Clinton Gave Her First Campaign Speech Last Week And The Press Largely Turned Away -- So Much For Seeking Substance

For a press corps that's often been critical of Hillary Clinton for not detailing her White House campaign “rationale” -- for lacking a compelling “message”-- the media's response to Clinton's first major speech since officially announcing her candidacy seemed very strange: Most journalists simply ignored it or buried it under co-called 'scandal' coverage.

The event took place late last week at the Women in the World Summit in New York City where Clinton delivered a 25-minute, campaign-style speech in which she detailed America's priorities and castigated her Republican opponents.

It was by far her most specific recitation of her still-early campaign priorities, which certainly made the event newsworthy. The Associated Press, one of the few outlets that covered the event, noted that it “wasn't supposed to be a campaign event. But it might as well have been.”

But if you didn't hear about the speech you weren't alone. Most news consumers were left in the dark, which raises the question, If pundits are going to insist that candidates deliver substance, what's the media's excuse when that substance is buried? Or are journalists completely committed to documenting only campaign process and optics? And, is there a media double standard on this for Clinton?

The oddity about the Summit omission is that the political press has at times treated Clinton more like a celebrity than a politician campaigning for the future. The press seems obsessed with covering trivial pursuits that surround her. For instance, who can forget the absurdist scene from Iowa on April 14, when a herd of campaign reporters nearly trampled themselves trying to track down Clinton's “Scooby Van” as it swung behind a community college in Iowa for a campaign visit?  

Indeed, it's certainly a campaign oddity that Clinton's mundane visit to a Chipotle restaurant in Ohio earlier this month triggered an avalanche of news coverage, while her first 25-minute campaign-like speech mostly prompted media shrugs. There were actual 'think pieces' written about the political significance of Clinton's lunchtime stop at Chipotle. As for extended analysis of what Clinton's Women in the World Summit speech meant to her campaign and to her possible presidency? Those pieces were hard to find.

Was Clintons' speech last week newsworthy? Absolutely.

In it, Clinton specifically called for paid maternity leave for new mothers (“It is outrageous that America is only the developed country in the free world that doesn't guarantee paid leave to mothers of newborns”), condemned Hobby Lobby's refusal to cover its employees' birth control, criticizing America's gender wage gap, and attacked Republicans for delaying the confirmation vote of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, as well as for trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

Clinton also highlighted that fact that “There are those who offer themselves as leaders who would deport mothers working to give their children a better life rather than risk the ire of talk radio.”

All of that qualified as campaign news. Yet incredibly, Clinton's speech was mostly met with silence from major American news outlets. Searching archives via Nexis, I found only a few brief clips of Clinton's speech aired on television news, with little discussion of the substance, and only passing mentions in major American newspapers. The Daily BeastWashington Post, AP, and New York magazine were among the only outlets to cover substantial details of the address, and those were mostly online only.

By contrast there were dozens of television reports about Clinton's Chipotle visit this month.

Perhaps the most curious oversight came from The New York Times newspaper. Its readers had to navigate to Times microsite NYTLive to find any Summit Clinton coverage. But compare that Times newshole omission to how the Times covered Jeb Bush's first big speech after he announced on Facebook in January that he was forming a exploratory committee to run for president. The Times dutifully typed up Bush's address in the form of an 800-word article that detailed the “sweeping speech” and treated the whole thing as campaign news.

Why a different standard for Clinton?

The handful of news organizations that did make passing reference to Clinton's appearances at the Women in the World Summit largely did so in the context of last week's 'scandal' coverage regarding dubious allegations from conservative author Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash.  

For instance, from Politico [emphasis added]: 

At a long-scheduled speech Thursday night, Clinton did not address any of the allegations laid out in book. Speaking in front of a supportive audience of women at Lincoln Center, for Tina Brown's annual Women in the World conference, Clinton spoke at length about how she was inspired by her mother's neglected childhood, and in some of her strongest language to date, spoke in favor of paid sick leave legislation and equal pay for women. She took no questions after the event and ignored the controversy swirling around her nascent campaign.

Politico devoted a single sentence to the substance of Clinton's first campaign season speech. Note that Politico previously published a 1,300-word piece on the significance of Clinton's Chipotle lunch. Politico also published a nearly 1,200-word article about how Clinton was guilty of not detailing her campaign agenda (i.e. “Where's the beef?”).

Indeed, lots of commentators have castigated Clinton for having a non-existent campaign message.

From NBC News:

The lack of message is all the more striking because one imagines she has thought about that moment for at least four years, if not eight. And the best she could come up with standard Democratic press release talking points.

New York Times:

For months, the suspense surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton's plans to make a second attempt at the White House had little to do with whether, and everything to do with why: What would be her rationale for seeking the presidency?

Meanwhile, the Washington Post asked, “What is Clinton's core message, and how will she deliver it?” And, “What is her rationale for running?”

The answers to those questions could be found in a speech, of course, that focused on substance and message.