Part 4—Storyline ahoy: To this day, Maureen Dowd rarely fails to drag Hillary Clinton in.
In June 2008, Dowd was savaged by her newspaper’s public editor for the “gender-heavy” way she had covered Candidate Clinton’s White House campaign. According to Clark Hoyt, Dowd’s performance had been so egregious that she “could easily have been listed in” an earlier New York Times report which assigned several major pundits to a sexist “Hall of Shame.”
For yesterday’s post, just click here.
Finally! From an extremely high platform, Clark Hoyt savaged the horrible Dowd for her egregious conduct. And sure enough! All around the career liberal world, timorous onlookers knew what to do:
They ignored Hoyt’s jeremiad, pretending his words had never appeared! This has freed Dowd to continue along with her widely-emailed conduct.
To this day, she rarely misses a chance to drag Clinton in. Last Sunday, Dowd was discussing Julia Pierson’s tenure at the Secret Service. Suddenly this:
DOWD (10/5/14): It is often assumed that women bring a certain set of skills to the workplace, like consensus-building, forthrightness, a resistance to gratuitous belligerence and inclusivity. But that doesn't always hold true. Hillary Clinton scuttled her dream of health care for all by taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach and supported gratuitous belligerence by backing W.'s vanity invasion of Iraq.Clinton scuttled health care for all by taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach!
Is that a fair assessment of what happened? We have no real idea. That said, Dowd was referring to events from 1994.
Since that time, Hillary Clinton has served eight years as a United States senator, plus four years as secretary of state. She has run a presidential campaign—the campaign which Dowd assailed in those “gender-heavy terms.”
There are many recent ways to assess Clinton’s behavior, but Maureen Dowd keeps going back to that moldering health care proposal! Back in June, Dowd was battering Clinton for her book tour, then found herself saying this:
DOWD (6/15/14): Has she given up the my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness that doomed her health care efforts? Has she toned down the defensiveness that exacerbated the Whitewater affair?There was the twenty-year-old “my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness” which doomed health care again! Also, Clinton’s (alleged) defensiveness during Whitewater, the pseudo-scandal which defined an era of pseudo-scandal, starting more than twenty years back!
Has Clinton abandoned her (alleged) “my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness,” the imperiousness she put on display in early 1994? The question seems to trouble Dowd’s sleep. In March, some meaningless papers were released from the 1990s. If we might borrow from our Dylan, Dowd found herself “having that same old dream” yet again!
DOWD (3/2/14): The new cache of Clinton papers is benign…but just reading through them is draining. There are reams of advice on how to steer health care, which must have filled the briefing binders Hillary famously carried. But did she absorb the lessons, given that health care failed because she refused to be flexible and make the sensible compromises suggested by her husband and allies? She's always on listening tours, but is she hearing?Really? She’s always on listening tours? Hillary Clinton’s self-described “listening tour” of New York voters occurred in 1999! In what sense has she “always” been on other such tours?
Dowd’s detour last Sunday was nothing new. It represented the third time in the past seven months that she worried about some very old (alleged) conduct in support of that health care proposal.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with raising a point more than once, if the point is significant. But let a warning go forth from this place to the world:
This can also be seen as the way a “storyline” can get established. Bill Clinton described that type of reporting in April of this year. In this passage, he described vast journalistic misconduct:
BILL CLINTON (4/30/14): If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline. And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, everything that happens into the story line, even if it’s not the story.For reasons which are blindingly obvious, journalists aren’t supposed to do that. They aren’t supposed to establish a “storyline” about a political leader, then “shoehorn every fact” into that storyline.
They aren’t supposed to invent fake facts to further a storyline. They aren’t supposed to invent “quotations” to buttress their storyline.
They aren’t supposed to disappear facts which undermine storylines.
For reasons which are blindingly obvious, journalists aren’t supposed to do such things in discussing policy matters, or in reporting campaigns. Plainly, though, the children who pose as our journalists do such things all the time.
(For a wonderful minor example, see this post by Kevin Drum. Drum finds Chris Cillizza playing the storyline game even as he quotes Bill Clinton’s statement on the topic! Did Cillizza realize that he had toyed with a couple of facts to heighten a negative storyline? We can’t tell you that.)
