After Parsing Her Every Word, Press Now Demands Hillary Clinton Be Less Scripted

The Beltway media's theater critics posted their latest Hillary Clinton notices after she appeared at a political event in the important swing state of Iowa over the weekend. Bypassing substance as they now routinely do, scribes focused on style and many found it lacking: Too scripted!  Clinton, the commentators complained, didn't come across natural enough. She lacked the charm of her husband, her body language was off, and so were her fashion choices.  

“She cautiously enunciates each word from her prepared text, even the jokes,” wrote Roger Simon at Politico. “She is careful, modulated, meticulous. She is Hillary.” (Simon suggested Hillary's outfit was too formal for the Iowa event, as well.)  

MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough denounced Clinton as a “robot” with “no creativity, no spontaneity, nothing from the heart.” Daily Beast editor John Avlon said on CNN that while Clinton was “urgent, important, and well-scripted,” she nonetheless has to worry about “the connection question” and paled in comparison to her husband: “It's the natural versus the professional.”

There's something deeply ironic about Hillary's drama coaches in the press doling out direction for her public appearances. It's ironic because some of the people and outlets hounding Hillary to be less scripted today -- to be more candid - were among those who spent the summer bemoaning Hillary's unscripted and candid comments. They're the same ones who dissected her every utterance and announced them to be both lacking and deeply troubling.  

Recall the dominant theme of the media's gaffe-obsessed coverage from Hillary's book tour was, quite often, 'Oh my God, I can't believe she just said that.' And now they're deducting points for Clinton not being open enough?

The summer coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments often taken from hours worth of long-form interviews, spinning one phrase in the most unappealing way, and then announcing Clinton's word choice and “tone” was all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote this summer to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)

It's sort of the Goldilocks approach to campaign journalism: 'Hillary's too hot. No, she's too cold. Why can't she just get it just right?'

Recall the media-created furors over Clinton's comments about her wealth, the taxes she pays, and an interview back-and-forth about gay marriage on National Public Radio, when Hillary pushed back against host Terry Gross foro repeatedly trying to pigeonhole Clinton on the sensitive and personal issue of gay marriage. In none of the instances did Clinton say anything inaccurate or especially controversial. Certainly nothing worth setting off weeks of breathless news coverage. But it was how she said it, apparently, that lit the media's fuse.

And as the supposed "gaffes" rolled out, delighted pundits spent weeks typing up stories about Clinton's allegedly disastrous summer outreach. The commentary largely centered on theater criticism: She was "rusty," "testy," and had veered off-script!

Actually, according to Clinton, she had simply decided to speak her mind; to engage in "radical candor," as interviewer Diane Sawyer put it. (See her lengthy interview with The Atlantic last month.)

“Maybe it is because I'm totally done with being really careful about what to say because somebody might think this instead of that,” Clinton told an interviewer in June. “It just gets too exhausting and frustrating. And it just seems a whole lot easier to just put it out there and hope people get used to it, whether you agree with it or not, to know exactly where I'm coming from.”

During the book tour, she certainly had no problem giving extended, extemporaneous answers to questions and addressing a vast array of topics. In one afternoon in June, Clinton sat for extended interviews on CNN and Fox News, answering scores of unscripted policy queries live on national television. Overall, Clinton's book tour included interviews on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS, and NPR, which lasted for more than three hours and 45 minutes, according to a Media Matters tabulation.

During the book tour, Clinton was candid. She spoke her mind and didn't dwell on what everybody thought. And the press loves authenticity, right?

Wrong. The press hated it. And the press penalized Clinton for it. (Pundits spent an entire month beating her up for her comments about wealth.) And now the press complains she's too scripted.

Note that Politico's Roger Simon, who's currently deducting points from Clinton for being scripted, was among the columnists who pounced on Hillary's unscripted comments about wealth. Joe Scarborough mocked the “clunky” interview answers Clinton gave this summer, while a Daily Beast columnist announced Hillary might be “doomed” politically because of her comments about wealth. 

Back when the press was beating up Hillary for speaking her mind, Bloomberg's Mark Halperin made this announcement [emphasis added]:

She has a lot of positive attributes that are currently just being overwhelmed by all this negative coverage. And it's going to keep going. The momentum--there's, there's-- The press loves to cover her hard.

So yes, the press has revealed the open secret that a separate, tougher standard applies for Clinton. Keep that in mind as more pundits press her to be less scripted.