Hillary Clinton is publishing a book about the 2016 campaign. This will inevitably lead to two types of common reactions from journalists, often simultaneously. The first will be confident assertions that if Clinton had done the opposite of what she did at various junctures she would have won. Since such claims are inherently unfalsifiable and in most cases can’t be addressed with enough evidence to even produce interesting speculation, they’re useless — although at least these “the candidate lost and ergo ran the worse campaign” tautologies are ubiquitous. There will also be claims, entirely unique to Clinton, that she immediately retire from public life and spend the rest of her days engaged in nothing but silent Sincere Self-Reflection.
Paul Waldman is good on both points:
So let’s say this really slowly: It’s possible to simultaneously acknowledge that 1) Clinton made plenty of mistakes, and 2) there were egregious problems with the way the campaign was covered, problems that contributed to the outcome. Calling attention to the latter doesn’t negate the former.
And boy, were there ever problems with the coverage. Consider that the New York Times and The Washington Post struck a deal with Peter Schweitzer, the author of a book called “Clinton Cash,” for exclusive access to the material in the book, which alleged corrupt dealings at the Clinton Foundation. Even though Schweitzer’s particulars amounted to little more than a lot of nefarious insinuation without evidence of actual wrongdoing, the initial burst of front-page coverage the book received was enough to set off endless cable news chatter about the Clinton Foundation, all of it with the implication that Clinton was guilty of all manner of ethically questionable actions.
To interrupt for a second, I had forgotten that not only the Times but the Post — whose coverage was, overall, much better — allowed Steve Bannon snipe hunts to dictate their crucial early coverage.
That’s not even to get into the orgy of coverage of Clinton’s emails, which reporters treated as though it were the most important issue that the American public would confront in the entire 21st century. As multiple subsequent analyses have found, the email story was far and away the most prominent topic of news coverage during the campaign, a focus that from the vantage point of today seems somewhere between ridiculous and insane. The point is, it’s not exactly crazy for Clinton to have a complaint or two about the way she was covered, nor is it crazy for her to mention that the Russian government was apparently working to support her opponent, something unprecedented in American history.
Did she make mistakes? Of course she did. She was too complacent about states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that Democrats hadn’t lost in many presidential campaigns. Her criticisms of Trump were too focused on what a repugnant human being he is and not enough on his agenda to help the wealthy and powerful. She didn’t do enough to turn out black and Hispanic voters. You could make a long list.
But every candidate, even those who win, makes lots of mistakes. There are no perfect campaigns. If a hundred thousand votes spread across a few states had gone a different way, we would be talking about what a genius she was and how ludicrous the Trump campaign strategy was.
So again, why were other presidential losers never told to voluntarily submit themselves to a ritual humiliation? I can’t prove to you empirically that sexism is the reason that demand is only made of Clinton, but previous candidates didn’t find their occasional post-election comments greeted with headlines like “Dear Hillary Clinton, please stop talking about 2016” or “Can Hillary Clinton please go quietly into the night?,” or “Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be writing a book — she should be drafting a long apology to America” (that last op-ed began with the line, “Hey, Hillary Clinton, shut the f— up and go away already”). Only Clinton is supposed to beg for forgiveness, absolve everyone else of any sins they committed in 2016, and whip herself until we’re good and satisfied that she has been punished enough.
Like everyone else, I haven’t read “What Happened.” Maybe it’s a candid and insightful look behind the scenes of an extraordinary campaign. Or maybe it’s the kind of shallow and self-serving book most politicians write. But the last thing we should care about is whether Clinton apologizes sufficiently for losing.
It’s is self-serving for the Clinton campaign to blame the media. And, you know, vice versa, which somehow tends to fall out of the conversation. Indeed, while sexism surely plays a role in explaining why Clinton is told to go away whenever she says anything about the campaign, part of it is that the diversion is necessary, because there’s no way the media coverage of the 2016 elections can be defended on the merits.