Journalists aren’t supposed to do the things Bill Clinton described. That said, the kind of reporting Clinton described has been conducted on a very wide scale in the past (at least) twenty-five years.
Dating at least to Edmund Muskie, major presidential candidates have been caught in the type of web where major journalists rearrange facts to drive a preconceived narrative. When this happens, journalists are toying with our most sacred political event.
This type of “reporting” was never more potent than it was in Campaign 2000. During that deeply consequential campaign, the upper-end “press corps” created silly storylines to guide the coverage of all four major candidates—Candidates Bush and McCain, Candidates Gore and Bradley.
In the case of Candidate Gore, the storyline which sent Bush to the White House was firmly in place as early as March 1999:
Al Gore is a liar, like President Clinton!
Everyone knew the storyline. Everyone worked to advance it.
From March 1999 forward, facts were trampled, invented, discarded in service to that storyline—but storylines were also concocted for the other contenders. A full year later, the Washington Post’s ombudsman described the major storylines as they existed at that point in time:
SHIPP (3/5/00): [R]eaders react...to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.Shipp described some major storylines as they existed at that time, with Bradley essentially out of the race and McCain making his best run at Bush. (She also noted the gross unfairness of this approach to reporting.)
Shipp described the state of play in early March 2000. During the bulk of the primary season, the most ubiquitous storylines had been somewhat different:
Candidates Bradley and McCain had been uniformly “cast” as straight-talking, straight-shooting truth-tellers who spilled with “authenticity.” As such, they were cast in direct opposition to Candidate Gore, who had “a problem with the truth” and “didn’t know who he was.”
Journalists stood in very long lines for the chance to torture facts to serve these storylines. Once Candidate McCain was dispatched from the race, the press corps quickly returned to its friendly treatment of Candidate Bush, in which he was “plain spoken” and a “different kind of Republican.”
But the storylines about Candidate Gore never really wavered or broke. From beginning to end, for twenty straight months, he was cast as the world’s biggest liar and as a troubling psychiatric basket case.
People are dead all over the world because the press corps did that.
It’s hard to imagine the press corps shaping another campaign with such uniform “storylines.” As of March 1999, the mainstream press corps had joined the conservative press in its loathing of President Clinton. Fairly plainly, this loathing was then seamlessly transferred to Candidate Gore, Clinton’s chosen successor.
The liberal world was asleep in the woods. In the face of the trashing of Candidate Gore, liberals offered very few words of elucidation or protest.
How horrible was the liberal performance? Frank Rich spent the entire general election insisting that Candidates Bush and Gore were indistinguishable peas in a pod—“J. Crew vs. Banana Republic.” Other big liberals trashed Gore to the end, working from storyline formats.
For her part, Dowd wrote seven columns featuring Gore’s bald spot. Career liberals refused to complain about this mindless behavior, a deference to the horrible Dowd they maintain to this day.
People are dead all over the world because of this liberal failure.
Liberal news organs began to develop in the aftermath of Iraq. Given the presence of news orgs like MSNBC and Salon, it’s hard to imagine another campaign in which the Democratic front-runner/nominee could be slandered in the storyline-driven way dumped on Candidate Gore.
That said, we offer a word of warning:
If that kind of conduct could happen again, it could happen to Hillary Clinton. She stands at the end of a long, bizarre journalistic era headlined by Clinton hatred.
In the eighth year of this puzzling era, the pseudo-scandals of the Whitewater chase gave way to the unopposed trashing of Gore.
Jack Welch’s best boys sold their souls to Jack Welch; Dionne, Rich and Alter just sat there and watched. If you think that isn’t what happened, we’ve got a bridge to the 91st century we’d be willing to sell you.
Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton, it’s fairly clear that some in the press corps are still involved in the long-running drama which led to the trashing of Candidate Gore. Sally Quinn described Insider Washington’s Clinton hatred in her famous November 1998 essay. Cillizza seemed to describe its lingering strains in his recent post.
Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, coverage of her possible campaign shouldn’t be driven by “storylines.” If it is, do you think we liberals will stand up on our stunted hind legs and tell the public what’s happening?
History says that won’t occur. The groundwork certainly hasn’t been laid.
The liberal world has maintained astonishing silence about the storylines we’re discussing. More on that astonishing, long-running failure tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Cokie pretends to explain