Part 3—Discussed campaign coverage of Clinton: On June 13, 2008, a rare event occurred.
Right there on its front page, the New York Times published a long and detailed analysis piece. It covered a very unusual topic:
The 1600-words piece discussed the way Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign had been covered by the mainstream press. The press corps was critiquing the press!
This is never done.
There was a reason why this unusual conduct had been allowed. That reason appeared as Katherine Seelye and Julie Bosman started their lengthy report.
Why was the press corps discussing the press corps? In this instance, allegations of sexism had ever so briefly appeared. This is the way they started, headline included:
SEELYE AND BOSMAN (6/13/08): Media Charged With Sexism in Clinton CoverageAs usual, the usual suspects were insisting that the coverage of Clinton’s campaign had been fair. Eventually, though, Seelye and Bosman paraded a string of horrible moments from the coverage, though a great deal was being left out:
Angered by what they consider sexist news coverage of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, many women and erstwhile Clinton supporters are proposing boycotts of the cable networks, putting up videos on a ''Media Hall of Shame,'' starting a national conversation about sexism and pushing Mrs. Clinton's rival, Senator Barack Obama, to address the matter.
But many in the news media...see little need for reconsidering their coverage or changing their approach going forward. Rather, they say, as the Clinton campaign fell behind, it exploited a few glaring examples of sexist coverage to whip up a backlash and to try to create momentum for Mrs. Clinton.
Phil Griffin, senior vice president of NBC News and the executive in charge of MSNBC, a particular target of criticism, said that although a few mistakes had been made, that they had been corrected quickly and that the network's overall coverage was fair.
His views were echoed by other news media figures. ''She got some tough coverage at times, but she brought that on herself, whether it was the Bosnian snipers or not conceding on the night of the final primaries,'' said Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review.
SEELYE AND BOSMAN: Cable television has come under the most criticism. Chris Matthews, a host on MSNBC, called Mrs. Clinton a ''she-devil'' and said she had gotten as far as she had only because her husband had ''messed around.''The scribes cited horrible moments involving the usual throwbacks. Piteously, Olbermann said that he and his colleagues were the ones who had been treated unfairly.
Mike Barnicle, a panelist on MSNBC, said that Mrs. Clinton was ''looking like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court.'' Tucker Carlson, also on MSNBC, said, ''When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.''
The establishment news media were faulted too. The New York Times wrote about Mrs. Clinton's ''cackle'' and The Washington Post wrote about her cleavage.
Ken Rudin, an editor at National Public Radio, appeared on CNN, where he equated Mrs. Clinton with the actress Glenn Close in ''Fatal Attraction.'' ''She's going to keep coming back, and they're not going to stop her,'' Mr. Rudin said. He later apologized.
Still, many in the news media say that sexist episodes had little effect on the outcome of the primaries. Instead, they said, Mrs. Clinton's problem was a flawed campaign.
Keith Olbermann, the host of ''Countdown'' on MSNBC, said that while there were ''individual, sexist, mistakes,'' there was no overall sexism.
Any suggestion that MSNBC ''was somehow out to 'get' Senator Clinton is false and unfair,'' Mr. Olbermann wrote in an e-mail message. ''We became a whipping boy.”
The horrific Olbermann was a strange choice for the role of guild defender. Six weeks earlier, chatting with Howard Fineman, he had dreamed of the way the Clinton campaign would have to be brought to an end.
“Some adults somewhere in the Democratic party [have to] to step in and stop this thing, like a referee in a fight that could go on for thirty rounds,” Fineman had mused.
Olbermann’s characteristic reply: "Right. Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.”
How odd! By this time, Olbermann’s overt misogyny had been a regular feature on The One True Channel for years. Liberal careerists had talked about it, in explicit terms. But they’d only done so private.
Now, Olbermann had been selected to push back against the charge that Candidate Clinton had received sexist coverage—and he wasn’t the only major media star getting a pass this morning.
