It is entirely uncontroversial to state that the national media have consistently treated Hillary with profound contempt. We need to understand why #HillaryCoverageIsCrap — and we need to fight back against the ritual humiliation of the first woman with a viable shot at the presidency.
Hillary has been subjected, for decades, to a level of scrutiny so relentless and intense that it has somehow, incredibly, become acceptable to publish, under the auspices of legitimate news, an article inviting “body language experts” to assess the authenticity of her gestures – and to report that they find she is “dishonest” even in her very mannerisms.
Somehow, alarmingly, it has become acceptable to ask Hillary, over and over, why people don’t like her. A historic candidate who resoundingly won her primary and is leading the race for the White House. Why doesn’t anyone like you, Hillary?
Somehow, enragingly, it is acceptable for panelists of talking heads to discuss her voice, her laugh, whether she smiles enough. To admonish her for “shouting.” To talk about her hair, her clothes, her accessories. To sneer at her jokes and disdainfully disqualify any personal tidbit she shares as “pandering” and “cynical” and a desperate, pathetic attempt to connect to voters.
To openly laugh at anything she does that reveals her humanity.
This is not news coverage. This is harassment. This is rank dehumanization. This is abuse.
How have we gotten to a point where we tolerate this deeply sexist, deeply personal sustained attack on one of the most admired women in the world?
How have we allowed ourselves to become so inured to a public, ritualistic humiliation of one of our nation’s most admired public servants?
Why do we expect that this overpoweringly unhealthy dynamic should be the cost of her public service, when no man in her position – including her disgusting opponent – is subjected to anything like this level of harassment and dehumanization?
Could any other human being survive this level of aggressive, ceaseless auditing, judgment, scrutiny, and personal criticism?
Why are the media doing this to her? And why are we allowing it to happen?
Hillary is the only person in public service at this level for whom unbridled contempt is not merely acceptable, but encouraged.
There is an elite Beltway media club, dominated by conservative-leaning white men, and every reporter on the political beat wants to belong to the club – a club whose gatekeepers have set as a requirement for entry the willingness to abandon all pretense of objectivity toward Hillary.
Certainly, any media power broker would deny that there is any such standard. And yet, there is ample evidence that expressing contempt, asking questions with no basis but humiliation, and engaging in overt sexism toward Hillary is richly rewarded.
Suggesting that Hillary should be drinking “Mad Bitch” beer didn’t hurt the careers of Dana Milbank or Chris Cillizza. Depicting Hillary with devil horns and teasing a segment about her with “She Devil?” hasn’t slowed down Chris Matthews’ stride. Andrea Mitchell and Maureen Dowd have built their entire careers around mean-girl misogyny aimed at Hillary.
Any up-and-coming reporter who wants to be noticed uses the opportunity to ask Hillary a garbage question that would never be asked of any other candidate: Why don’t people like you? Why don’t people trust you? Why is there no enthusiasm for your candidacy? How about the fact that women don’t unanimously support you? Do you really have any Black friends?
The media have spent decades building up a caricature of Hillary, dehumanizing her into a cold, robotic monster whose ambition has annihilated all traces of any authentic humanity, leaving her unlikable and untrustworthy. They’ve created a false narrative, then shove a microphone in her face and demand that she account for why it is that voters see her that way.
It’s a trap. A sickening, cruel trap. She knows exactly why – but if she speaks the truth, if she says, “Because your profession has carefully cultivated a funhouse mirror version of who I am and told people that’s the real me for 40 years,” then she will be excoriated for playing the victim, for shirking accountability for her own flaws, for whining, for complaining, for being weak.
So she says, over and over, “I take responsibility for these perceptions of me,” conceding the only frame the purveyors of this malice will tolerate, because it’s the only thing she can do, in order to avoid days of manufactured outrage at her “arrogance” and “misdirection” if she placed the blame, rightly, at their feet.
It’s is excruciating to behold, and it is offensive that we have chosen to accept it.
Hillary has become a metaphorical punching bag for both the frustrations of a media who get criticism from all sides, who find themselves increasingly feckless in the age of social media, and who serve as conduit for many of our cultural hostilities, including disdain for ambitious women who seek power.
They hound her because they are hounded, and they punish her because they cannot punish the incorporeal forces that are subverting their influence, and they dehumanize her because there are always rewards for destroying women, back to the days of the Salem witch trials and beyond to the beginning of human time.
And they do so in contravention of all evidence that Hillary is not, in fact, disliked. That she is not, in fact, untrustworthy. That she is not, in fact, any of the things they say she is. No one who knows her, no one who has worked with her, affirms their assertion that she is the heinous creature they portray her to be.
And it is not just the people who know her: PolitiFact assessed Hillary to be the most truthful candidate in the 2016 race. Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson, a reporter and editor who thoroughly investigated Hillary for decades, wrote that Hillary is fundamentally honest and trustworthy. A careful examination of FBI Director James Comey’s Congressional testimony reveals that he did indeed confirm that Hillary was being honest about classified emails.
