The Golden Bowl

Column: Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative, and our supine media

September 26, 2014

Amy Chozick covers Hillary Clinton for the New York Times. She is an enterprising and dedicated reporter, and many of her stories have annoyed the 2016 presidential frontrunner. This week Chozick covered a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. It was her turn to be annoyed.

Chozick’s most revealing article about the event had nothing to do with the scheduled agenda, or with the opaque, labyrinthine, and seedy finances of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, or with the tsunami of clichés from the stage about global warming, gender equality, wellness, empowerment, polarization, Mohammed Yunus, sustainable development, globalization, Palm Oil alternatives, uplift, board diversity, education access, green energy, Malala, information technology, organic farming, public-private partnerships, and #YesAllWomen. The article had to do with Chozick’s bathroom habits.

Every time she felt the urge, a representative of the Clintons would accompany her to the ladies’ room. Every time. And not only would the "friendly 20-something press aide" stroll with Chozick to the entrance of the john. She also "waited outside the stall." As though Chozick were a little girl.

If it was not embarrassing enough to be chaperoned to the water closet by a recent college graduate no doubt beaming with righteousness and an entirely undeserved and illusory sense of self-importance, some earnest and vacant and desperate-to-be-hip Millennial whose affiliation with the Clintons, whose involvement in their various schemes, consists of nothing more than her uniform of white shirt and silk scarf—if this was not on its own an indignity and an insult for a correspondent of the New York Times, when Chozick asked for comment on the bathroom police, she received the following response:

Craig Minassian, a spokesman for the initiative, directed me to a press release about American Standard’s Flush for Good campaign to improve sanitation for three million people in the developing world. ‘Since you are so interested in bathrooms and CGI,’ Mr. Minassian said.

Forms of civility, etiquette, and protocol bind Chozick in her dealings with the men and women who work for the subjects of her beat. They do not bind me. And so let me say on behalf of Ms. Chozick, and on behalf of all the other reporters who have been "escorted" to and fro toilets across America so that not for a moment do they escape the scouring eyes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, that Craig Minassian can stick his big obnoxious head in the toilet and Flush for Good.

I am tired of the double game the Clintons have been playing since last year, when Hillary left the Obama administration and began plotting her 2016 campaign: the passive-aggressive, push-pull tactic of complaining about and condemning supposedly harsh media coverage even as she and her husband and their minions use access and connections to advance their preferred narratives, bullying reporters and outlets who do not conform, and responding to press inquiries with snark and insults and flip and mendacious retorts.

What is more I am tired of the mainstream media’s complicity in the manipulation and goaltending, the manner in which reporters for establishment outlets accept the Clintons’ absurd regulations and spin, for reasons that are baffling and mysterious to me: whether it is out of ideological or partisan bias, or journalistic self-interest, or the calculation that one day bills will have to be paid, the scribbling will have to end, and jobs in the White House or at SKDKnickerbocker will have to be obtained.

There was no mass protest over the despotic rules at the Clinton Global Initiative. Chozick’s complaint did not become a rallying cry for press freedom. No major institution threatened not to cover next year’s meeting. Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, tweeted a quote from one of his writers, Chris Cillizza, who said the Clintons "have as dim a view of the political press as any modern politician." Perhaps that view is justified. Look at how easily the Clintons overpower "the political press." Look at the Anaconda Vise in which they hold the mainstream media.

Did the metro dailies use this week’s conference to follow up on Chozick’s reporting from last year on the conflicts of interest and ethical dilemmas and outrageous spending at CGI and the Clinton Foundation? To reexamine Alec Macgillis’s long 2013 profile of Bill Clinton’s protégé Doug Band, whose consultancy is mixed-up in the foundation’s and the initiative’s partnerships and sponsorships and commitments? To conduct even the most mundane inquiry into whether there is anything left to reveal about Hillary Clinton’s past?

Let’s see. "At Clintons’ 3-Day event, Hillary basks in a candidate’s dream setting," read the headline in the Los Angeles Times. "Clinton world braces for big news on baby front," read the headline in the Wall Street Journal. "Clinton wonk party outshines U.N. meeting," read the headline in the Washington Post. USA Today ran items on the pledge that soda companies made at the event to cut calories by 20 percent in 10 years, on Hillary Clinton’s backing of President Obama’s Syria policy, and on Bill Clinton’s truism that the country has become more tolerant of racial and sexual minorities. The Times ran an article on the soda spiel too.

