Adopting the Bush media strategy

One thing that’s been interesting to watch in this nomination battle is how normally cool-headed journalists have become increasingly exasperated by the Clinton campaign’s tactics. Jonathan Chait, a New Republic writer, wrote a column last week called “Go Already!” and subtitled, “Hillary Clinton, fratricidal maniac.” Then he talked on video about wanting to throw in the towel out of frustration with the campaign’s shameless lying:

Yesterday morning I was almost at the point where I just decided I was just going to stop following the campaign at all. It was when Clinton came out and said that Obama can’t run a positive campaign, he’s just attacking Clinton, he has no positive message at all…When they just hold three fingers in front of your face and say it’s two, there’s just nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can respond to that, I just feel like, you know, what do I do at this point? I mean, I just want to go and just hide under my bed. I just don’t even know how to respond to that kind of brazen rewriting of the historical record…

Today, it’s James Fallows’ turn. Fallows, like Chait, isn’t normally given to rants or polemics, but he seems to have lost patience as well, set off by an NPR Morning Edition interview with Clinton by Steve Inskeep:

As mentioned earlier, I don’t recall Bill Clinton knee-capping his Democratic opponents in the 1992 campaign by saying that the Republican opponent, incumbent President George H.W. Bush, was better qualified for office than they were. This of course was Hillary Clinton’s charge against Obama a week or so ago.

And I do not recall Bill Clinton saying anything as flatly insulting to the intelligence as Hillary Clinton’s statement about the Michigan primary during her interview yesterday with Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Flatly false from Bill Clinton? Sure: “I did not have…” But flatly insulting to the intelligence, in the fashion of an old press briefing by Scott McClellan when defending Scooter Libby or Alberto Gonzales? No. And that is what Hillary Clinton did yesterday — to the plain incredulity of the normally calm-sounding Inskeep, who kept asking things like, “But how could the primary have been ‘fair’ if Barack Obama’s name was not on the ballot?”

Listen to the clip to hear for yourself, if you haven’t already done so — but it came down to a “how stupid does she think we are?’ argument that it was Obama’s own fault that he obeyed the party’s rules (as other candidates did) and took his name off the unauthorized Michigan ballot. “We all had a choice as to whether or not to participate,” she told Inskeep. “Most people took their names off the ballot, but I didn’t. And that was a wise decision, because Michigan is key to our electoral victory in the fall.”

As Fallows suggests with the references to McClellan, Libby, and Gonzales, the Bush Administration pioneered this technique. Little lies, exaggerations, or flip-flops will be picked apart by New York Times reporters and by Tim Russert on Meet the Press, but big lies — lies so implausible that they amount to a denial of basic reality — completely disarm the press, partly because newspaper and TV reporters who are constrained by norms of “objectivity” are extremely reluctant to call someone a liar. As Paul Krugman used to regularly point out before he became stricken with Obamaphobia,

the mainstream media are fanatically determined to seem evenhanded. One of the great jokes of American politics is the insistence by conservatives that the media have a liberal bias. The truth is that reporters have failed to call Mr. Bush to account on even the most outrageous misstatements, presumably for fear that they might be accused of partisanship. If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ”Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical.

Where I disagree with Fallows is when he says this is a “ham-handed” and “clumsy” tactic. He doesn’t quite say that he thinks Clinton’s tactic will fail, but he seems to imply that it’s stupid:

My point is not really the merits of this argument. It is the Clinton-v-Clinton contrast. Am I right in remembering that in his prime, Bill Clinton didn’t — or didn’t have to — do things quite this bluntly and ham-handedly? Are we seeing a demonstration during the campaign of a talent gap in basic political skill between the two members of the household? One reason not to think so is that Bill Clinton is presumably involved in these very strategies, which seem so much clumsier than he was in 1992. Another is that he himself has struck same of the same off-notes this year.

Where has be been for the past 7 years? If we have learned anything from Bush years, it is that an effective way to deal with reporters is to diminish them by challenging them to call you a liar. If they won’t, then you win because your narrative gets treated as if it is a plausible description of the world. If they will, then you can complain, as Bush and Clinton both do, about being treated unfairly by the media. It’s a win-win situation for the politician, and all serious journalists like Chait and Fallows can do is sputter and gasp.

I don’t know if Clinton’s current strategy will earn her the nomination, but if it doesn’t, I think it will be because she didn’t implement it soon enough, not because it’s ineffective.


3 responses to “Adopting the Bush media strategy

  1. Hillary and Bill Clinton have made a significant issue about how the press is treating Hillary unfairly in their hyper-critical reporting on her and their “softball” reporting on Barak Obama. Hillary maintains she has been fully investigated by the media and Barak hasn’t!