Nine days later, New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt would savage star columnist Maureen Dowd for her coverage of Candidate Clinton. Just this once, a major journalist shattered the rules:
Clark Hoyt actually told the truth about the horrific Dowd:
HOYT (6/22/08): Dowd's columns about Clinton's campaign were so loaded with language painting her as a 50-foot woman with a suffocating embrace, a conniving film noir dame and a victim dependent on her husband that they could easily have been listed in that Times article on sexism, right along with the comments of Chris Matthews, Mike Barnicle, Tucker Carlson or, for that matter, [New York times columnist William] Kristol, who made the Hall of Shame for a comment on Fox News, not for his Times work.“By assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column,” Dowd “went over the top this election season,” Hoyt judged as he closed the piece which, in our view, established him as a hero.
...[T]he relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton—in 28 of 44 columns since Jan. 1—left many readers with the strong feeling that an impermissible line had been crossed, even though, as Dowd noted, she is a columnist who is paid not to be objective.
Over the course of the campaign, I received complaints that Times coverage of Clinton included too much emphasis on her appearance, too many stereotypical words that appeared to put her down and dismiss a woman's potential for leadership and too many snide references to her as cold or unlikable. When I pressed for details, the subject often boiled down to Dowd.
Dowd got a pass from Seelye and Bosman. Others got off easy.
Four months earlier, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz had gone into more detail about Matthews’ conduct. Kurtz noted the way Matthews had referred to the “witchy” Candidate Clinton—whose “loyal lieutenants are ready to scratch the eyes out of the opposition”—as “Nurse Ratched” and “Evita Peron” as the campaign unfolded.
(At this site, we had been writing about Matthews’ repellent behavior toward liberal women since early 1999. In 2008, a few of our fiery women’s groups somehow finally managed to notice his ongoing horrible conduct. Their concern about his behavior lasted about ten minutes.)
The horrible Matthews got off easy in the Seelye/Bosman piece. The horrific Olbermann and the gruesome Dowd escaped mention altogether.
Still and all, Seelye and Bosman had written a very unusual piece. The press corps was critiquing the work of the press corps! This is never done.
The front-page piece by Seelye and Bosman was extremely unusual. But it dealt, almost exclusively, with claims of sexist coverage. It didn’t discuss a larger problem—the larger problem President Clinton alluded to last April.
Here’s what President Clinton said this spring, as quoted by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. In these remarks, Clinton alluded to several decades of press corps misconduct—gross misconduct by the press which Seelye and Bosman ignored:
CILLIZZA (9/25/14): “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," Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University back in April. “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.”Does the press corps really do that? Does the press corps really invent a “storyline” about political leaders, then “shoehorn every fact” into that storyline?
That’s precisely what E. R. Shipp alleged when she served as the Washington Post’s ombudsman in the year 2000. In a short and brilliant column, Shipp described the “storyline” the Post had selected for each of the major candidates in Campaign 2000. She then described the way facts had been invented, and disappeared, to maintain those pre-conceived narratives.
“As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys,” Shipp wrote; “others seem to get a free pass.” Way back in the year 2000, Shipp had described grotesque journalistic misconduct, of a type which wasn’t assessed in Seelye and Bosman’s piece.
In June 2008, the New York Times made a (correct) decision: allegations of sexist coverage were suitable for discussion. The reporters described some horrible conduct by some major colleagues.
Quite correctly, the Times had decided that allegations of sexism could and should be explored. But President Clinton alleged a different type of misconduct this spring.
A long history of gross journalistic misbehavior stands behind his unpleasant but accurate charges. To this day, that long ugly history goes undiscussed within our careerist “press corps.”
Rachel Maddow won’t tell you about it. Christopher Hayes won’t tell you about it. Drum and Dionne won’t tell you about it. Neither will Alter and Weisberg.
You won’t hear it mentioned on Hardball. Seelye and Bosman skipped right past it in their unusual piece.
Can we talk? Seelye was an ironic choice as author of that front-page piece. In 1999 and 2000, she had played a leading role in the destructive conduct Clinton correctly described.
A very long, destructive history lies behind Clinton’s remarks from last April. He was discussing The Way We Are—the way our campaign “journalism” actually works, as opposed to the way it’s described by those in our upper-end “press corps.”
To this day, this very important topic cannot be discussed in the press. Tomorrow, we’ll offer a quick review, dating back to Teddy White’s memorable comments about the reporters who traveled the country with Candidates Kennedy/Nixon.
People are dead all over the world because of the conduct Shipp and Clinton described. A new presidential campaign approaches:
This conduct could happen again.
Tomorrow: “Storylines” and “shoehorned facts” down through the many long years