -- to follow Obama's lead. And let's face it. Senator Clinton probably still is looking to 2012 and 2016. You can't do that and be an effective diplomat and also be an effective follower of the president-elect of the United States.

WALSH: Then he won't pick her. You know what, Michelle? Then he won't pick her.

But this is what I have to say. I think this is fascinating. While the world was swept by Obamamania last year -- I confess, I was a late swooner, OK? I had some questions about him, but he won me over. And now I'm sitting here on the sidelines, admittedly, saying, "I trust Obama to make the right decision." If he picks her, it will be because he believes she will carry out his foreign policy. And if he doesn't pick her, there might be many reasons for that, but it'll be the right choice.

So, you know, I think this whole idea -- first of all, the Clintons are being blamed for leaking when it's not clear to me who's leaking what and who's talking about the negotiations. That might be Obama people who want to scuttle this thing. But, as always, the default in any situation is to blame the Clintons. They're the ones at fault.

[...]

BERNARD: See, I don't think this is a question of whether or not people trust Barack Obama's judgment to pick her --

WALSH: Well, I do.

BERNARD: -- or not pick her as secretary of state. But there are a lot of questions about the Clintons. There is always drama.

From the November 17 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to Hardball, tonight from Los Angeles. Leading off tonight: When I first heard that the president-elect could pick Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state, my impulse was, "trouble." The Clintons are drama. They have ambition, and they also have a story to tell, and to be just by themselves. Why, I asked, does Obama, who has the nickname "No drama Obama," want to marry himself to drama?

[...]

MATTHEWS: Well, isn't that something. Barack -- you're from out in the Midwest, you know Barack's reputation: "No drama Obama." He doesn't like anybody on his staff being interesting. He doesn't want even any interesting personalities on his staff like George Stephanopoulos. He doesn't want anybody interesting. He doesn't like any sideshows, period. The Clintons are always an interesting show, if you will, positively or negatively. Why would he want them aboard?

[...]

MATTHEWS: Peter, let's talk drama here. "No bama odrama" [sic] -- that's his nickname, because he doesn't like sideshows. He doesn't even like interesting staff people or colorful staff peoples like James Carville and -- and people like Stephanopoulos. They never would make it on his team. He likes quiet, gray-suited people, like [David] Axelrod and [David] Plouffe. You don't even know what Plouffe looks like. He doesn't like personality around him. Why would he bring the two biggest personalities in our lifetime into his Cabinet, into his world --

PETER BEINART (The New Republic editor-at-large and Time contributor): I -- I, Chris --

MATTHEWS: -- where anything Bill Clinton does, it's interesting to him? Why does he want Bill Clinton to explain --

BEINART: I just disagree. Rahm -- Rahm Emanuel is quite a character, and that was his first choice. He's not a quiet, retiring guy. I think Obama likes talent. I think he likes really smart people who are ambitious --

MATTHEWS: Why does he want drama?

From the November 14 edition of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

TODD: You know, there are a lot of -- there are a lot of moving parts here before a deal is done.

GREGORY: But here -- but if you were Obama, and you were concerned about the drama factor with Hillary Clinton --

TODD: Right.

GREGORY: -- being on your team when you were considering her or not considering her for vice president, what happens if you bring her into the fold in such a big way and it doesn't work out now?

TODD: Well, I'll tell you, though, State is one of the places it's very hard to play political games.

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