Politics & Media
Apr 15, 2015, 09:43AM

The Media and Hillary Clinton

The obsessive coverage isn’t a conspiracy.

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The mainstream media is a painful read for anyone with political commitments. News organizations are generally timid, and display a numbing tendency towards group-think. The press could, in an ideal world, draw attention to injustice, hold the powerful accountable, and champion the downtrodden. And yet, the media ignores these worthy goals to report on the doings of reality television stars. One suspects that "journalists" are doing it on purpose.

You can feel the frustration coming off Sarah Jaffe in waves in a piece for Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Jaffe is sick of the meme that Hillary Clinton is inevitable, and sicker still of the amount of time reporters spend on the Clinton campaign rather than on other candidates or, for that matter, actual news. "Despite the fact that Clinton has, at press time, yet to declare that she is running for any office, most of the media treats her candidacy—and frontrunner status—as a foregone conclusion," Jaffe declares. "Despite the fact that at present, she holds no elected or appointed office, having left her post as secretary of State on February 1, 2013, her every move is followed intently by the press."

The piece was published last November, before Clinton declared. But Jaffe re-shared it on social media this week, arguing that it is still relevant. Clinton, she maintains, isn't inevitable, and shouldn’t be treated as such. More, she suggests that the media is obsessed with Clinton because she is wealthy, "well-heeled," "centrist" and favored by Wall Street. Campaign coverage, she argues, benefits media organizations who need the campaign ad dollars. The media focuses on Clinton and portrays her as inevitable because they broadly agree with her policies and have a stake in an endless campaign.

Kicking the press is hard to argue with, but Jaffe's really confused. The idea that Clinton wasn't worth covering in November is nonsensical. Yes, Clinton hadn't declared her candidacy, but candidate declarations are formal hoops. Clinton's been running for 2016 since 2008. She has a very good chance of being our next president. What the next president thinks is important. Journalists who cover Clinton aren't manufacturing news. They're doing their job.

The coverage of Clinton can get ridiculous, as with recent reports on Clinton ordering food at Chipotle. But the media covers Clinton obsessively not because there's some plot to get the public to like Clinton, but because the public is already interested in Hillary Clinton. She's been a public figure for decades, and she currently has higher likability ratings than any other candidate running.  She's very popular—and even many people who hate her want to read stories about her because they enjoy hating her. Jaffe points to research showing that the media's ranking of important stories mirrors the public's ranking, and concludes that the media drives the public's sense of what's important, which I'm sure is true. But the opposite is true as well—the media covers what the public wants to hear about. If there's obsessive coverage of Clinton, it's in part because obsessive coverage of Clinton drives traffic.

Actually, if the press has any bias, it's against Clinton, not for her. That's not because people disagree with her positions. It's because the inevitable Clinton has been inevitable forever, and that's boring. The press wants excitement, because excitement means more readers, and because journalists prefer covering engaging stories.  There's nothing interesting about Clinton at this point; everyone knows who she is, everyone knows what she stands for, everyone knows that she has cornered Democratic support and forced just about every contender to drop out before the race even begins. The press, in other words, agrees with Jaffe, which isn't all that surprising, since Jaffe is a member of the press. The Clinton story is boring, her inevitability is boring: we all would rather talk about something else.

Unfortunately, Clinton is going to be the nominee barring a catastrophic scandal or a major health problem. Railing against journalists because Clinton has effectively won doesn't do much good for anybody. At best, it's futile. At worst, it leads the left down the road the right has taken—demonizing mainstream journalism, and creating a cocoon in which inconvenient facts like global warming or Democratic-leaning polls are attributed to conspiracy theories. I'm no particular fan of Clinton's, but the press isn't duping people by covering her. Like it or not, she's newsworthy.

—Follow Noah Berlatsky on Twitter: @hoodedu

  • Noah, for someone who doesn't like Clinton much you certainly shill for her a lot. One, aside from polls, which at this point don't mean much, what evidence is there that people are interested in Clinton's every move? Also, come election time, the media will certainly be biased FOR Clinton, as opposed to the Republican.

