Chozick's hymen repair: Long ago and far away, the Wall Street Journal assigned Amy Chozick to cover the Clinton campaign, starting with the Iowa caucus.
It was October 2007. Chozick, 28 at the time, didn't know what a caucus was, or at least so she says. More remarkably, she says the name Barack Obama "sounded only vaguely familiar."
In her new book, Chasing Hillary, she claims that she actually stood and applauded when Candidate Clinton came on stage at the first town hall she covered. A reporter for the Chicago Tribune dragged her back into her seat.
We're not entirely sure that we entirely believe any of those assertions. As part of the weirdness of modern pundit culture, certain pundits—especially female pundits, for some reason—like to engage in a strange type of self-denigration in which they seem to say they're Just Like Us in their emotional haplessness and their general incomprehension.
The norms of competence are out! That may explain one part of Chozick's reply to Isaac Chotiner's first question in his recent interview with Chozick for Slate:
CHOTINER (4/27/18): When did you first start reporting on Hillary Clinton?Did Chozick, "having culture shock," actually think, "Oh my God, Americans are huge?" For the record, she didn't go from Tokyo straight to Des Moines. According to her book, she was already back in New York, "nesting" with her future husband, when she accepted the unexpected offer/assignment to cover the Clinton campaign.
CHOZICK: I had been a foreign correspondent in Japan for the Wall Street Journal when my editor there became Washington bureau chief—this was 2007—and he said, “How would you like to go to Iowa and cover Hillary Clinton?” I was 28. I went to Iowa. I was having as much culture shock going there as I had when I moved to Tokyo. I thought, “Oh my God, Americans are huge.” I didn’t know what a caucus was, which I admitted to Hillary Clinton’s aides a couple years later, and they said, “That’s OK. We didn’t know what a caucus was either in 2008.”
In her exchange with Chotiner, it sounds like she actually thought that Iowans were huge—that this was part of the "culture shock" she experienced "going there." But why would a journalist say such a thing at the very start of an interview? We don't know, but it's par for the course with this self-involved self-promoter, who rolls her eyes at various aspects of Hawkeye life in her new, revealing book.
In her book, she doesn't say that Iowans are too fat (or at least we can't find such a statement). She does say their metropolitan areas are perhaps laughably small, and that they don't have enough good restaurants. She also says this:
When everyone gushed about how nice Iowans are, I caught up with a Des Moines alt-rock band that had gained local fame for venting about out-of-state media and political elites in a musical number called "Get Outta Our Town (Caucus Lament)."The anecdote goes on from there; maybe they were the ones who were huge! At any rate, when she arrived in Iowa, Chozick says she experienced culture shock—and she says she was almost completely clueless about American politics, which she'd been assigned to cover for one of our most important newspapers.
Chotiner seemed to think that was strange. In his, his second Q-and-A with Chozick, it seems to us that Chozick's perspective gets substantially stranger:
CHOTINER (continuing directly): Do you think it’s weird that newspapers send people to cover the Iowa election without knowing what a caucus is, or is that par for the course of how reporting works?According to Chozick, her editor thought her cluelessness would let her find new angles and new perspectives when she arrived on the political scene in the Hawkeye State. After all, the formula worked in Japan!
CHOZICK: Actually, I don’t think that’s par for the course. I think that was an exception and I think it was a good one because I went to Japan without knowing anything about Japan. My editor’s idea was that fresh eyes would find new angles and new perspectives—things that either Japanese reporters or reporters who had lived there for decades didn’t think were strange. I thought it was a story and was interesting to readers. And I think it was the same thing getting to Iowa—I noticed things that I think when you cover politics and that’s all you cover—for instance, I wrote a Page 1 feature about campaign hookups. This is something that, if you have covered campaigns, of course people hook up, and that’s just a normal thing, but for me it was an interesting thing to see. Secret Service and reporters and all kinds of hookups. So I don’t know. I think you find stories with fresh perspectives and there can be a danger in the opposite way when you start getting too cynical and things just don’t start seeming like stories, and things don’t seem exciting anymore. It’s like, “Yep, this is my fourth caucus, and I know everybody and know everything and I am writing just to impress my friends.”
