Skip to comments.What Is Hillary Clinton Afraid Of?
Posted on 05/01/2014 9:48:48 AM PDT by Second Amendment First
Over the 25 years Hillary Clinton has spent in the national spotlight, shes been smeared and stereotyped, the subject of dozens of over-hyped or downright fictional stories and books alleging, among other things, that she is a lesbian, a Black Widow killer who offed Vincent Foster then led an unprecedented coverup, a pathological liar, a real estate swindler, a Commie, a harridan. Every aspect of her personal life has been ransacked; theres no part of her 5-foot-7-inch body that hasnt come under microscopic scrutiny, from her ankles to her neckline to her myopic blue eyesnot to mention the ever-changing parade of hairstyles that friends say reflects creative restlessness and enemies read as a symbol of somebody who doesnt stand for anything.
Forget all that troubled history, and a Clinton run for president in 2016 seems like a no-brainer, an inevitable next step after the redemption of her past few years as a well-regarded, if not quite historic, secretary of state. But remember the record, and youll understand why Clinton, although rested, rich and seemingly ready, has yet to commit to a presidential race (people around her insist its not greater than a 50-50 proposition), even as shes an overwhelming favorite.
If Clinton says yes, shell have access to a bottomless pool of Democratic political talent and cash to match all those hyperbolic pronouncements about her inevitability. If she doesnt run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article. As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.
Clinton isnt insane, and shes not stupid. When you get beat up so often, you just get very cautious, says Mike McCurry, her husbands former press secretary, who joined the White House team to find a first lady traumatized by the coverage of her failed Hillarycare initiative. She [has] had a very practical view of the media. I have to be careful, Im playing with fire.
And while the white-hot anger she once felt toward the media has since hardened into a pessimistic resignation (with a dash of self-pity), shes convinced another campaign would inevitably invite more bruising scrutiny, as her recent comments suggest. Public life gives you a sense of being kind of dehumanized as part of the experience, she lamented a few weeks ago to a Portland, Ore., audience. You really cant ever feel like youre just having a normal day.
When asked why Clinton hasnt done more to reach out to reporters over the years, one Clinton campaign veteran began to spin several theories. She was too busy, she was too prone to speaking her mind and the likethen abruptly cut to the chase:
Look, she hates you. Period. Thats never going to change. Open In New Window
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How much is Hillary Clintons fear and loathing of the media going to influence her decision about whether to run in 2016? Of course, there are other considerations: her health, the impact of a campaign on mother-to-be Chelsea, whether the 66-year-old Clinton wants to spend the rest of her useful life being president, in the words of one confidant.
But consider this recent speech by one of the more improbable rising stars in Clintonworld: her tormentor-turned-defender David Brock, who exposed many of the ugliest Arkansas scandals of the Clinton years when he was a conservative investigative reporter in the 1990s. Fox has accused Hillary Clinton of murder, compared her to a murderer and suggested she commit suicide, Brock told a crowd at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in March, arguing that shes the ultimate victim of misogyny. Hillary Meets the Press: The White House Years
By Margaret Slattery
1992: In Hillary Clintons first appearance on 60 Minutes, she and her husband, in the midst of his presidential campaign, sit for a 10-minute segment to respond to reports of an affair between Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers. Hillarys comment that Im not sittin here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette draws fire from the country singer herself. Clinton apologizes.
1992: Facing conflict-of-interest allegations for her legal work in Arkansas, Clinton defends her career in comments that harden her abrasive image in the press. You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, she says, to the chagrin of stay-at-home moms. But what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.
1994: Amid the Whitewater affair, Clinton makes a rare solo appearance before White House reporters, in what becomes known as the Pink Press Conference for the color of her outfit. She responds to questions for more than an hour and promises to be more accessible to the Washington press corps: Ive always believed in a zone of privacy. After resisting for a long time, Ive been rezoned.
1995: At a United Nations conference in Beijing, Clinton famously declares, It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss womens rights as separate from human rights. While her comments are widely praised in the United States, the Chinese government, facing criticism for its one-child policy, blacks out the broadcast of the speech.
1998: In the early stages of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Clinton again takes to the national media to defend her husband. In an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, she dismisses the charges against Bill Clinton as a vast right-wing conspiracy since the day he announced for president.
Through intermediaries, Clinton let Brock know she appreciated that sentimentthen echoed it publicly a short time later, a welcome signal to those in her camp who felt she was too afraid to speak her mind during the 2008 presidential primary campaign she so famously lost to Barack Obama. Both Clintons still attribute that defeat to fawning coverage of her rival. The double standard is alive and well, Clinton told an audience in New York last month. And I think in many respects the media is the principal propagator of its persistence.
