Searching for campaign infractions real and imagined, the media's etiquette police have been busy writing up Hillary Clinton for numerous violations lately.
“She shouts,” complained Washington Post editor Bob Woodward last week on MSNBC, deducting points for Clinton's speaking style. “There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating, and I think that just jumps off the television screen.”
“Has nobody told her that the microphone works?” quipped Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough, who led a lengthy discussion about Clinton's voice (the “tone issue” ). Scarborough and his guests dissected Clinton's “screaming,” and how she is supposedly being “feisty” and acting “not natural.”
During last week's debate, Bob Cusack, editor of The Hill, tweeted, “When Hillary Clinton raises her voice, she loses.” (Cusack later deleted the tweet and apologized.) During a discussion on CNN about Clinton's volume, David Gergen stressed, “Hillary was so angry compared to Sanders.”
The New York Times' debate coverage pushed the same “angry” narrative, detailing “The ferocity of Mrs. Clinton's remarks,” and how she appeared “tense and even angry at times,” “particularly sensitive,” and was “going on the offensive.” (By contrast, her opponent “largely kept his cool.” )
Media message received: Clinton is loud and cantankerous!
But it's not just awkward gender stereotypes that are in play these days. It's a much larger pattern of thumb-on-the-scale coverage and commentary. Just look at what seemed to be the press' insatiable appetite to frame Clinton's Iowa caucus win last week as an unnerving loss. Pundits also inaccurately claimed that she had to rely on a series of coin tosses to secure a victory.
As I've noted before, these anti-Clinton guttural roars from the press have become predictable, cyclical events, where pundits and reporters wind themselves up with righteous indignation and shift into pile-on mode regardless of the facts on the ground. (And the GOP cheers.) The angry eruptions now arrive like clockwork, but that doesn't make them any less baffling. Nor does that make it any easier to figure out why the political press corps has decided to wage war on the Democratic frontrunner. (And publicly admit that they're doing it.)
Sure, the usual nutty anti-Clinton stuff is tumbling off the right-wing media branches, with Fox News suggesting her campaign was nothing more than “bra burning,” while other conservatives mocked her "grating" voice.
But what's happening inside the confines of the mainstream media is more troubling. Rush Limbaugh advertising his insecurities about powerful women isn't exactly breaking news. Watching Beltway reporters and pundits reveal their creeping contempt for Clinton and wrapping it in condescension during a heated primary season is disturbing. And for some, it might trigger bouts of déjà vu.
It was fitting that the extended examination of Clinton's “tone” last week unfolded on Morning Joe. As Think Progress noted, that show served as a hotbed for weird gender discussions when Clinton ran for president in 2008: “Scarborough often referenced the 'Clinton cackle' and another panelist cracked a joke that Clinton reminded everyone of their 'first wife in probate court.'” (The crack about probate court got lots of laughs from Scarborough's all-male panel at the time.)
The toxic put-downs during the heated Democratic primary in 2008 were everywhere. (i.e. Candidate Clinton was a "hellish housewife.") At the time, Salon's Rebecca Traister detected among male pundits “a nearly pornographic investment in Clinton's demise.”
She was referred to as a “white bitch” on MSNBC and CNN; a blood-sucking “vampire” on Fox; the “wicked witch of the west” on CNN; and “everyone's first wife standing outside of probate court,” a “she devil” and the castrating Lorena Bobbitt, all on MSNBC.
That Clinton was unfairly roughed up by the press in 2008 isn't really a question for debate anymore. Even the man who campaigned against her, President Obama, recently noted that “there were times where I think the media probably was a little unfair to her” during their Democratic primary battle.
I wonder if Obama thinks the press is once again being unfair with its primary coverage.
For example, as the press continues to focus on the issue of Clinton's speaking fees as a private citizen, the New York Times reported, “The former secretary of state has for months struggled to justify how sharing her views on global affairs could possibly fetch $225,000 a pop from banks. ”
The former secretary of state can't justify her large speaking fee, even though former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, among others, have all pocketed large, six-figure speaking fees?
Author Carl Bernstein said at CNN, “Now, you've got a situation with these transcripts, a little bit like Richard Nixon and his tapes that he stonewalled on and wouldn't release.”
Over the past week, media outlets have been trying to explain how Clinton's hard-fought win in Iowa wasn't really a win.
During the run-up to the vote, Iowa was often described as a state that Clinton absolutely had to win (electorally, it wasn't). And so then when she won, what did some in the press do? They claimed she didn't really win Iowa, and if she did it was because of lucky coin tosses.
False and false.
“Even if he doesn't actually win, this feels like a win for @BernieSanders," tweeted Associated Press reporter Lisa Lerer the night of the Iowa vote, echoing a widespread media talking point. The New York Times repeatedly referred to her Iowa victory as a "tie."
Note the contrast: In 2012, when Mitt Romney claimed to have won the Iowa Republican caucus by just eight votes, The New York Times announced unequivocally that Romney had, in fact, won Iowa. (Weeks later a recount concluded Rick Santorum won the caucus by 34 votes.)
Actually, if you go back to last September and October, polls showed the Iowa race was in flux and occasionally veered within the margin of error. More recently, CNN's final Iowa poll before the caucus had Clinton trailing by eight points in that state. So the idea a close Iowa finish was "surprising," or constituted a Clinton collapse, doesn't add up.
Meanwhile, did you notice that when the Clinton campaign accurately predicted that it had the votes to win the caucus, members of the press were quick to mock the move. Even after Iowa officials declared her the winner, the Clinton campaign was attacked as being "disingenuous" for saying she was the winner.
And then there was the weird embrace of the coin toss story, which was fitting, since so much of the Clinton campaign coverage these days seems to revolve around a very simple premise: Heads she loses, tails she loses.