Why Is D.C. Media “Primed To Take Down Hillary Clinton”?

It's official: Hillary Clinton now faces two looming campaign challengers, Republicans and their allies in the press. But don't take my word for it. The anti-Clinton press campaign is now an open secret in the media, and it marks a whole new chapter in campaign journalism.

Election seasons always usher in debates about press coverage, with the assumption being coverage can affect electoral results. Which candidates are getting the most positive coverage? And which ones are being dogged by journalists?

Journalists traditionally wave off any allegations of unfair treatment for particular candidates and insist the claims are nothing more than sour grapes, or partisan plots to boost the candidate's chances. Instead, scribes claim, they always play campaigns down the middle.

But in a new twist, some members of the Beltway press corps are stepping forward to announce categorically that Hillary Clinton, despite her envious standing, is the obvious target of media derision. And that the press is actively trying to harm her campaign.

“The national media has never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton,” Politico's Dylan Byers observed late last week, as he surveyed the unfolding campaign season.  The same press corps, he added, stands poised to “elevate a Republican candidate.”

That's a rather astonishing revelation from inside the Beltway media bubble, right? Openly taking down a Democrat, while elevating a Republican? Wow.

The weird part was that campaign journalists didn't seem to object to the description. There was very little pushback regarding Byer's rather shocking claim; it barely caused a ripple. Journalists don't seem ashamed of that fact that Clinton faces a tougher press than her fellow candidates, or think it reflects poorly on the state of political journalism. More and more journalists are simply admitting the truth: The press is out to get Clinton. Period.

  • New York Times: “Clinton's Toughest Foe Appears to Be the News Media”
  • The Week: “The mainstream media hates Hillary Clinton.”
  • NBC's Chuck Todd: “No matter what she says, she's not going to please Republicans and many members of the political press corps.”

How is it the likely Democratic Party nominee for president has become a constant target of press derision and that journalists admit the media's out to get her? Whatever happened to journalism's role of reporting on what happens in a campaign, and not trying to determine the outcome? 

And could you imagine the seismic revolt that would unfold if reporters openly targeted Republicans? But don't hold your breath. When was the last time you read an article, or heard a single television discussion, in which Beltway media elites opined about how their media colleagues despise Gov. Scott Walker, are out to get former Gov. Jeb Bush, or want to take down Sen. Marco Rubio?

That kind of talk could kill a journalist's career because it would ignite the right wing's Liberal Media Bias mob. But publicly admitting the press is “prime” to try to disrupt and dismantle the likely Democratic Party's presidential nominee seems to represent perfectly acceptable behavior.

Talk about the Clinton Rules.

While the current trend does seem to represent something new and disturbing, we have seen glimpses in the past of pundits conceding that the campaign press, collectively, can't stand a Democratic frontrunner. In early 2000, Slate's Mickey Kaus reported from New Hampshire as the Democratic battle unfolded between Sen. Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore.

Kaus was stunned by the media's unmasked contempt for Gore:

What I underestimated--what, indeed, has startled me--is the extent to which reporters aren't simply boosting Bradley for their own sake (or Bradley's). It's also something else: They hate Gore. They really do think he's a liar. And a phony. They dislike the controlled, canned nature of his campaign events, and hate covering them.

Eight years later during the 2008 primary season, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank conceded, “The press will savage [Clinton] no matter what.” He characterized Clinton's relationship with the press as “poisonous” and “venomous,” and announced journalists simply “dislike” her.

Both those instances seemed liked brief glimpses where a couple of pundits let slip a campaign press bus secret. This election cycle, the fact that the press can't stand Clinton, and that her press coverage suffers because of it, is treated as common knowledge.

Note that in recent weeks, some in the media have tried to rationalize Clinton's relentlessly hostile press coverage by claiming it's her fault because she ignores the press. Does Clinton's reluctance to engage with the campaign press represent a legitimate point of media contention? It does. Does it explain the media's desire to “take down” the candidate? It does not.

The argument is that the press is ticked off that Clinton's ignoring them, with the implicit suggestion being that if she granted journalists more access, naturally her coverage would improve. But the chronology doesn't add up.

Note that last summer, Clinton spent several weeks immersed in media interviews, granting extraordinary access. Clinton's book tour included interviews on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS, and NPR, which combined lasted for more than three hours and 45 minutes, according to a Media Matters tabulation.

And how did the press treat Clinton when she answered dozens and dozens of media questions? The press attacked her relentlessly and announced her answers to their questions were all wrong. 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! (Plus, she was way too wealthy.) Clinton was deemed guilty of bad optics for weeks by the chattering class. 

So the argument today that journalists are being tough on Clinton because she avoids the press doesn't hold water. Journalists were being extremely tough on Clinton last summer when she was engaging with the press on a daily basis.

It seems no matter what approach Clinton takes, the press has agreed upon a plan: take her down.