The battle lines have long since been drawn, argues Philippe Reines, a top Clinton communications adviser during her past decade in the Senate and State Department. Its like a tennis game, he says. You guys hit the ball at us, and we hit it backover and over and over.
Never mind that in recent years shes been portrayed more as a globe-trotting celebrity than the paranoid man-hating leftist of 90s vintage. Or that she spent most of the time since her 2008 presidential defeat being covered by the more genteel State Department press corps, a period even Reines refers to as Clintons golden age of media relations.
For much of her career, she has remained publicly unwilling (and, former advisers say, at times even privately incapable) of differentiating between malicious, coordinated political attacks and the legitimate scouring of her record undertaken by responsible reporters. In 1996, she laid down this marker in a letter to her best friend, Diane Blair, according to recently released papers. Im not stupid; I know I should do more to suck up to the press, I know it confuses people when I change my hairdos, Blair quoted Clinton as saying, after Blair suggested she fake a friendly attitude toward the media. I know I should pretend not to have any opinionsbut Im just not going to. Im used to winning and I intend to win on my own terms.
Clinton has gradually learned how to fake it. But to this day shes surrounded herself with media conspiracy theorists who remain some of her favorite confidants, urged wealthy allies to bankroll independent organizations tasked with knee-capping reporters perceived as unfriendly, withdrawn into a gilded shell when attacked and rolled her eyes at several generations of aides who suggested she reach out to journalists rather than just disdaining them. Not even being nice to her in print has been a guarantor of access; reporters likely to write positive stories have been screened as ruthlessly as perceived enemies, dismissed as time-sucking sycophants or pretend-friends.
Its like a war. You need both defensive and offensive air power, says Joe Conason, an author and columnist with deep connections in the Clinton camp. Shes serious about considering a run, but shes also aware of the price shes going to have to pay. Thats why she might say, Who needs this?
Look, she hates you. Period. Thats never going to change.
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For Conason and others close to Clinton, the problem with this permanent war against the media is that it portrays Clinton as a victim, rather than pushing her to create a coherent rationale for her actually being president. They are right to create the infrastructure to defend themselves when the attacks come, but they also need to emphasize the positive, says Conason. Out in the real world, people dont care about all of this political stuff. They want to know who she is and what she will do. And thats a story theyll need to tell.
Of course, theres a chance Clinton really has finally mellowed out, that the new generation of reporters and editors has grown bored with the old fight (or too young to remember it), or that the pulverized, twitterized national media are now simply incapable of coalescing into a conspiratorial posse out to destroy her. And maybe, just maybe, Clinton is finally willing to really play the game.
Or maybe not.
She wants to be president; she doesnt want to run for president, another Clinton veteran told us. The worst part of running for president for her, clearly, is dealing with the press.
Peel back the accumulated layers of wallpaper that make up Hillary Clintons career, and the one at bottom is that of a political spouse who started out defending a talented and flawed husband. Hillary Clintons political apprenticeship wasnt in the retail politics that Bill Clinton so loved; it was in crisis communications, which fit her temperament, acute lawyerly mind and her husbands penchant for getting into crises in the first place.
In the 1992 presidential race, she encouraged efforts to push back against press inquiries into Bill Clintons infidelities and her own financial dealings, and cooperated with a campaign-within-a-campaign in Little Rock, along with Betsey Wright, her husbands top aide, according to an account provided to journalist Carl Bernstein. The unit, known inside the Clinton campaign as the Defense Department, collected 2,000 boxes full of personal papers and correspondence and became a prototype of sorts for Clintons fortress-like approach to press relations from then on.
But she wasnt just any staffer; she was Bill Clintons wife, and their job, as Wright so memorably put it, was to stomp out the bimbo eruptions before they could derail his presidential aspirations. No wonder the strain of her dual roles seemed, at times, unbearable. Sitting by her husbands side in the famous 60 Minutes interview in early 1992, she pleaded for boundaries in the coverage of her family: She was no Tammy Wynette, standin by my man, but still, it was nobodys business if she wanted to be. I think its real dangerous in this country if we dont have some zone of privacy for everybody, she said, after the interrogation about whether Bill had in fact had an affair with former Arkansas TV reporter Gennifer Flowers.
