Home / General / Pundit Argues It’s Wrong In Principle to Criticize the Media’s Indefensible Performance Again

Pundit Argues It’s Wrong In Principle to Criticize the Media’s Indefensible Performance Again


Hillary Clinton apparently gave a speech at an event last weekend. Michelle Cottle had no disagreement with the content, but is the latest pundit to argue that Clinton has no business showing her face in public and certainly is going beyond her remit in suggesting that anything might be wrong with how the 2016 election was covered:

Considering Clinton’s own complicated relationship with the media (actually, it’s not that complicated—she hates us), it was heartwarming to hear her passionately defending the Fourth Estate. Admittedly, she couldn’t resist taking some shots at coverage of the 2016 presidential race. She brought up “the Russian disinformation campaign” and how it “has been abetted to some degree by the way politics has been covered.” She pointed to studies “showing how the mainstream political coverage was influenced by the right-wing-media ecosystem and other factors to depart from normal journalistic standards,” and she name-checked the Harvard professor Thomas Patterson for calling “the false equivalency in the coverage ‘corrosive’” and saying “the relentlessly negative news has had a ‘leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans.’” Even so, she couched her criticism in praise for some media outlets that have recognized their mistakes and taken the “brave step” of “publicly examining” their screw-ups and working henceforth to “avoid the errors that helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.” Coming from Clinton, that’s practically a mash note.

So she affirms the importance of the free press, and cites compelling data showing that the media screwed up badly in 2016. Seems…obviously true? So what’s the problem?

All told, her PEN performance was cool, crisp, and destined to make news—which it did. (“Can Hillary Clinton Break the Internet?,” Vanity Fair asked of her “shrewd” new media strategy.) Which left me wondering, and not for the first time: Isn’t there someone who can convince this accomplished, inspiring, barrier-breaking superwoman to stop whining about 2016?

Someone? Anyone?

Which leaves me wondering, will people in the elite media stop whining about Hillary Clinton criticizing their performance, and actually take some accountability and resolve to do better, or even defend the strange choices they made? Someone? Anyone?

Yes, what happened to Clinton was awful. She did not merely lose the presidency, she lost it to an opponent singularly unqualified to hold the office. Worse still, multiple external factors likely contributed to her loss, including Russian meddling and former FBI Director James Comey’s October surprise and, yes, the media’s absurd obsession with “Servergate.”

So, to be clear, the issue isn’t that she’s wrong, it’s that she shouldn’t say it. I would have considerably more sympathy for these arguments if these admissions were ever made in contexts other than a “to be sure” aside in the latest attack on Hillary Clinton. If Dean Baquet et al. all made statements among the lines of “we did our best, it was an unusual election, but ultimately we lost perspective on the email story and we will be more conscious of this going forward” maybe Clinton wouldn’t be compelled to speak out! But this hasn’t happened. The “media’s absurd obsession with “Servergate”” is something we’re not supposed to bring up ever. The recent reaction to Amy Chozick’s reflections about how the media were used badly by ratfuckers is another telling example. It was much less “you have a point” and much more “there was an email where Neera Tanden called David Brock an asshole, you can’t ignore a blockbuster story like that!”

Whenever she talks about What Happened, her recent book recounting her experience as a presidential candidate, Clinton comes across as self-pitying and self-justifying, in large part because she cannot resist bringing up all the other folks and forces she considers at fault. This has reached the level of bad political joke.

“Self-pitying and self-justifying” is an excellent description of the theory that Hillary Clinton should shut up about the media screwing up badly in 2016. It’s obviously ridiculously self-serving for elite media figures that it’s wrong for Hillary Clinton to criticize the media. (And not because she’s wrong — as with slander and libel under old-fashioned English common law, the fact that the charges are true makes it even worse for her to make them.) And what would an argument like this be without a new screw-up?

Even more damaging are the occasions when, in her frenzy of finger-pointing, Clinton’s disdain for everyday Americans seeps into view. Who can forget her trenchant bit of electoral analysis at a conference in Mumbai in March?

So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, Make America Great Again, was looking backwards. You know, you didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women, you know, getting jobs, you don’t want to, you know, see that Indian American succeeding more than you are, whatever your problem is, I’m going to solve it.

Oof. That’s tone-deaf enough to make you miss her “basket of deplorables.”

I almost have to give her credit. The typical pundit would start out with “You know,” and claim that her remarks were about Trump voters without giving readers the context. But she gives us the full context, which makes it perfectly clear that she was talking about Trump’s campaign, not “everyday Americans.” And then just flat-out lies about what Clinton is saying, because It’s the Narrative. I can’t imagine why Hillary Clinton thinks she’s treated unfairly!

And then we have to pretend that this isn’t a self-serving argument by someone clearly looking for any pretext to kick Clinton around one more once, but really about the good of the Democratic Party:

You know how Donald Trump seems weirdly, almost pathologically, obsessed with Clinton, despite the election having occurred nearly a year and a half ago? He is not alone. The Republican base (as hosts at Fox News can attest) still hates Clinton with the heat of a thousand suns. Is that rational? No. Is it a super-effective way for the GOP to fire up its base with high-stakes midterms approaching? To quote that great political sage Sarah Palin, you betcha!

Sure enough, last week an Associated Press piece described how Republicans have vowed to make Clinton a key villain in their midterm narrative.

“We’re going to make them own her,” the Republican National Committee spokesman Rick Gorka said.

It’s hard to blame them. As the AP noted, internal GOP research has found Clinton second only to Nancy Pelosi in the hierarchy of disliked Democrats: “Just 36 percent of Americans viewed Clinton favorably in a December Gallup poll, an all-time low mark that bucked a trend in which unsuccessful presidential candidates typically gain in popularity over time.”

First of all, the idea that Republicans will stop invoking Hillary Clinton if she stops giving public appearances is ludicrous. And second, what evidence is there that this is an effective tactic rather than a sign of utter desperation? When Jon Ossoff lost, we heard a lot about how Nancy Pelosi was an anchor around the Democratic Party. The Democrats — who overachieved even in that election — have been blowing the doors off ever since. Maybe whining about Hillary Clinton isn’t any better of a look for the Republican Party in 2018 than it is for the media in 2018!

In fairness, Cottle’s innovative “appearances by the losing presidential candidate” forecasting model does have a strong historical track record. In 2005, for example, John Kerry went on Meet the Press and discussed the external factors that affected the election. And then the Democrats got wiped out in the 2006 mid…I’ll come in again.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of this column, which countless bylines attached, it their assumption that it’s the public that’s consumingly obsessed with the fact that Clinton gives a speech every few months, rather than the media. If you’re reading this site, you almost certainly follow politics much more closely than the typical American. Did you know that Clinton had given a speech at a festival until seeing this column? Me neither. But a lot of pundits and reports just can’t let Clinton Derangement go — if only she devoted her life to the underprivileged like that nice Paul Ryan! — and are hypersensitve about criticism of their 2016 performance because it had terrible consequences and cannot be defended.

she really does need to stop. Just. Stop.


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