Sure enough, she says it worked in Iowa too! She says her fresh eyes allowed her to write a "page 1 feature about campaign hookups," apparently involving Secret Service agents and reporters both! Thanks to Chozick's fresh eyes, she was able to bring that news about the campaign to the American public.
There actually was such a Journal report; you can actually read it here. For what it's worth, it's the sort of who-gives-a-sh*t, nonpolitical report in which she seemed to specialize at that particular time.
In her book, Chozick gives an example of the new angles and new perspective her fresh eyes let her report from Japan. This is the fuller paragraph in which she lets us know that she had barely heard of Barack Obama when the Wall Street Journal sent her off to Iowa to cover a White House campaign:
CHOZICK (page 51): Unlike most campaign reporters who descended on Des Moines each presidential cycle and for all the steak fries and state fairs in between, I'd spent the prior couple of years covering Japan's consumer culture. I wrote a front-page story about how Westernized diets were causing young Japanese women to have larger breasts (headline: DEVELOPING NATION). In 2007, as my competitors were meeting campaign sources at Centro, Des Moines' hottest restaurant (though there wasn't a lot of competition), I was clubbing in Shinjuku with Ken-san, a Japanese deejay friend who went by the stage name Intelligent Milli Vanilli, a phonetic challenge for the Japanese. I didn't know who ran John Kerry's 2004 campaign. I'd never heard of Politico or its Playbook. The name Barack Obama sounded only vaguely familiar...DEVELOPING NATION! Eleven years later, so cool!
The name Obama was barely familiar, but before she wrote the report about hookups, she wrote the report about Japanese women's larger breasts. And before she ever went to Japan, her fresh eyes let her compose this other front-page report:
CHOZICK (pages 45-46): I wrote half a dozen A-heds—the Journal's term for the quirky middle column that runs daily on the front page. One was about women undergoing surgery to reconstruct their hymens so they appear to be virgins again, a story I'd come across browsing the ads in the back of Hoy, the Spanish-language newspaper...(An editor proposed the headline ONE NIGHT STRAND; we went with VIRGIN TERRITORY).Ohourgod! ONE NIGHT STRAND would have been so much better!
It wasn't just the campaign hookups. It was also the larger breasts in Japan and Gotham's rebuilt hymens. In these ways, we start to get a look at the cultural horizons of people like Chozick and the editors who loved them as of 2007, at the start of a White House campaign.
(We aren't cherry-picking from Chozick's book. These are the reports and the topics she cites.)
In these glimpses, we get a look at how a person who says she'd barely heard of Barack Obama got sent to Iowa to cover a White House campaign. We may also gain a perspective on that lengthy second answer to Chotiner, in which Chozick expresses a weird, but highly familiar, idea about modern political reporting.
In that second answer to Chotiner, Chozick seems to roll her eyes at the idea that political reporters should have political expertise or even political knowledge. Let's rejoin her statement here, as she talks about the way her fresh eyes let her spot all those Hawkeye hookups:
CHOZICK: ...for instance, I wrote a Page 1 feature about campaign hookups. This is something that, if you have covered campaigns, of course people hook up, and that’s just a normal thing, but for me it was an interesting thing to see. Secret Service and reporters and all kinds of hookups. So I don’t know. I think you find stories with fresh perspectives, and there can be a danger in the opposite way, when you start getting too cynical and things just don’t start seeming like stories, and things don’t seem exciting any more. It’s like, “Yep, this is my fourth caucus, and I know everybody and know everything and I am writing just to impress my friends.”Because it was her first caucus, she stood and applauded when Clinton took the stage in her race against Whatshisname—and she noticed the hookups. To Chozick, the danger comes when you've already done three campaigns, and you start acting like you know everything and you're just trying to impress your friends—when those campaign hookups just "don't seem exciting any more."
To us, that sounds like a strange but highly familiar perspective. The strangeness only deepens as a person plows through this unintentionally revealing book—a revealing book about our nation's deeply fatuous, now disastrous journalistic culture.
Tomorrow: Her boss at the New York Times