Bill won, but no zone of privacy materialized, and his first four years in the White House were a procession of disasters that included Whitewater, Hillary Clintons failed health reform initiative and the suicide of her close friend and husbands deputy counsel, Vince Foster, who killed himself in July 1993 under withering scrutiny over allegations of impropriety in the White House travel office. At the time of his suicide, he had been working on a number of controversial legal issues in the White House, and Hillary Clinton viewed the hazing of her former law partner as part of a larger national press witch hunt against her family, friends and associates. Im sure that I sometimes appeared brittle, sad and even angrybecause I was, she wrote in her 2003 memoir, Living History, of her struggle to deal with Fosters death and the conspiracy theories it spawned.
If her overall attitude toward the prying press was immutably negative, Clinton reluctantly came to grips with the reality that she needed to connect with reasonable members of the media, establishing a pattern of grudging engagement followed by reflexive withdrawal. The first of her major outreach drives came in April 1994, when Clinton assented to White House press corps requests that she answer questions about her $99,000 windfall from a late 1970s investment of $1,000 in cattle futures. The Pink Press Conference, named for the sweater set she wore during her appearance before the cameras in the State Dining Room, was a relative successshe bored the media to death with detailed, numbers-heavy responses.
First Lady Clinton talks to the press in Jones Beach, N.Y., in 1999. | James Leynse/Corbis
Though unpleasant, the interaction was instructive about the consequences of her long-standing aversion to feeding the beast. I had kept the White House press corps at arms length for too long, she conceded in Living History. It took me a while to understand that their resentment was justified.
The lesson stuckfor a while. McCurry remembers White House reporters saying how much fun she was after an off-the-record session during her trip to Mongolia in 1995. But then the Monica Lewinsky scandal engulfed everything, and Clintons vast right-wing conspiracy declaration on the Today show came as she was professing to believe her husbands denial that he had had sexual relations with the former White House intern.
For years, beleaguered Clinton advisers tried to improve the toxic relationship with the media. Political hands, like Mandy Grunwald and Harold Ickes, and various communications aides, like Howard Wolfson and Lorraine Voles, counseled her to engage more consistently. So did younger staffers whose interactions with her can have the gentle, hectoring tone of children trying to get their mother to turn on the high-tech gadget they bought her for Christmas.
Its like a tennis game, Reines says. You guys hit the ball at us, and we hit it backover and over and over.
It is clear to me that Hillary is most comfortable doing press that is built around a specific purpose, wrote Lisa Caputo, at the time the first ladys press secretary, in a 1995 memo outlining a proposed strategy for Clintons It Takes a Village book tour. Hillary is comfortable with local reporters and enjoys speaking with them. This will help us get around her aversion to the national Washington media and serve to counter the tone of the national media.
Its certainly true that by that point Clinton had a strong aversion to the national media. Little Rock is not Washington, sniffed the Washington Posts Sally Quinn when the Clintons and their two-for-one act first came to town. The first lady responded in kind, according to William Chafes Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal, saying that Quinn has been hostile from the moment we got here. Why should we invite somebody like that into our home? Clinton refused other entreaties to embrace the establishment by her social secretary, Chafe writes.
Perhaps because she never felt welcome, Clinton never created the alliances with the media elite that other politicians of her stature have established. She always viewed the courting of columnists as worse than pulling teeth, in the words of one longtime confidant, and would often bridle when opinion leaders, like Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius, pushed for more access than she wanted to give.
Time columnist Joe Klein, who covered the Clintons in the 90s and turned their story into the thinly fictionalized novel Primary Colors, thinks Clintons reticence is congenital, motivated by an innate fear of making mistakes in public. When Clinton thought she wasnt being scrutinized, she relaxed and engaged as candidly and incisively as anyone he had ever interviewed. But on the record she would shut down, reciting bland talking points. I dont know why she doesnt let her light shine, Klein says. In my experience, Hillarys really hurt herself in the press by being too cautious. It really undersells all that hard work she does.
Back in the 1990s, her staff urged her to cozy up with an established class of top female reporters whose personal struggles in a male-dominated town mirrored Clintons own. Caputo, for example, in 1995, singled out three prominent female network correspondents for the Hillary treatmentABCs Ann Compton; Claire Shipman, then with CNN; and NBCs Andrea Mitchell, whom Caputo described as very aggressive and a very good reporter. The proposed charm offensiverevealed as part of a Clinton Presidential Library document dump earlier this yearproceeded in a typical fits-and-starts fashion, according to the reporters.
The problem took on more urgency as Clinton transitioned from first lady to New York Senate candidate in 1999, fresh out of the Lewinsky debacle, when Clinton had blamed the media for smarmy allegations about her husband that turned out to be true. Dont be defensive, Grunwald counseled Clinton at the time in another memo. Look like you want the questions: The press is obviously watching to see if they can make you uncomfortable or testy. Look for opportunities for humor. Its important that people see more sides of you, and they often see you only in very stern situations.
