Clinton cites Spielberg and Lincoln: Based on blather we saw last night and this morning, we suspect it may become the pundit corps' favorite "laugh line" from last night's debate.
The children always need their standard bits of conventional wisdom. Here's how it debuted on CNN, shortly after midnight:
LEWANDOWSKI (10/10/16): Look, I think Donald Trump was disciplined tonight. He was fast on his feet. He was specific on issues. He clearly won this debate.Granted, that's Corey Lewandowksi, the former Trump campaign manager. But the notion that Clinton made an "egregious" statement about that Spielberg film—a statement which showed (what else?) that she's untruthful—seemed to be gaining purchase among the pundit class this morning.
If you go and look at it—and he asked Hillary Clinton specifically to talk about the two Hillary Clintons, right? The one in the private and the one in the public. You know what her answer was? Abraham Lincoln. This is a movie I watched from Steven Spielberg and that's what I was talking about. It's completely egregious.
And the point is, once again, he pointed out the hypocrisy of the media. It shows that she's not being truthful.
Clinton made a ridiculous statement about the Spielberg movie! It's the kind of simple-minded script the American pundit class loves. It easy to memorize, easy to clown to. In the early hours today, we saw pundits adopting it as their entertaining new way to repeat a mandated saw—You Can't Trust Hillary Clinton.
For what it's worth, Lewandowski was referring to something Clinton actually said during last night's debate. During the debate, she was asked about one of the leaked excerpts from her paid speeches.
Here's the transcript from the debate, including Candidate Trump's instant know-nothing rejoinder:
RADDATZ (10/9/16): This question involves WikiLeaks' release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton's paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes.By this morning, pundits were acting like Clinton's reference to the Spielberg film was a ridiculous, comical claim, one she'd likely dreamed up on the spot. In fact, though, that's exactly what Clinton was talking about in the excerpt to which Raddatz referred.
CLINTON: Well, right. As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called "Lincoln." It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic.
And I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do and you have to keep working at it. And, yes, President Lincoln was trying to convince some people, he used some arguments, convincing other people, he used other arguments. That was a great—I thought a great display of presidential leadership.
RADDATZ: Mr. Trump?
TRUMP: Well, I think I should respond, because—so ridiculous! Look, now she's blaming— She got caught in a total lie. Her papers went out to all her friends at the banks, Goldman Sachs and everybody else, and she said things—WikiLeaks that just came out. And she lied. Now she's blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln. That's one that I haven't—
OK, Honest Abe, Honest Abe never lied. That's the good thing. That's the big difference between Abraham Lincoln and you. That's a big, big difference. We're talking about some difference.
Raddatz's question was one of the flimsiest of the night. The dozen excerpts in question were compiled by a Clinton staffer who was looking for things she had said in her paid speeches that could be used against her.
The staffer wasn't trying to provide full context for the dozen excerpts he grabbed. He wasn't suggesting that Clinton had actually said something "wrong" in her speeches, merely that the dozen excerpts could be spun that way.
Below, you see the full excerpt in question, from a speech in 2013. It isn't entirely easy to know what Clinton was actually talking about. But instantly, she did in fact cite the Spielberg film, just as she said last night:
CLINTON (4/24/13): You just have to sort of figure out how to—getting back to that word, "balance"—how to balance the public and the private efforts that are necessary to be successful politically, and that's not just a comment about today. That, I think, has probably been true for all of our history, and if you saw the Spielberg movie, Lincoln, and how he was maneuvering and working to get the 13th Amendment passed, and he called one of my favorite predecessors, Secretary Seward, who had been the governor and senator from New York, ran against Lincoln for president, and he told Seward, "I need your help to get this done." And Seward called some of his lobbyist friends who knew how to make a deal, and they just kept going at it. I mean, politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody's watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So you need both a public and a private position. And finally, I think—I believe in evidence-based decision making. I want to know what the facts are. I mean, it's like when you guys go into some kind of a deal, you know, are you going to do that development or not, are you going to do that renovation or not, you know, you look at the numbers. You try to figure out what's going to work and what's not going to work.That's the full excerpt, as recorded by the Clinton staffer. Clinton seems to be talking about what a politician has to do when he or she is in the midst of an extended negotiation.
Based on the excerpt as provided, it isn't entirely clear what Clinton was actually talking about. It also isn't clear how this general topic came up. That said, she seems to be talking about the art of the deal—for example, the need to maintain a hard line in your public discussions, even if you're willing to explore other possibilities in private.
(Obama was frequently criticized for not doing this enough, for "negotiating against himself." Now, Clinton is being criticized for taking the opposite stance.)
If that's what Clinton was talking about, it isn't especially thrilling or novel or interesting. It sounds to us like this was part of a Q-and-A session, rather than a formal excerpt from a formal speech.
But speaking in early 2013, when Spielberg's film was still drawing big buzz, Clinton instantly cited the film, just as she said last night. We mention that because, as of this morning, we saw pundits acting as if this was some crazy notion Clinton simply dreamed up, on the spot, in the middle of last night's debate.
We get the feeling that this could catch on as a standard pundit script. If you see pundits taking that line, you can draw one instant conclusion. Those pundits didn't do their homework when the speech excerpts were leaked.
If they had actually read the excerpts, they would have known that Clinton referenced Spielberg's film. When we saw them chuckling and clowning last night and today, we knew they hadn't done their jobs. But then, what else is new? This gang includes some of the biggest slackers in recorded history.
You can feel fairly sure that Candidate Trump hadn't read the actual speech excerpts. We'd be surprised if Raddatz had read them either.
At any rate, the irony here is this. The Clinton staffer assembled twelve passages which, especially taken out of context, could be spun in negative ways. At the New York Times, Amy Chozick instantly did just that in a typically hapless report. Inevitably, the rest of the children began to follow her lead.
Before long, Eric Levitz was writing this. ("If Her Opponent Weren’t a Sexual Predator, Clinton’s Leaked Speeches Would Be Devastating.") Eric Levitz had gone ahead and purchased the bulk of the guff.
Who is Eric Levitz? He graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2010 with a degree in creative writing. He spent two more years at JHU getting a master's in the same field, then spent one more year teaching creative writing.
Obviously, there's nothing "wrong" with any of that. But for some reason, New York Magazine has him writing major political pieces after less than three years as a journalist. He may be very bright, but he's also very young and very inexperienced.
In the post to which we linked, Levitz seems to have bought the party line from the New York Times. Entities like New York Magazine save money when they hire young inexperienced scribes, but the public is often badly served in the process.
The New York Times is most at fault here, but the lambs were sure to follow. Raddatz followed the story-line too, asking a rather hackish question about a rather innocuous, murky statement from 2013.
The IQ of our uper-end press corps is extremely low. They might score well on an IQ test, but they also love to adhere to Standard Silly Officially Mandated Pundit Corps Story-Lines.
Back to that reference to Spielberg and Lincoln. By this morning, the usual pundits seemed to be implying that Clinton had dreamed that up on the spot during last night's debate.
It could become a standard play. We thought you ought to know that.
Levitz versus Drum: In Kevin Drum's judgment, the dozen excerpts were mainly a nothingburger. Click here, with a link to a previous post.
We'd have to say that Levitz bought the package. At Mother Jones, a seasoned Nestor type wisely said, "Not so fast!"
("He always gave the best advice," Homer said of Nestor and Drum.)