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  • Noah, whats the point of writing an opinion piece if you're claiming both sides? e.g. "There's nothing interesting about Clinton at this point; everyone knows who she is, everyone knows what she stands for, everyone knows that she has cornered Democratic support and forced just about every contender to drop out before the race even begins. " versus " Like it or not, she's newsworthy"

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  • Hunchback, it's not shilling for Obama to say he's President. It's not shilling for Clinton to say she's won the nomination, or to say she's very popular. It's just acknowledging the facts.//Texan, the narrative around Clinton's nomination has little suspense, because she's won already. However, she's newsworthy because she's the democratic nominee, and covering the democratic nominee for President is something that newspapers should do. I think my point there is fairly clear; sorry if you got confused.

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  • Noah, News is defined as "newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events." Merely being a democratic contender does not qualify as "news". Why should newspapers cover that if the candidate did nothing "new" or noteworthy? Only thing clear here is the jar holding your I.Q. points

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  • Hey Texan. I don't really get why you feel it's necessary to be so thoroughly unpleasant at every opportunity. What does it accomplish? Do you think it makes your arguments seem more reasonable when they're sprinkled with pointless insults? Is spouting anonymous vitriol just a pleasure for you in itself? I don't mind talking to you or anything, and you often have reasonable questions, but the insults just get kind of old.// Clinton isn't a contender; she's won the nomination. That means there's a very good chance she'll be the next President of the United States, which is the most important political position in the country, and probably the world. So...yeah, what she thinks, what she talks about, how she conducts herself — all of those are newsworthy.//Also, as I said, newspapers tend to cover things people are interested in. They cover Clinton for the same reason they cover Beyonce; she's popular, people are interested in her.

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  • Concerning tone, I merely mirror yours. No reason to get huffy when one points out obvious contradictions. Despite your assumptions and claims, she is a contender not the nominee (remember this time 07?). You state as much in your piece but now contest your own work in the comments section. Do you really think that people care about where she had for lunch? From my perspective, most readers don't hence the reason people are mocking it. Thereby making the story about the media and not Clinton. You say you don't mind questions, will you answer the one I posted earlier instead of complaining about in-kind tone?

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  • 2007 was really different. She didn't have anything like the same level of party support; as a result, there were multiple reasonable contenders. There are none now, because they all dropped out, because she's won. Only people who don't care whether they win or not are going to challenge her at this point.//I answered a bunch of your questions. And tone matters. You're not just mirroring my tone; you're out and out insulting, constantly. There's no need for it. It makes talking to you really unnecessarily unpleasant.// And yep, I do think people care about everything she does, just like people care about reality tv trivia. She's really popular. Also people are interested in presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, she's won the nomination way, way before the official contest is over, so the media are left covering trivialities because there's nothing to cover. But again that's not really the media's fault in being fascinated with Clinton; it's Clinton's fault for (very skillfully) winning the nomination way before any votes are cast.// I think the media could do a lot better in informing people that she actually *has* won; folks don't in general seem to understand that. But that's where media bias kicks in. The media wants there to be a race of some sort; they want there to be an open question because the political horse race sells papers.

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  • I wasn't aware that Biden and Webb, and Warren dropped out. In fact, I wasn't aware that anyone dropped out yet. If it were actually true I'd agree that the media should report just that. When was the Iowa primary again? The fact is that you are unwillingly to face reality. It is just like your attitude towards readers who dare to use facts when disagreeing with you. Rather than answer or explain your side, you become snide and insulting for no reason. Now you are just making shit up in order to deflect from your muddled thinking. If you took a shot at using reason and fact, I think you'd be pleasantly surprised by the feedback.

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  • Good grief; I've become snide and insulting? All right, whatever. Take care.

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  • Billy Dale (aka 'who?") was unavailable for comment.

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