Clinton, liberated from the White House fishbowl, was no natural on the campaign trail, but dealing with the press on a day-to-day basis gave her a sense of confidence shed never had in her husbands shadow, especially once she won an election in her own right and moved into the Senate. Sotto voce, she even set out to improve her relationship with conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Her 2000 campaign communications chief, Howard Wolfson, served as a back-channel emissary between the Clinton and Murdoch camps in his capacity as a strategic adviser to Murdochs News Corp. in its long-running battle with Nielsen over the ratings companys viewer-tracking practices. Clinton herself made nice with the New York Post, Murdochs sharp-knifed right-wing tabloid. She cultivated a friendly rapport with Vince Morris, author of the papers Hillary Watch, column: When Morriss wife delivered a daughter in 2002, Clinton wrote a letter directly to the child on Senate stationery.
It was just a nice little gesture, Morris recalls. Hillary did a lot of things to sort of recognize my rolethat I was not going away, it was going to be a permanent part of her reality as a senator, and that she might as well make the best of it.
Cozying up to reporters didnt come easily, but they appreciated the efforteven if it was jarring to have such a distant figure trying to connect. In 2006, Anne Kornblut, then a New York Times reporter, was trailing the senator around upstate New York when Clinton stopped her outside an event to ask her how someone named Eliza was doing. The 2000s: A Politician is Born
By Margaret Slattery
The Senate years
2007-2008: Clinton backers decry sexist coverage of the Democratic primary, blaming both liberals (Chris Matthews calling her a she-devil) and conservatives (Tucker Carlson: When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs). In the thick of the campaign, 51 percent of Democratic primary voters say journalists are harsher on Clinton than other candidates, compared with 12 percent for Barack Obama.
2011: As secretary of state, Clinton appears on the cover of Time magazine and in a memorable accompanying shot that shows her sporting dark sunglasses and checking her BlackBerry aboard a military plane. The photo is the inspiration for the Texts from Hillary Tumblr, which helps shape her new, Internet-savvy image (and earns a response from Clinton herself: ROFL @ ur tumblr!).
2012-2013: In the heat of the presidential campaign, Republicans take to conservative radio and TV to lambaste Clinton for the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on her watch. At a January 2013 Senate hearing, Clintons agonized response to questions about how the Americans were killedWhat difference at this point does it make?goes viral.
2013: Approaching the end of her tenure at State, Clinton joins President Obamaher former campaign rivalfor a fawning co-appearance on 60 Minutes, in which Obama says Clinton will go down as one of finest secretary of states weve had and calls her one of the most important advisers that Ive had on a whole range of issues and a strong friend. Asked about her next move, Clinton demurs.
It threw me. Eliza? Who is Eliza? recalls Kornblut, who would go on to write Notes from the Cracked Ceiling about the 2008 campaign. It was so out of context that it took me a moment to realize Clinton was asking about my college roommate, whose mother is the Clintons interior decorator. It was all the more surprising because Clinton had seemed so reluctant to forge any bonds with those of us who were following her around. Such moments were rare, and grew rarer as the  campaign wore on, but when they happened, people wondered why she didnt try to show that side of herself more often.
Her eight years in the Senate also saw the rise of the quintessential Clinton press handler, Philippe Reines, a singularly colorful figure in D.C. flack-dom who shares his bosss contempt for the national political press. Unlike Clinton, he also dearly loves the hand-to-hand combat of reporter-wrestling, and proffers a detailed critique of journalistic practice.
Individual reporters dont matter as much as the way the industry behaves as a whole, Reines told us over Diet Cokes at a Chinese restaurant in Washington, with a smiling photo of Hillary Clinton looking down approvingly from a nearby wall. Theres an overall dynamic in place larger than any one person. The pressure to produce is so overwhelming that reporters are filing two, three times a day. The emphasis has completely shifted away from quality, to quantity and speed, and its come at the expense of accuracy and fairness. Every single reporter I sit with bemoans the pressure to produce more and produce it faster, and acknowledges both come at the expense of fundamental editorial standards like getting it right.
Nothing gets Reines as worked up as the notion that Clinton gets lousy press because shes too secretive or defensive. Were not the ones breathing down your necks to crank out stories at the same rate as a factory assembly line, he adds. Things are a mess. Can you honestly say that this is all about us? Youre not part of that problem? Listening to the media complain about how horrible we are to the media, youd think it takes only one to tango.