    As the Tony Rezko trial begins in Chicago, Clinton and her surrogates are linking Obama to Rezko and the media is speculating about whether Obama will be called to testify as a witness in the case. Obama has always admitted he received $85,000 in contributions from Rezko which Obama has now donated to charity rather than keep.

    Yet the civil fraud trial of Bill Clinton for defrauduing Hillary’s largest donor in 2000 into giving her campaign more than $1.2 million, pending in Los Angeles courts since 2003, is now preparing for a November, 2008 trial. The discovery that is now proceeding after a February 21 hearing, and the pending trial, have NEVER been announced by the mainstream media.

    Hillary was able to extricate herself as a co-defendant in the case in January, 2008 after years of appeals to be protected by the First Amendment from tort claims arising out of federal campaign solicitations she made. Her abuse of the intent of California’s anti-SLAPP law after the California Supreme Court refused to dismiss her from the case in 2004 is emblematic of her contempt for the Rule of Law.

    Hillary will be called as a witness in both discovery and the trial according to the trial court Judge who so-advised Hillary’s attorney David Kendall when he dismissed Hillary as a co-defendant in 2007. A subpoena is being prepared this month and will be served personally on Hillary, along with Chelsea, Pa Gov. Ed Rendell, Al Gore and other well known political and media figures.

    Yet the media has refused to report about this landmark civil fraud case- brought by Hillary’s biggest 2000 donor to her Senate race, regarding allegations that were corroborated by the Department of Justice in the criminal trial of Hillary’s finance director David Rosen in May, 2005. That indictment and trial was credited as resulting from the civil suit’s allegations by Peter Paul, the Hollywood dot com millionaire Bill Clinton convinced to donate more than $1.2 million (according to the DOJ prosecutors and the FBI) to Hillary’s Senate campaign as part of a post White House business deal with Bill.

    The media – except for World Net Daily- has also suspiciously refused to report on Hillary’s last FEC report regarding her 2000 Senate campaign, filed in January 30, 2006. In a secret settlement of an FEC complaint by the plaintiff in Paul v Clinton, Peter Paul, the FEC fined Hillary’s campaign $35,000 for hiding more than $720,000 in donations from Paul, and it required Hillary’s campaign to file a 4th amended FEC report.

    In that report Hillary and her campaign again hid Paul’s $1.2 million contribution to her campaign and falsely attributed $250,000 as being donated by Paul’s partner, Spider Man creator Stan Lee, who swore in a video taped deposition he never gave Hillary or her campaign any money.

    Lee did testify to trading $100,000 checks with Paul to make it appear he gave $100,000 to Hillary’s campaign (admission of a felony) but none of that has been reported by the “overly critical” media!

    Where is the outrage from Obama that the press is engaging in a double standard relating to his possible role in the Rezko trial and his refunding the $85,000 contributed to his campaign by Rezko- which Obama has always admitted taking. The media makes no mention of Hillary’s role as a witness in Bill’s fraud trial for defrauding Hillary’s largest donor- and Hillary’s refusal to refund the $1.2 million she illegally received from Paul, which she has denied taking from Paul ever since the Washington Post asked her about Paul and his felony convictions from the 1970’s before her first Senate election in 2000?

    Let the truth be told, see the video of Hillary commiting crimes at

    And to those that like to get brainwashed by the media, like CNN (Clinton News Network) lets be real. We know churches are not 20 years talking about the same thing, the media gathered up those few clips. Do I think the pastor is a bit racist, there’s no doubt about it. But to link Obama with the Pastor, No. First of all, people are forgetting (Maybe because of his color) that OBAMA is WHITE and BLACK! As much as people want to make Obama un-American…. he is not. Youtube videos showing him not Pledge to the flag? First of all he and the audience were the only smart people that knew the national anthem is not the pledge of allegiance, plus was the only one singing it when Clinton and the others didn’t even know the song. I friend of mines I knew for 23 years murdered two people, I hate him for doing such stupidity, but he was part of the family, and I see him like twice every year. But that doesn’t make me a murderer. It didn’t make my wife switch her mind on being with me, that because I’m my own person. People should pay attention to what Obama says and not his pastor, so as much as you want to make it look like Obama is un-American. That is such a Clinton!!! in other words such a LIE!


  2. Wow–that was quite a comment. I am dizzy with talmudic commentary overload after reading Pedro’s ranting in response to David’s framing of Fallows’s ranting in response to Inskeep’s incredulous questioning of incredibly mendacious Clinton… Like (I think) Pedro, I too hope some of this disgust manages to make its way into the mainstream press.

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