Like love, narrative hurts: Could Hillary Clinton still lose this election?
Ignore reassurances from liberal sources! Actually, yes—she could.
A few weeks ago, it seemed that Candidate Trump was hell-bent on self-destruction. Despite the reassurances you may have heard last night and this morning, it seems that this self-destructive cycle has now largely been stopped.
Perhaps as a result of this change, Trump seems to have gained in most polls in the past few weeks. Despite reassurances you will be hearing, it remains to be seen how last night's immigration speech will play among the electorate.
Rather plainly, Candidate Clinton could still lose this election! In part, this stems from her own political skills, or perhaps from her lack of same.
In part, though, does this situation possibly stem from the role of mainstream press corps "narrative?" Is the press corps' tendency to default to preferred story-lines fueling Clinton's recent apparent decline?
As we've watched the campaign unfold, we've been struck by the tremendous damage done to Candidate Clinton by events of the past eight years. She is now regarded as one of the least trustworthy people ever nominated for president.
To what extent does this perception stem from her own actions? To what extent might it stem from the role of "narrative?" In a recent, long-overdue piece at Vox, Matt Yglesias has explored that profoundly important question.
(For yesterday's post on this topic, click here.)
As we noted yesterday, Yglesias' piece appears under a provocative headline. In the past quarter-century, you've rarely seen career liberal or mainstream writers offering frameworks like this:
"Colin Powell’s foundation and Hillary Clinton’s are treated very differently by the media"
Are liberals allowed to say such things? As he proceeds, Yglesias makes a fascinating claim about the work of the mainstream press.
Essentially, Yglesias says that the mainstream press has shown a type of bias in its approach to two major political figures—Colin Powell, a Republican, and Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. Such claims have been common from the right over the past fifty years. Here's what makes the Yglesias piece so unusual:
Yglesias says the mainstream press has exhibited a bias in favor of Powell! The press has exhibited a type of bias against the Democrat, Yglesias has basically said.
Specifically, Yglesias says that Powell's relationship with his charitable foundation, America's Promise, was treated very differently than Clinton's relationship with hers. The press went easier on the Republican, Yglesias says.
In the passage which follows, Yglesias builds a fascinating framework around this unusual claim. Powell was seen as "a good guy," he says. Hillary Clinton isn't:
YGLESIAS (9/1/16): Because Colin Powell did not have the reputation in the mid- to late ’90s of being a corrupt or shady character, his decision to launch a charity in 1997 was considered laudable. Nobody would deny that the purpose of the charity was, in part, to keep his name in the spotlight and keep his options open for future political office. Nor would anybody deny that this wasn’t exactly a case of Powell having super-relevant expertise. What he had to offer was basically celebrity and his good name. By supporting Powell’s charity, your company could participate in Powell’s halo.Powell served as secretary of state; Clinton held that office too. But uh-oh! According to Yglesias, Powell's charitable organization "was never the subject of a lengthy investigation," even in the face of the high governmental position held by Powell's son.
But when the press thinks of you as a good guy, leveraging your good reputation in this way is considered a good thing to do. And since the charity was considered a good thing to do, keeping the charity going when Powell was in office as secretary of state was also considered a good thing to do. And since Powell was presumed to be innocent—and since Democrats did not make attacks on Powell part of their partisan strategy—his charity was never the subject of a lengthy investigation.
Which is lucky for him, because as Clinton could tell you, once you are the subject of a lengthy investigation, the press doesn’t like to report, “Well, we looked into it and we didn’t find anything interesting.”
By way of contrast, The Clinton Foundation has been fly-specked within an inch of its life in the past two years. Whatever one may think of Clinton's verifiable conduct, this see-nothing-but-evil approach has badly damaged her standing.
Let's note one key distinction. Powell never ran for president; Hillary Clinton has now done so twice.
Still, Yglesias is making a type of claim which is long overdue. He's discussing the way the mainstream press has covered a set of major Democrats—most strikingly, Clinton, Gore and Clinton—in the past twenty-four years. He's saying that these major Dems have been held to an unusual standard.
We've written about this endlessly over the past eighteen years. But alas! For reasons which came to seem obvious, it has largely been impossible to get career journalists to discuss the press corps practices which have sometimes, though very rarely, been described as the "Clinton rules."
As he continues from the passage quoted above, Yglesias cites reports by four major news orgs in which extremely flimsy indications are taken as evidence of Clinton's lack of character. This pattern and practice on the part of the press—on the part of the mainstream press—has been in operation for much of the past twenty-four years.
As noted, Yglesias builds a fascinatingly simple framework around his claims. Powell was seen as "a good guy," he says. Hillary Clinton isn't.
It may seem hard to believe that the upper-end mainstream press corps would build its operations around such simple-minded perceptions of character. But as we've noted again and again, this has been a basic part of the novelized pseudo-journalism in which our mainstream press has specialized during this era.
Starting in 1992, our journalists have routinely agreed, in childish ways, on "where the good guys are." And sure enough! From Paul Tsongas through Paul Ryan, the press corps' designated "good character" types have often taken advantage of this silly, childish group conduct.
From Tsongas through Ryan, the mainstream press corps has always seemed to know where the good guys are. Often, the official good guys of the era have been Republicans, like Powell.
The bad guys? Career liberal writers have typically refused to discuss what follows. But the baddest guys in this era of novelized narrative have been Clinton, Clinton and Gore.
Four cycles back, this silly, childish novelization sent George W. Bush to the White House. As part of another close election, yes—it could happen again.
Tomorrow: Who the "straight shooters" were