Over the years, Reines has been fired at least twiceonce for breaking the no-staffer-profiles dictum, another after he slipped a nasty background quote into a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times that invoked John McCains Hanoi imprisonment. When a furious Clinton ordered a subordinate to ax him after Dowd-gate, the staffer refused on the grounds that Clinton would hire him back a few days later.
Reines, like everyone else in Hillaryland, coveted a big role during the hopeful days leading into Clintons 2008 presidential campaign, but he was elbowed out by rivals.
That turned out to be a stroke of luck.
At the time, he told friends that he was happy not to have been in the first wave on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and his forced absence from the power struggle inside the campaign headquarters accounts, in part, for his presence at Clintons side today. Hillary whisperers like himself, who share her dark view of the media and bear no direct responsibility for the 2008 debacle, have tended to stick around as others have drifted away.
David Brock, who made his name in the 90s as a self-described right-wing hit man (hes the reporter who first revealed the sordid tale of Paula Corbin Jones, after all), is the most extraordinary example of this. After undergoing his political conversion in 1997and recanting his previous work in a sensational Esquire tell-allBrock inched toward Clinton directly. He had already broken the ice by surreptitiously feeding intel on right-wing media to the White House, and he eventually endeared himself to Clinton insiders like John Podesta, a former Clinton chief of staff. About a decade ago, Brock urged the creation of an organization expressly created to push back on conservative attacks on the Clintons and other Democrats, the group that would soon become Media Matters for America. Eventually, he appeared before a 2003 closed-door Clinton donor conference in Chappaqua, N.Y., where Bill Clinton endorsed his workeven urging attendees to find forgiveness in your hearts for Brocks past activities.
So when the 2008 campaign started taking shape, it was no real surprise that Clintons press operation for the presidential race was modeled on the old Defense Department she had built for her husband back in 1992. The emphasis was on creating the best war room ever, on hitting back against Obama and building a battlement against hostile media, often at the expense of attracting positive press or hammering home a consistent rationale for her candidacy. The campaigns formal strategy, in fact, was to keep her as far away from the press as possible for the first year, one former war room occupant told us.
As Obama rose, Clinton became increasingly convinced the press was in the bag for her opponent and believed her war room simply wasnt tough enough. On a typical conference call in December 2007, she unloaded on Mo Elleitheea hard-working junior Clinton flackfor not doing a thing to defend me. Howard Wolfson, the campaigns communications director, sheepishly stood up for Elleithee and took responsibility himself, while informing Clinton that Elleithee was, in fact, listening in on the call.
Clinton speaks with reporters in Manchester, N.H, during the 2008 Democratic primary. | Dan Habib/Concord Monitor/Corbis
Elleithee wasnt the problem, of course. Clintons campaign was riven by internal conflict, a dysfunctional war room, laughably misguided logistical planning and a fundamental strategic miscalculation: Pollster Mark Penn, who had the Clintons ear, was among those advocating a defensive strategy centered on emphasizing her toughness and attacking Obamas lack of experienceat a time when Obama was capturing the Democratic electorate with a message of youth, generational change and lack of D.C. baggage.
Only as the campaign was slipping away and Obama had all but won the nomination did Clinton change course and begin to court reporters, replacing her hard-edged traveling staff with a more reporter-friendly team (including Elleithee) and lavishing the bedraggled media throng with the small kindnesses that had always endeared her to her own staff. Birthdays were recognized, bagels were delivered, a few off-the-record drink-and-chats were scheduled, advice on how to beat a campaign cold (put hot sauce on everything) was dispensed.
They think Im a monster, she told an aide. I dont know what to do.
Still, Clinton came to believe the press, with whom she uneasily shared a rickety 737, was lying in wait to pounce on any mistake she made. And she made plenty of them. In May 2008, when it became apparent she had virtually no chance to overcome Obamas margin among delegates, Clinton sat down with an editorial board in South Dakota and said, My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
It was a crazy thing for any candidate to say at a time when the Secret Service was tracking down death threats against Obama, even if her point was about the election calendar. The media, from the New York Post to the New York Times (whose editorial page deemed it an inexcusable outburst), exploded. A short while later, Clinton retreated to the back of a convenience store and broke down in tears among the inventory shelves. They think Im a monster, she told an aide. I dont know what to do.
Throughout the campaign, both Clintonsand especially Billblasted away at the media, griping on conference calls about what they saw as a pro-Obama bias. If Hillary Clinton had a favorite media moment in 2008, it came after Saturday Night Live mocked fawning journalists tossing softball debate questions at Obama while grilling her. Maybe we should ask Barack if hes comfortable and needs another pillow, she quipped at one of their last debates, building on a line from the skit, as some in the audience booed.
