Less than one week into Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and it's a blurry image from a fast-food restaurant security video that's emerged as the defining media image. After "news" broke that Clinton, en route to Iowa to meet with voters, stopped in at an Ohio Chipotle for lunch and that the order was captured on film, the press corps basically went bonkers, treating it like a Tupac sighting and going all-in with fevered reporting.
The New York Times first got hold of the security cam video and reported that Clinton's order "included a Blackberry Izze drink, a soda and a chicken salad, and was filled just after 1 p.m." (1:20 p.m., to be exact, according to the New York Daily News.) Who carried the tray after payment? Clinton herself, the Times explained to readers.
Stories like the original Times report are not entirely out of the ordinary for campaign coverage. But the way the rest of the press went completely overboard in its wake suggests we could be in for a long and painful 19 months before the 2016 election.
More tick-tock details followed. "The newly-minted presidential candidate ordered a chicken bowl with guacamole, a chicken salad and fruit juice," according to ABC News, which interviewed the restaurant's manager. (The guacamole and fruit juice information was considered a mini-scoop; Business Insider noted guacamole "costs extra.")
For days, Clinton's Chipotle stop served as a treasure trove of information: Who made Clinton's burrito bowl? Politico sent a reporter to Maumee and determined, "The 25-year-old who cooked the chicken that went into the burrito bowl Hillary Clinton ordered at the Chipotle here on Monday makes $8.20 an hour and splits rent with two roommates." And assistant general manager Jef Chiet got Clinton her drink, Politico confirmed, "first a blackberry Izze, which she decided she didn't want after she read the ingredients, so he replaced it with an iced tea."
But campaign sleuths weren't finished. Bloomberg confirmed that, "The change from the meal totaled less than a dollar, but it was pocketed rather than deposited in the tip jar as many customers at the restaurant do."
Could any political analysis be gleaned from the mundane lunchtime stop? Of course:
"Hillary Clinton Goes Unnoticed at Chipotle In Botched Retail Politicking Bid" (Washington Times)
"Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle" (Wall Street Journal)
"What Hillary Clinton's Chipotle Stop Says About Her Campaign" (Christian Science Monitor)
Is it possible that maybe she was just hungry?
The Chipotle nonsense reached such heights (or depths), that even starstruck E! called out the political press for its ridiculous overreaction to the story, and the fact that "ChipotleGate 2015" triggered "all sorts of in-depth analysis, from what her choice in burrito bowl means for America, to whether her decision to don sunglasses means she's unfit to be president."
During her first week on the campaign trail, Clinton has avoided any defining, self-inflicted gaffes. The same cannot be said of the press.
News organizations have gone on a "staffing binge" in preparation for the 2016 campaign, according to the Washington Post. That means political units have to produce content, no matter how trivial and innocuous. The machine must be fed (clicks must be harvested). And right now, that machine is spitting out some dreadful, breathless, and gossipy campaign dispatches that are divorced from anything remotely connected to a public discourse.
Just think about the Chipotle story. Was Clinton in hiding at the time? Had she dared the press to find her out? Was there any reason to think her highway pit stop for food was newsworthy? No, no and no. Maybe -maybe -- if it were the final weeks of an historically close White House campaign, that kind of myopic attention paid to a lunch order would be warranted. But 70-plus weeks before voters go to the polls? It's unfathomable.
Chipotle Week was so bad it produced a sense of dismay among some media observers and practitioners, as expressed on Twitter.
Daily Beast executive editor Noah Shachtman:
Hillary's campaign is only three days old and it has already been the subject of some of the worst political "journalism" of all time.-- Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) April 15, 2015
New York Times writer Nate Cohn:
A lot of the analysis of the nascent Clinton campaign is unusually vacuous--and that says something-- Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 15, 2015
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen:
Detecting a sense of dread coming over watchers of campaign coverage after the first few weeks... Plotting how to write criticism into that.-- Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) April 15, 2015
The irony was that while the campaign press freaked out over the trivia surrounding Clinton's lunch order, some pundits were simultaneously castigating the candidate for not rolling out a sweeping campaign agenda.
Politico assigned no fewer than eight reporters for an article about how, just 72 hours into her likely 18-month campaign, Clinton "has been slow" to articulate detailed positions on issues such as fast-track trade agreements and the need for reform at the National Security Agency.
The team at NBC's First Read agreed: "That lack of a message was on display at her Iowa event yesterday." Well, actually that wasn't true. NBC conceded that Clinton had already detailed four fights she wants to wage: "1) building an economy for tomorrow, 2) strengthening families and communities, 3) fixing America's political system by getting rid of "unaccountable" money, and 4) protecting the country."
Additionally, NBC reported Clinton had struck a "populist tone" and condemned income equality in America. But NBC didn't think any of that counted as much of a "message" from Clinton because she was just saying "what you hear from 90% of Democratic candidates running for downballot office."
Clinton didn't say anything entertaining and newsy! "She didn't say anything unique, which was always going to be the shortcoming of a rollout emphasizing theater over substance/message," according to NBC.
And there's the media's inadvertent punch line: It's Clinton who's guilty of emphasizing "theater over substance."
The staff at the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle might disagree.
Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.
Conservative media long argued that stopping the NYPD's discriminatory stop-and-frisk tactics would result in higher violent crime rates. But even after the dramatic decrease in stop-and-frisk's application in the city, a NYPD report shows that the city's crime rate dropped to a 20 year low.
Fox News and several newspapers hyped a stunt designed to increase fear of Ebola, carried out by a doctor at an airport where he wore protective clothing displaying the "CDC is lying."
Dr. Gil Mobley of Missouri walked through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on October 2, clad in protective medical clothing, goggles, and breathing mask, with the words "CDC is lying" painted on his back. Mobley's publicity stunt soon gained pickup thanks to a Fox News interview and coverage in several newspapers.
Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
Fox News host Andrea Tantaros claimed that Susan Rice was appointed National Security Advisor only because she is a woman and could be used as a "human shield" by President Obama, continuing her pattern of launching sexist attacks against progressive and other women with whom she disagrees.
From the February 23 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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A widely discredited rumor about Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel could cause headaches for Lou Dobbs, who endorsed that rumor on his Fox Business show.
New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman wrote on Wednesday that he was the unintentional source of a rumor that Hagel had received funding from a terrorist-friendly group called "Friends of Hamas."
That rumor was spread in right-wing media circles by Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro, who carelessly reported earlier this month that Hagel was paid to speak to a group called "Friends of Hamas." But, as detailed by Slate's Dave Weigel and by the New York Daily News, that organization does not actually exist. Here's Friedman's explanation (emphasis added):
On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel's Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed?
Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the "Junior League of Hezbollah, in France"? And: What about "Friends of Hamas"?
The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed -- let alone that a former senator would speak to them.
This baseless rumor was not confined to the Breitbart.com fringe. On Feb. 11, Lou Dobbs claimed the rumor has "a ring to it" after National Review Online columnist Andrew McCarthy brought it to Dobbs' Fox Business show:
Now that the truth is revealed, will Dobbs tell his audience that he fed them rumors?
This post has been updated for accuracy.
Despite serious legal questions surrounding the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy and Muslim surveillance program, the editorial board of the New York Daily News has been an unquestioning defender of the NYPD.
"You think rising cell phone thefts are bad? Wait till car thefts soar back over 100,000 a year. Wait till you start hearing about mushrooms and learn that the word refers to children who have been struck by stray bullets."
So opined the editorial board of the New York Daily News in response to public scrutiny of the New York Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" policy -- a controversial program that last year alone resulted in over 685,000 stops of primarily black and Latino residents (only 12% of persons stopped were charged with a crime). This week, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin granted class action status to a group of victims of the policy who are bringing suit against the city for what they argue is a discriminatory and unconstitutional practice. The Daily News, as well as the New York Post, viewed the ruling -- which they inexplicably believe risks the existence of the "stop-and-frisk" practice altogether -- as nothing less than life-threatening.
In the aforementioned editorial, titled "How to kill New York," the Daily News editorial board ominously predicted that If the program is reformed, 'the body count will start rising.'
The NY Post's editors weighed in as well, attacking outspoken critics of the program whom the editors say "won't rest until the murder rate skyrockets":
They're playing with fire -- all of them.
Indeed, if they do manage to weaken the program, the blood of new crime victims will be on their hands.
So: Will the city once again become the Crime Capital of the World?
Alas, so it seems.
Since sexual harassment allegations against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain emerged, Fox News contributor Andrea Tantaros has been one of Cain's most vocal defenders. Tantaros has a background in crisis communications, and as recently as May 2011, she was vice president at Sloane & Co., which specializes in "crisis and litigation support."
The conservative talking point is now clear: Obama has been snubbing Bush's counterterrorism and intelligence team this week and has been hogging all the credit for finally eliminating Osama bin Laden.
The claim isn't true, but you still see the accusation across the right-wing blogosphere where bloggers have been sniping non-stop at the President of the United States n the wake of the Osama bin Laden killing:
Obama did invite President G.W. Bush to attend — even after pointedly ignoring him and the work his team did that made OBL's demise possible.
The claim was further cemented today in a New York Daily News article that quoted an anonymous (and rather vaguely identified) "highly placed source" who insisted former President Bush was miffed by Obama's handling of the bin Laden story:
"Obama gave no credit whatsoever to the intelligence infrastructure the Bush administration set up that is being hailed from the left and right as setting in motion the operation that got Bin Laden. It rubbed Bush the wrong way."
But again, the snub talk isn't true, as New York magazine helpfully highlights today [emphasis original]:
Obama has, actually, credited the vital work of the intelligence community, whether under himself or Bush.
In his address on Sunday night, he said that after 9/11, "we went to war against Al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies. Over the last ten years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort."
• He added that "last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden."
• And in a congressional dinner the next night, Obama said, "I want to again recognize the heroes who carried out this incredibly dangerous mission, as well as all the military and counterterrorism professionals who made the mission possible."
A new poll from Quinnipiac University is making headlines this week. Why? Because it shows Obama's approval rating at a low point of 42 percent. And when a single poll (and possibly outlier) shows Obama's approval rating going down, that's news!
From The New York Daily News:
President Obama's approval ratings hit all-time low, half don't think he deserves second term: poll
Poll: Obama's approval hits new low
From The Hill:
Survey: Obama's approval rating at all-time low 42 percent
News organizations all agree: The Quinnipiac poll is a big deal. But for context, here's a look at all the Obama approval rating polling results currently listed at PollingReport.com, for the month of March:
-ABC/Washington Post: 51%
-Allstate/National Journal: 49%
And here's a very recent result, not listed by PollingReport.com:
For the month of March, Obama's approval rating has been quite consistent (average: 50%), just as it's been for nearly the last 18 months. But when the Quinnipiac poll came out and broke with that trend, and broke with the trend in a negative direction, suddenly that single poll was big news.
Conservative media are pushing the falsehoods that taxpayers picked up the tab for Michelle Obama's private vacation expenses in Spain and that 40 friends accompanied her and her daughter Sasha on the trip. In fact, the Obamas were accompanied by two of the first lady's friends and three of their daughters, and all of them, including the Obamas, reportedly paid for their own personal and travel expenses.
Right-wing media have repeatedly compared First Lady Michelle Obama to Marie Antoinette, the eighteenth century queen who was executed during the French Revolution.