America's national media played a defining role in savaging Hillary Clinton's character, creating a grotesque caricature of the ethical, compassionate person she really is. Their pit bull-style coverage of her emails was the definition of disproportionality and indecency. Now they want to absolve themselves of guilt by blaming her for not appealing to certain demographics. We should reject their revisionism.
The brutal assault on Hillary Clinton’s integrity is the central reason she was defeated by Donald Trump. That assault was carried out by the national political press, elite establishment pundits, Trump and his GOP cohorts, the rightwing media machine funded by shadowy conservative moneymen, and some elements on the left, specifically during the Democratic primaries.
Their collective attacks damaged her public image badly enough that she was unable to get across the finish line. The right side of this chart tells the full story of Hillary’s courageous and inspiring campaign to break a 227-year barrier:
That gut-wrenching reversal in her favorability is why she lost. And it wasn’t anything she did. It was what was done to her. Hillary didn’t change from 2015 to 2016. Perceptions of her changed. And those perceptions were based on an avalanche of lies and smears.
That is what happened. Every post-mortem of her campaign that provides another explanation is lying to you.
And sure enough, here is the New York Times pretending that it is Hillary’s fault for failing to appeal to certain demographics. The whitewashing of history has begun in earnest. And the fact that she is on track to win the popular vote is being buried.
The truth must be told:
I’ve tried to tell it since early 2015. Knowing what was about to hit Hillary once she announced her presidential run, I began laying the groundwork for a robust defense in early 2015 with these two pieces:
My intention here is simple: detail the various narratives and frames (“calculating,” “secretive,” “polarizing,” etc.) that paint Hillary Clinton’s actions in the most negative possible light. These are carefully crafted and patently false scripts, many of which were concocted years ago in GOP oppo shopsto demean and dehumanize her. Distinct from legitimate policy critiques, these lazy shortcuts have seeped so deeply into traditional media coverage that it is virtually impossible to read anything about Hillary Clinton without encountering them.
Every public figure is subject to criticism. What is unique in Clinton’s case is that personal attacks which would normally be the province of political opponents and critics are promulgated by the mainstream news media.
To illustrate the convergence, I’ve put together two word mashups. The first is a list of adjectives describing Hillary Clinton drawn from two articles in the conservative publications Townhall and National Review. The second is a compilation of terms from just two weeks of Clinton coverage in (supposedly) non-partisan media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and NBC News. Both yield a grotesque caricature of the actual person, but it is hard to say which is more egregious.
National Review and Townhall: “Lovecraftian monster, the Cthulhu of American politics, short of clever, too old and out of touch, edifice to deceit, slithered out of Washington, Faustian, passion-quelling pantsuit.”
Mainstream media: “Machiavellian, musty-smelling, stale, secretive, calculating, imperious, paranoid, petulant, defiant, devious, scrambles in the dirt.”
The swiftboating of Hillary Clinton (May 2015)
The 2016 election is not a replay of 2012 (the data election); it is not a replay of 2008 (the dueling histories election); it is a replay of 2004 (the swift boat election). The well-coordinated assault on the Clinton Foundation, the pillar of the Clintons’ many achievements, is analogous to the brazen assault on the pillar of John Kerry’s career, his decorated military service.
Swiftboating is the intricate interplay between the conservative oppo/attack infrastructure and the mainstream media. In 2004, the Internet was a factor insofar as blogs were a nascent force. Today, social platforms are a mass amplifier that make swiftboating easier and faster.
The Kerry attacks were about planting seeds of doubt about his service. The media’s role was one of legitimation and magnification. Under the rubric of what they believed was justifiable news reporting, the major outlets gave the swift boat attacks the legitimacy they lacked on Free Republic.
Similarly, the full-scale barrage hitting the Clinton Foundation is the result of a complicated interplay among conservative oppo shops, rightwing authors, GOP politicians and the mainstream media, with the latter acting, once again, as a legitimating force.
The unacknowledged hallmark of true swiftboating is that we fail to recognize the damage before it is too late, primarily because of our natural human tendency toward denial. We simply cannot fathom that a foundational element of our self-worth is being dismantled before our eyes. Unlike previous Clinton faux-scandals, this is about the very core of Hillary’s positive impact in the world. We need to call the attack on the Clinton Foundation what it is: the swiftboating of Hillary Clinton.
Over the course of 18 months, I worked with colleagues to methodically chronicle the news media’s vicious assault on Hillary’s integrity, their brazen double standard, their repetition and dissemination of rightwing anti-Hillary talking points, and their outlandishly imbalanced coverage of her emails.
That brutal and relentless assault on Hillary’s integrity as a human being is why she lost to Trump. People on the right and left came to despise her, and they did so because they were convinced by these false attacks that she was a terrible person.
I’ll have more to say in the coming days about whether this methodical destruction of her public image could have been mitigated, but one thing is undeniable: it is the central reason she was unable to prevail in the end. The national media don’t want you to know that they played a pivotal role in that hideous and unjust process.
I, for one, intend to hold them accountable for what they have wrought. And I will remind them every day that more Americans chose Hillary over Trump.
NEVER FORGET: More Americans voted for Hillary's values than Trump's. That will be our north star as we defend those values. #StillWithHer
— Peter Daou (@peterdaou) November 10, 2016