Often the Clintons bitterness about the campaign manifested itself in criticism of the New York Times, which they viewed in starkly adversarial terms. People in her orbit recalled a conversation with then-Sen. Clinton on the eve of the 2008 race when she said of the papers coverage, Were never going to get the New York Times. Why bother? Later, when the campaign was on in earnest, Clinton was blunt in conversation, according to people familiar with the discussions: Theyre after us.
It all went back to Whitewater, an early 1990s trial by fire spurred by Pulitzer Prize-winning Times reporter Jeff Gerth, who first reported on the Clintons complicated relationship with bank executive-turned-felon James McDougal in an Ozarks land deal. In a diary entry from that period, Diane Blair described a conversation with an embittered Hillary Clinton about how Times editorial page editor Howell Raines viscerally hates and wants to destroy the Clintons.
She cant figure out why these people out there [are] so anxious to destroy them, Blair wrote.
The Times-Clinton relationship warmed during her tenure on the Hill: Staffers remember semi-annual editorial meetings as especially friendly confabs, with light banter and an agree-to-disagree tenor when writers expressed opposition to her support of the Iraq War. But it didnt survive her transition to presidential candidate.
The well-chronicled dissension among the 2008 campaign team didnt extend to the Times. Here was one area of harmonious internal consensus: No one, from candidate on down, thought they were getting a fair shake. Flacks routinely spoke of their frustration with what they believed to be the Timess lopsided coverage, fawning for Obama and not nearly so nice for Clinton. They would grouse to reporters from other outlets about the lead correspondents the paper had dispatched to cover the two campaigns: Fairly or not, the Timess embedded Clinton reporter, ex-Boston Globe writer Patrick Healy, was regarded as more aggressive than his counterparts assigned to cover Obama.
It was Healys May 2006 story on the state of the Clintons marriage that caused the most heartburn. The storywhich concluded that the former president spends his nights zipping around Los Angeles with a bachelor buddy while his wife was yoked to work in Washington or New Yorkwas the subject of an internal freakout that convulsed the Clinton team, which viewed it as an attempt to demolish the image of a reconciled, reconnected couple. Hillary Clinton, according to people in her orbit at the time, was incensed and told staffers she couldnt believe the nations most influential paper would sink so low. Reines, along with Bill Clintons spokesman, Jay Carson, provided Healy with a detailed accounting of their schedules that showed the couple spent precisely 14 days a month in each others company. The article didnt contain any real bombshells, but the Clintons never forgot it.
Even today, the frustrations linger, and both Clintons have again taken to raising concerns about whether she will get a fair shake if she runs in 2016. Reines, for one, accuses the paper of refusing to back off when a seemingly juicy Clintonland lead doesnt pan out. These are five words you will never hear an editor or reporter at the New York Times say: There is no story here. The most recent irritant in the Clinton-Times saga: a New York Times Magazine cover superimposing Clintons face on a planet, to accompany a power map of Planet Hillary by Clinton beat reporter Amy Chozick. Brocks group, as well as Clinton allies like consultant Paul Begala, mocked it: Its embarrassing for the magazine, Begala told CNN. Seventeen out of the last 20 years, Hillary Clinton has been voted in the Gallup poll as the most admired woman in the world, and this is how they depict her?
Last August, Brock penned a fire-breathing open letter to the Times, after the paper ran a front-page story suggesting the Clinton Foundation was running a deficit, claiming it willfully misinterpreted the numbers. But, in a larger sense, he was laying down a marker for the Timess 2016 coverage, using the piece as a platform for a broader attack on the papers priorities. Brock demanded the paper refrain from negatively pre-judging the Clintons and correct the anti-Clinton animus consistently exhibited by one of your columnists. He also suggested the paper resist the temptation to create purely speculative news in your new Clinton beat. (Politico has also assigned a reporter, one of the authors of this article, to the Clinton 2016 beat.)
Some Clinton aides thought Brocks shot at the Times was needlessly provocative, but Bill Clinton let Brock know through intermediaries that the couple appreciated the effort, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. And the former president was the featured speaker at the Media Matters three-day, closed-door donors conference at the Parker Meridien hotel in Manhattan last summer, using the speech to press for what one participant described as a media focus on the actual story instead of the storyline.
Even ostensibly positive stories have done little to improve the relationship. Last December, when the Times ran an exhaustive David Kirkpatrick report on the September 2012 attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libyaan article that largely supported Clintons version of eventsher aides took issue with the timing. Kirkpatrick, in a tweet circulated in the Clinton camp, said that publication had been delayed six months due to internal log jams too complicated to explain. The general reaction in the Clintons orbit to the Timess coverage of them is there they go again, Reines told us.
