Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson writes that Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest.
One of the most intractable narratives of this election—and certainly around Hillary Clinton’s whole public career—is that she is dishonest. Untrustworthy. There’s just something about her…
As my colleague Peter Daou has observed, Hillary is one of the most ethical (and lied about) political leaders in the nation, and also the most truthful in the 2016 field of candidates.
The only way this mendacious caricature of Hillary works is because the corporate media continue to promulgate it, trading on decades of negative framing ushered into the public conversation in breathless reporting on faux scandals, vague conspiracies, and dead-end investigations.
The media and commentariat’s compulsion to chase down every whiff of impropriety around Hillary, no matter whence it emanates, and to treat conservative fringe conspiracies and manifestly partisan attacks as legitimate stories deserving of detailed analysis, has created enough smoke that some voters reflexively assume there must be a fire.
But there is no fire. There is only a smoke machine.
In the Guardian, former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson details having been a reporter and editor who has thoroughly investigated Hillary for decades, and has come to this conclusion: “Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.”
She is also, writes Abramson, mistrustful of the press. And with good reason.
For decades she’s been portrayed as a Lady Macbeth involved in nefarious plots, branded as “a congenital liar” and accused of covering up her husband’s misconduct, from Arkansas to Monica Lewinsky. Some of this is sexist caricature. Some is stoked by the “Hillary is a liar” videos that flood Facebook feeds. Some of it she brings on herself by insisting on a perimeter or “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. It’s a natural impulse, given the level of scrutiny she’s attracted, more than any male politician I can think of.
Colin Diersing, a former student of mine who is a leader of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, thinks a gender-related double standard gets applied to Clinton. “We expect purity from women candidates,” he said. When she behaves like other politicians or changes positions, “it’s seen as dishonest”, he adds. CBS anchor Scott Pelley seemed to prove Diersing’s point when he asked Clinton: “Have you always told the truth?” She gave an honest response, “I’ve always tried to, always. Always.” Pelley said she was leaving “wiggle room”. What politician wouldn’t?
There is a particular game that the media play with Hillary—if she makes herself, her documents, her private life, her thoughts available, they are infinitesimally scrutinized for anything that can be used against her, no matter how cynically.
And if she insists, after being routinely held to these impossible standards, on some level of privacy, or answers guardedly, or couches her thoughts in caveats and avoids absolutes, then she is accused of hiding something.
Reveal yourself and be damned. Conceal yourself and be damned. These are the rules of the unwinnable game that the media force Hillary to play.
This is the smoke machine, operating on maximum power.
There is no fire. There is only the white hot intensity of burning disgust felt by anyone who is paying attention to this awful and unjust dynamic.
It would be merely indecent if the public commentators who engage in this swill were attacking any old public figure this way, but to direct it at a presidential candidate during a presidential election with such grave consequences is breathtakingly irresponsible.
And, one might argue, pretty darn dishonest.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)