In search of the Clinton rules: Is Candidate Clinton facing a problem with a phenomenon known as “the Clinton rules?”
On July 6, Jonathan Allen became the latest mainstream reporter to say that she actually does. At Vox, he listed his version of the “Clinton rules”—five rules the mainstream press corps allegedly follows in covering Candidate Clinton.
Allen’s piece is underwhelming, largely because he largely follows the press corps’ “code of silence.” He lists five basic ways in which, he says, the press corps systematically mistreats Candidate Clinton. But he provides virtually no examples of the journalistic behavior he alleges.
He criticizes exactly one journalist by name—Maureen Dowd, who he cites, late in his piece, for something she wrote in January 2008. According to our arithmetic desk, that’s more than seven years back!
Who would write an exposé in such a denatured fashion? In his underwhelming piece, Allen alleges the existence of the Clinton rules, but he unmistakably proves the existence of the code of silence!
We can’t tell you how Clinton will be covered from here on out. But on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, Ashley Parker and Amy Chozick displayed some of the lazy, hapless ways our upper-end press corps functions.
We won’t say that they were subjecting Clinton to some sort of special treatment. But let’s look at two things they did.
Parker and Chozick were reporting on the way a Republican super PAC, American Crossroads, is trying to develop lines of attack against Clinton. Given the subject matter, you’d think a couple of upper-end scribes would try to be especially careful in what they wrote about the targeted pol.
If you thought that for even a second, you don’t know Parker and Chozick or their pitiful paper. Headline included, this is the way their report began, above the fold on the front page of the Sunday New York Times:
PARKER AND CHOZICK (7/12/15): The Best Way to Vilify Hillary Clinton? G.O.P. Spends Heavily to Test ItParker and Chozick are discussing an effort to “vilify” Candidate Clinton. They open by describing an attempt—apparently, a successful attempt—to “vilify” her for something she said in June 2014.
Inside an office park here, about a dozen women gathered to watch a 30-second television spot that opened with Hillary Rodham Clinton looking well-coiffed and aristocratic, toasting champagne with her tuxedoed husband, the former president, against a golden-hued backdrop.
The ad then cut to Mrs. Clinton describing being “dead broke” when she and her husband left the White House, before a narrator intoned that Mrs. Clinton makes more money in a single speech, about $300,000, than an average family earns in five years.
The message hit a nerve. “She’s out of touch,” said one of the women, who works as a laundry attendant.
“Her reality is just so different than mine,” murmured another, as operatives from American Crossroads, a Republican “super PAC,” watched closely from behind a one-way mirror.
Under the circumstances, you’d think the reporters would want to include a full account of what Clinton actually said. These freaks never do that.
It isn’t that hard to flesh out Clinton’s fuller remark. “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” she told NPR’s Terry Gross, making an accurate statement.
In fact, the Clintons were millions of dollars in debt, due to legal fees from President Clinton’s impeachment trial. Candidate Clinton’s fuller statement wasn’t just fuller. It was fully accurate.
Let’s be fair! Different people will have different ideas about the best way to flesh out a two-word “quotation” which is being used by Karl Rove to vilify a candidate. There’s no perfect way to explain what Candidate Clinton “actually said” to Terry Gross. But Parker and Chozick made no real attempt to perform that service.
It isn’t that the pair of deadbeats never attempted to add some context to Clinton’s vilified comment. Much, much later, in paragraph 22, they finally managed to tell their readers this:
PARKER AND CHOZICK: Right to Rise, a super PAC supporting former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, recently held its own briefing for Republican groups to highlight data it gathered from its own focus groups and polling of women, information that can be used in attacks against Mrs. Clinton. It stressed that Mrs. Clinton’s “dead broke” comments were particularly devastating, as were her deleted emails, though they required more explanation. Though the Clintons were in fact dealing with debt and legal fees when they left the White House, Mrs. Clinton later called her comments “inartful.”Let us translate that for you:
At the end of paragraph 22, Parker and Chozick added a tiny suggestion to the effect that Clinton’s remark was actually accurate! But before they even finished their sentence, they interceded against this suggestion, telling us that Clinton once criticized her own remark.