The Timess executive editor, Jill Abramson, in an email to us, said she had never been contacted by either Clinton or their aides to request a change in coverage.
She cant figure out why these people out there [are] so anxious to destroy them, Blair wrote.
The Times news coverage of Hillary Clinton has been thorough and even-handed, Abramson wrote, pointing to the Benghazi article and the investigation into the Clinton Foundations funding that some Clinton allies deemed critical. Abramson called both stories newsworthy, deeply reported and scrupulously factual.
The papers editorial page, she added, endorsed Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2008 for the Democratic nomination, though as a news editor I am not involved in candidate endorsement decisions.
When Clinton took charge of Foggy Bottom in January 2009, she finally inherited the press corps she had always coveted, trading the scruffy New York tabloids of her Senate years and national political wolf pack of the 2008 campaign for the less intrusive and infinitely more substantive State Department reportorial entourage.
It still wasnt a love affair, at least not at the start. When asked about Clintons dealings with the State press corps, the Washington Posts Glenn Kessler chuckled, Its not love-hate. Its more like tolerance-hate.
The State Department may have been safer territory than the campaign, but Clinton wasnt taking any chances. She planned to bring along Reines (who dodged an attempt to block his appointment by Team Obama) and Sidney Blumenthal, a former New Yorker writer with a long-standing personal relationship with both Clintonsa man known inside the 2008 campaign as Rasputin for his after-hours scheming sessions with the Clintons and nicknamed Sulfur-Breathing Spawn of Hell in Obamas Chicago campaign headquarters. (Blumenthal declined to comment.)
No Clinton insider was more reviled in the West Wing than Blumenthal, who goaded reporters to pursue the most salacious rumors about Obama during the 2008 campaign, according to four reporters interviewed for this article. In 2009, when Clintons people floated the idea of Blumenthal joining the State Department as a kitchen cabinet adviser, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs told White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Hell, no. If she hires him, Im out of here, according to a person with knowledge of the exchange. Me, too, added David Axelrod, Obamas top messaging adviser. Emanuel was tasked with delivering the no-go news to Clinton.
From the start, Clinton and her small, seventh-floor brain trust made it clear that she wouldnt be Condi, meaning she wouldnt engage in the frequent, on-the-record talks and background chats favored by her predecessor as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Clintons staff tried to set the new ground rules in midflight on her first overseas trip, a tour of Asia in February 2009, telling reporters the secretary was ditching the Rice-era on-the-record policy discussion for their filed-on-arrival stories. Instead, they would get a brief statement from the secretary, followed by a question-and-answer session that was strictly not for publication. The reporters rebelled.
Clinton didnt want to make news for stiff-arming the media, so she dutifully appeared for an otherwise forgettable 25 minutes. But she skipped the customary second briefing on the trip back, establishing a pattern reporters eventually were obliged to accept: She would make herself available often enough, but at the time and place of her choosing.
Reines and Cheryl Mills, Clintons tough right-hand woman at Foggy Bottom, also sought to bring more of their bare-knuckles political sensibility to the vast State Department PR shop, decreeing that while basic questions about policy would still be funneled through Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley, anything that even remotely touched on the secretarial person was to be considered the exclusive province of Reines and Mills. That worked just fine for the Clinton palace guard, but it sowed confusion in a building accustomed to prescribed lines of authority and sapped morale to the point where the departments inspector general was called in to investigate, concluding that Clintons staff needed to improve internal communication with everybody else. Reines, the IG wrote, has important access to the Secretary, but needs to communicate information transparently to the Assistant Secretary and other colleagues and to draw more upon the talents of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees in the bureau. Reines, a novice in the elaborate world of diplomatic protocol, soon became famous for his email flame wars with reporters and played a minor walk-on role in history as the aide who had the lame idea to hand Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a gimmicky red reset button, all the more embarrassing when the translation proved to be wrong.
But the political bent of the communications team also served Clintons public diplomacy ambitions. Crowley, then the departments spokesman, remembers a 2010 trip to Pakistan, where Clinton calmly moved among news crews in Lahore and cheerfully fielded any question thrown her way. She brought a political perspective, Crowley says. It was really a campaign approach she was using. Perhaps a question now is whether shell use what she learned at State on a campaign.
