Clinton “Fatigue” Syndrome: What The Press Gets Wrong About Hillary's Popularity

Hillary Clinton

The Atlantic's Molly Ball is the latest media figure to proclaim herself bored of Hillary Clinton, insisting the former Secretary of State offers “nothing new or surprising” and asking, “Has America ever been so thoroughly tired of a candidate before the campaign even began?”

But America isn't tired of Clinton, one of the nation's most popular political figures -- Molly Ball and others in the press corps who insist on obsessing over her every move are.

Polling from Gallup this summer found that a majority of Americans -- and 90 percent of Democrats -- viewed Clinton favorably. Clinton also beat out all of her theoretical Republican challengers in a more recent McClatchy-Marist poll. More than 80 percent of Democrats would be either “excited” or “satisfied” with a Clinton run for president, according to a CNN/ORC poll.

In fact, at the end of 2013, Gallup found Clinton was the “most admired woman” in America -- for the twelfth consecutive year. (Oprah Winfrey came in second, by a wide margin.)

But Ball's September 19 article largely ignored Clinton's widespread popularity to instead claim that there is widespread fatigue with the former secretary of state. Ball's argument centers around the idea that Clinton is not producing enough “spark” or “vision,” and criticized her for agreeing with a “laundry list of well-worn leftish ideas” discussed at a recent event at the Center for American Progress, “from raising the minimum wage to paid family leave and affordable childcare”:

Granted, these are substantive proposals, and they are controversial in some quarters. But they are broadly popular, and the overall message--that women ought to prosper--is almost impossible to disagree with. The discussion's only spark came from Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York, who made a rousing call to action. “I think we need a Rosie the Riveter moment for this generation!”

So Clinton supports popular, substantive proposals that many can agree on -- ideas that have been stymied by a recalcitrant Republican Congress -- and this is a problem, because Ball isn't entertained?

Recently NBC's Chuck Todd discussed “one thing” he thinks Washington media gets wrong: this idea of “Clinton fatigue.” “There is a Clinton fatigue problem,” Todd noted, “but it's in the press corps. I think there is much less Clinton fatigue in the Democratic Party than there is in the press corps.”

The excitement for Clinton -- and her own “well-worn leftish ideas” -- among Democrats was apparent at another of Clinton's appearances this week, the September 19 Women's Leadership Forum, hosted by the Democratic National Committee. Clinton received a standing ovation before and after her speech, and her support for policies such as paid sick leave, equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and a living wage received cheers and applause.

A majority of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, support raising the minimum wage and mandating paid sick leave. These ideas that seem tired to Ball are specific policy proposals that Americans want. It would certainly be more interesting for journalists if Clinton decided to support wildly unpopular new proposals, but it's unclear why any politician's priority should be entertaining reporters rather than promoting policies they think will help the country.  

Of course, this is a perfect example of what Media Matters has previously termed the "Goldilocks approach to campaign journalism." When Clinton bores journalists by repeating a popular and substantive platform, she gets criticized, but if she did do something surprising or new, the press will pounce on her for that as well.

A press corps that is constantly looking for a new angle to parse, whether it's Clinton's charm, or body language, or clothing, is going to be bored when there's nothing to say and overly-eager to twist controversy out of anything that seems new.

And a media that is quick to attribute its own personal fatigue to the rest of the nation is going to miss out on the real story.