In our view, this is terrible journalism. On the other hand, this toying with an offhand remark virtually defines the way in which modern hacks like Parker and Chozick pretend to report our campaigns.
Similar treatment has been afforded to offhand comments by other candidates in recent campaigns, including Republican candidates. Can we say that Parker and Chozick were playing by something like the “Clinton rules” in this particular instance?
Not necessarily, no. But consider the way the Times is treating a recent imperfect remark by the glorious Candidate Bush.
Our first example is as fresh as this morning’s paper. On page A3, in his opening paragraph, youngish Josh Barro bends over backwards to be more than fair:
BARRO (7/14/15): Jeb Bush said last week that Americans would ''need to work longer hours'' if we're going to meet his ambitious target of 4 percent real annual economic growth—nearly double the average growth rate the Congressional Budget Office expects in the future. Then he clarified his remarks to say he was talking specifically about the 6.6 million American workers with part-time jobs who say they would like to work full time.Did Bush really “clarify” his remarks—or did he possibly spin his remarks, clean them up or possibly even “put the best face on them?” It all depends on whether you believe his later account of what he actually meant.
Puppy-like, Barro rushes to do so. Two days earlier, on the front page, Parker and Chozick made no real attempt to be fair to Candidate Clinton.
If we were in the editor’s hammock, we wouldn’t have accepted Barro’s construction; we would have told him to change “clarified” to some version of “said.” We would have required the other chimps to make a stronger attempt to present, then explain, Clinton’s fuller remark.
Are we looking at a double standard here? Not necessarily, no. But later in their front-page report, Parker and Chozick also offered the dreck shown below. They were describing another ad designed to “vilify” Clinton:
PARKER AND CHOZICK: An ad titled “Shadow,” which ranked among the most effective ads that Crossroads tested in Orlando, argued that scandal trailed Mrs. Clinton like a menacing shadow. “Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate,” a narrator began, referring to scandals from decades ago, including one over a real estate deal. Then the narrator moved on to more recent controversies, including her deleted emails, the foreign donations to her family foundation and the four Americans killed in the 2012 attacks on the United States compound in Benghazi, Libya.Should “Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate” be described as “scandals” by Parker and Chozick?
“There’s a sense of distrust, a sense of unease about her authenticity and her candor, that isn’t hard to stimulate,” said Steven Law, the president of Crossroads.
We think the scribes could do better. Were the Clintons ever found guilty of any wrongdoing in connection with these events, whose names are easy to throw around at this point in time? We think Parker and Chozick should answer such questions when they play with their finger-paint on the front page of the Sunday Times. Also, please note this:
Our scribes permitted the Crossroads president to characterize those ancient matters. But they presented no one from the other side to say that these were actually pseudo-scandals, devised by creeps like Kenneth Starr and half the New York Times’ staff.
In fairness, Parker and Chozick come from the finest homes. They also went to the finest schools. (Penn 2005, Texas 2001. Barro is Harvard roughly 2006.) By one of their own admissions, one of them lives in the hippest neighborhood in all of Manhattan.
Unfortunately, they’re extremely marginal journalists, a fact they’ve established in the past. Were they working from “the Clinton rules,” or were they just bumbling ahead on automatic pilot?
Parker was once Maureen Dowd’s “research assistant!” At the Times, it’s amazingly hard to answer questions like that.
Someone else bent over backwards: At the Times, someone else bent over backwards to be fair to Candidate Bush. Needless to say, it was Chozick, writing on-line at First Draft:
CHOZICK (7/13/15): In a speech intended to lay the groundwork for the economic message she will carry throughout her 2016 campaign, Mrs. Clinton singled out by name three of her potential Republican rivals: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.Well, all righty then!
Mrs. Clinton alluded to comments Mr. Bush made last week about Americans needing to work longer hours.
"Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the teacher who is in that classroom or the trucker who drives all night," she said. "They don't need a lecture, they need a raise."
Mr. Bush later clarified that he was referring to the 6.5 million Americans "stuck in part-time work" who haven't been able to find a full-time job. A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For the record, no one seems to self-promote quite the way Chozick does. This month, she’s featured in Cosmopolitan.
Can you see this culture for what it is? Do you have confidence in it?