Despite Clintons dismissal of 2016 presidential talk, it was clear to veteran observers that she was conducting herself in a way that wouldnt preclude future ambitions. She was very careful to frame everything in the context of the administrations policy, says Andrea Mitchell, who traveled often with Clinton as NBCs chief foreign affairs correspondent. That said, she didnt take on some of the more politically charged challenges that could be problematic down the road for someone running for president. And the contrast with [Secretary of State John] Kerry, her successor, is very obvious. Hes taken a lot of risks.
Still, this was a different Hillary Clinton with the press. Its a stretch to say Clinton was ever buddy-buddy with the Foggy Bottom crew, but over time they grew to like her and, at times, even felt protective. During a 2010 trip to Peru, Clinton met with reporters to talk over a couple of potent pisco sours. For reasons that eluded her companions, Clinton had scheduled a later meeting in the same hotel bar with a Chinese official. She wasnt wobbly, but as Clinton was saying her goodbyes, a scribe jammed a drink into the hand of the Chinese diplomat to even the international playing field, according to an attendee.
Clinton says farewell to the State Department staff in 2013, ending what an aide calls her "golden age" of press relations. | Melina Mara/Washington Post/Getty
More important, these reporters mostly stayed out of all the Hillary no-fly zonesBill, Chelsea, The Marriage and the entire decade of the 1990s. Clinton responded in kind. She did a brilliant job of personal diplomacy with the press at the State Departmentthe off-the-record drinks, the birthday cards, the personal touches, says Tommy Vietor, an Obama campaign operative who went on to work closely with Clintons staff as spokesman for the National Security Council. You have to treat people like theyre people. You cant just have flacks like me stiff-arming you all the time. READ MORE
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Just six months into her State Department job, during a trip to Mumbai, Clinton was already relaxed enough to tell reporters at a hotel bar, I like you folks so much better than the White House [press corps], as an attendee recalled it. They are a lot rougher, and you guys stick to the issues.
Of course, presidential campaigns are not just about issues; they are exercises in the cynical art of projecting genuine sincerity. They are about weaving issues into the fabric of your life story, showing that your record is an extension of who you are as a person, providing the requisite self-revelation that allows voters to feel you are real.
The problem, at least for now, is that no one is tasked with creating a positive narrative other than Clinton herself and Reines, who has opened the gates a crack for a few biographers who have insisted they come in peace. People ask me all the time to define what she did at State, what did it all mean, says one former Clinton press aide. Somebody needs to be out there telling Hillarys story in a more consistent way, not just breaking legs.
Clinton advisers outside her inner circle fret that she is waiting too long to set up even a rudimentary messaging and communications structure, to build a case for Hillary as president, not just against those who would take shots at her. (It may seem early, but the calendar is burning, and weve got no infrastructure, says one Clinton operative active in fundraising.)
The response from Hillaryland? Chill out. Shell be everywhere this fall campaigning for Democrats and hawking her new memoir, out June 10, along with a new narrative about her time at State, from Beijing to Benghazi. Zero to 100 in a minute, predicts Reines, jauntily.
Until then, the barricades are being manned by razor-edged defenders like David Brock, who warned in a recent talk of right-wing slander sites ready to tee off on Hillary Clinton like a meat tenderizer softens up a steak.
Needless to say, the Clintons loved that one.
Wasn’t that move first class? Poor little smart power was finally cowed. By a shoe.
W was cool, quick and agile.
Maybe she should be afraid of tar, feathers and rope.
I don’t care if she is a female, hang her right along with Louis Lerner and Nancy Pelosi.
What is she afraid of?
Killary is scared to death of me. She told me herself.
In fact, she said, “The only time I’ve feared more for my life was when we were under withering sniper fire in some backwater Balkan country, I forget the name.”
Every time I use the word Killary in a post here on FR she breaks out in a sweat.
In fact, after several years of her begging and pleading emails and her crying on the phone, I reluctantly stopped using the word Hildabeaste. Seems it REALLY upset Huma.
Every one of these charges is indisputably true.
Can someone tell me in a minute...what that way too long post...said?
Is it true?
google ( hillary clinton watergate fired )
She has a reflection?
The hillary thing is afraid of anything even resembling truth. Such subhuman jetsam, she needs to meet justice.
Another red carpet article preparing the battle space for Hillary.
The translation is, I own the media, but any bad news is rapacious, shallow and comes from anti-female males (white, of course) from the right-wing.
She’s a wimp. Show the view from the stage to the top of her head and you can prove it.
WHERE WAS THE BARF ALERT? WHERE? WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN WARNED!
I read the first couple of paragraphs, and thought I was going to puke....all the smoke these “journalists” are blowing up her panties should have had the fire department on scene.
Disgusting to say the least...at least the part I read, and I would believe the whole damned thing went on blowing.