Meanwhile, for the fourth time this year, Alana Goodman of the Washington Free Beacon broke news about the former first lady who everyone seems to believe has been thoroughly vetted: In this case, Goodman unveiled Hillary Clinton’s previously unpublished correspondence with radical activist Saul Alinsky. The exchange of letters is a fascinating glimpse of Clinton’s relationship with one of the central figures of the New Left, the author of Rules for Radicals and the theorist behind community organizing about whom Clinton wrote her college thesis. Goodman’s piece is both a scoop and a worthwhile read, on the most basic level to see how Clinton kissed up to Alinsky, calling his work "revelation," and on another level to compare the youthful Hillary against her later incarnations as rapist defense lawyer, cattle futures trader, land speculator, failed health care reformer, victim of infidelity, junior senator, failed presidential candidate, secretary of State, blood clot victim, and motivational speaker.

For the fourth time in 2014, Alana Goodman has scooped the combined resources of the largest media companies in America. And for the fourth time in 2014, the media has reacted bizarrely and schizophrenically to her reporting. Actual, real-life, news-obsessed journalists said, oh, here is an interesting aspect of her majesty’s biography that hitherto has been ignored. And liberal hacks wrote blog posts that implicitly recognized our story of being worthy of a response even as they reassured their blinkered and complacent audiences that there was nothing to worry about, no news here, just a bunch of crazy Likudnik nepotists cracking wise in the frat house.

Neither the legitimate journalists nor the partisan bloggers recognize the true import of Goodman’s reporting: That the mainstream media is fundamentally lazy and horrible at their jobs. Here you have all of these interesting things about Hillary Clinton just sitting in archives across the country for years, and no one has bothered to look at them because liberals cannot apply the "objectivity" through which they cover Charles Koch and Dick Cheney to people like Tom Steyer and Hillary Clinton. Instead they have to wait until the alternative media forces the issue, whether the issue is Van Jones, or Steyer’s coal investments, or Hillary’s past, or the IRS scandal, or Benghazi, or the Dave Brat challenge to Eric Cantor. In each instance the mainstream media roll their eyes and mutter under their breath as they report the news in which everyone is interested but them. They impugn and mock and dismiss and marginalize conservative media when what they should be doing is thanking us for doing their work.

I am not entirely without sympathy. Mainstream journalists are under pressures that we are not. They have to pretend for example that David Brock is a serious person. They are implicated in the liberal Democratic project through family or sympathy or ambition. They have to take angry calls from the White House and congressional Democrats and candidates. One of Alana Goodman’s scoops involved a meeting at the D.C. bureau of the New York Times at which Hillary Clinton’s top lieutenants complained about the paper’s coverage of their boss, saying it was too intrusive and critical and that Clinton is not a public figure but an expectant grandmother. Leave Hillary alone, she’s under a lot of stress right now, she still has to wear those glasses at night, we have long memories, all she wants to do is swim, she hasn’t made up her mind about 2016, she’s putting the finishing touches on her book, dinner last Saturday was a lot of fun we should do it again sometime, she’s really a private person and doesn’t like all of this attention, why do you have to be so mean to her, I’m not going to write that recommendation letter for Sidwell Friends, Chelsea’s afraid the bad press may affect the baby, yes I’ll be at Hilary Rosen’s on Friday, we are totally uninteresting and unaffected and blameless and prosaic and apolitical but cross us and we’ll cut your f—ing knees off … Could you have been at that meeting and not laughed?

It will be the unabashedly ideological media that provides the best coverage of the corporatist "centrist" stalking her way back to power. And not just the conservative media: There is plenty of sublimated progressive grumbling at, and critical reporting of, the Hillary juggernaut. Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC wrote a fair-minded piece, "The agony and the ecstasy of the Clintons at CGI," that was a much clearer analysis of the event than any in the major papers. Seitz-Wald went so far as to mention the "elitism problem" and "Wall Street problem" that dog the Clintons, whose idea of combating income inequality is to talk about it while vacationing in a multimillion dollar mansion in the Hamptons, then rub their chins at lavish uplit plenary sessions with Hollywood celebrities and foreign leaders and the head of Goldman Sachs.

In the coverage of the Clintons this week you saw in microcosm the future of political journalism: aggressive ideological reporting will be on the margins but will score the hits. And the mainstream media will be on the inside, credentialed and "legitimate," their cherubic handlers marching them willingly to marble-tiled hotel bathrooms—hapless prisoners of the golden bowl.