The theme that runs throughout her career in public service that she is dishonest, corrupt, compromised is accompanied by a parallel theme of exoneration. She is investigated; she is found to have done nothing wrong. She is accused; the accusations are found to be without merit. She is battered by insinuations that are, upon objective scrutiny, found to be unjustifiable.
But they are endlessly repeated nonetheless, in order to create enough smoke that some voters reflexively assume there must be a fire.
But there is no fire. There is only a smoke machine.
And no one knows better that it is a smoke machine than the people who keep its motor running – the people who have heaped upon Hillary more negative coverage in this election than Donald Trump, a man who is catastrophically unfit for the U.S. presidency.
A man who has made vicious rhetorical and policy attacks on women, undocumented immigrants, and Muslims, and vicious personal attacks on female reporters, a disabled reporter, a federal judge, and gold star parents, just for a start, and yet is not routinely asked why it is that people don’t like him.
A man who lies reflexively and constantly, whose grandiose lies are described as “creativity with the truth” – or his “hostile relationship with the truth,” or variations thereof – an extraordinary sensitivity which Hillary is rarely afforded.
A man whose stream-of-consciousness demagoguery from a podium are described as speeches, and who peppers those so-called speeches with dog-whistled and bull-horned white nationalism and bigotry, serving as conduit and amplifier of some of the ugliest urges in this nation, and yet is habitually reported to be a straight-talker; a guy whose supporters see him as someone who “tells it like it is” and “says what we’re all thinking.”
He is not asked in every interview and every press conference why he is resoundingly disliked. He is not asked why people think he’s dishonest and untrustworthy. He is not ceaselessly subjected to round-tables about whether there is enthusiasm for his campaign, even though genuine support for the message central to his campaign is terrifying.
No, the “blue-collar billionaire,” who made his fortune exploiting and defrauding working people, is granted the undeserved decency of not having his authenticity and integrity and humanity questioned on an hourly basis.
Not in the sustained, systematic way that Hillary’s authenticity, integrity, and humanity are questioned – as though she were the existential threat to this nation. As though she were the one with the nefarious agenda.
And so she is, if you’re of the mind that it is inherently sinister to be an ambitious woman who has the unmitigated temerity to draw boundaries and restrict access to influential opinion-shapers who refuse to approach you in good faith.
Which is apparently even wickeder than being an entitled man whose impulsiveness and incompetence could bring the entire nation to its knees.
The media have played this reprehensible game with Hillary for decades, and now they are reeling like wounded beasts because she has decided that, if she can’t win by their rules, she will write her own.
They howl about her refusal to indulge their desire for unmoderated national press conferences, bitterly complaining that she’s making herself inaccessible and unaccountable.
But Hillary does local press. Her website is robust, populated with detailed policy proposals. Her speeches are detailed. She’s done listening tours. She often opts for intimate venues over huge stadium appearances on the campaign trail.
She has made herself accessible and accountable to voters. The media’s vengeful petulance is about her refusal to make herself available to them, her refusal to subject herself to exchanges that provide them opportunities to try to humiliate and harm her.
I am a voter, and I do not need, nor do I want, another press conference where I have to watch her being harassed. I’m fine with moderated questions in select venues. Frankly, I ache from years of watching the sick dynamic I have described so painstakingly above. I’m relieved by Hillary’s approach to a press intent on harassing her.
And, yes, it is harassment. Asking her dreadful questions like, “Why don’t people like you?” isn’t about trying to establish facts about Hillary’s fundamental truthfulness or integrity. It’s about an attempt to hurt her on camera and capture her pain. This persistent and recursive exploration of negative feelings toward Hillary is about shaming her, and nothing more.
I don’t want to see her shamed. I can’t bear it.
And so I support the boundaries she has drawn. What I don’t see is a woman who has made herself inaccessible. What I see is a woman who has been obliged to engage in self-preservation against the slow, steady destruction of her character.
And what I see in response is the same thing I see when any woman draws a boundary: Angry attempts to punish her care of the people who required her to do it in the first place.
I know as well as I know my own name that I will be called a shill, a hack, and far worse for my unabashed support of Hillary. I know that critics will misrepresent what I’ve written here by claiming I said that Hillary is above criticism, which I have not said and do not believe. I know my point will be obfuscated by charges that I have asserted any criticism of Hillary is sexist, which I have not done.
Fine. Do what you must, haters.
But I refuse to abide in silence this toxic dynamic of a culture that treats as normal the ritualistic shaming and abuse of the woman who could be our first woman president.
And I have studied enough history to know that, if these words are preserved for future examination among the words I am criticizing, it is unlikely to be my words that are regarded as shameful.
There will be no plaudits for cowards who used this moment in history to ask Hillary Clinton: “Why don’t they like you?“