Sometimes a single headline, picture or video encapsulates an entire election. Jimmy Kimmel’s brilliant segment about Hillary’s alleged “lies” is one example. Another perfect example is this New York Times headline: “Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative With the Truth.”
Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative With the Truth.
There’s your 2016 double standard in a single headline.
With Hillary, it’s all about her supposed “dishonesty,” “lies,” and “untrustworthiness.” For Donald, it’s “creativity with the truth.”
This double standard isn’t new. The story of Hillary’s phenomenal primary victory is the story of millions of Americans defying a torrent of anti-Hillary talking points and false frames to carry her to victory.
It began as soon as she announced her candidacy:
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.
I made that observation last May. In the 14 months since, I’ve meticulously chronicled the frontal assault on Hillary’s character enabled, and often encouraged, by the national media.
First on my personal site, then at HillaryMen, and now as the CEO of this media company, I have worked with colleagues to create a detailed public record of how our national media promulgate false frames and negative narratives about Hillary.
Within weeks of her announcement, the terms used to describe her in mainstream publications included “slithering, imperious, musty, petulant, paranoid, stale, scornful, regal, devious, deceitful, robotic, and abnormal.”
In August I created a gender bias thesaurus to juxtapose coverage of Hillary with her male counterparts.
- A male candidate is smart, while Hillary is “calculating, scheming, crafty, manipulative.”
- A male candidate values privacy, while Hillary is “secretive, suspicious, paranoid, uncommunicative.”
- A male candidate takes strong positions, while Hillary is “polarizing, divisive, alienating.”
- A male candidate deserves the benefit of the doubt, while Hillary is “untrustworthy, dishonest, unethical.”
- A male candidate is an achiever while Hillary is “over-ambitious, will do or say anything to win.”
- A male candidate is diplomatic while Hillary is “inauthentic, disingenuous, fake, unlikable, insincere.”
- A male candidate is solid and unflappable, while Hillary is “machine-like, robotic, abnormal, cold.”
- A male candidate is a confident leader, while Hillary is “inevitable, defiant, imperious, regal.”
- A male candidate is experienced, while Hillary is “old, out of touch, represents the past.”
My interest in media analysis was sparked by the 2000 presidential race, when Americans were repeatedly told — and millions ultimately convinced — that Al Gore was “wooden” and “robotic” while George W. Bush was “plainspoken,” “resolute” and “firm.” We all know where that firmness got us.
In 2004, John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was effectively portrayed as a flip-flopping coward and his AWOL opponent, George W. Bush, as a tough leader. I had a front row seat to that race and what became known as “swiftboating.” Sitting in Kerry’s war room, I was taught a sobering lesson in the national media’s power to manipulate public opinion.
After that painful initiation, I familiarized myself with the inner workings of the Beltway media. I came to understand that reporters and pundits eagerly disseminate rightwing talking points in order to avoid the “liberal media” moniker. Conservatives have pushed the liberal media myth for so long that it is simply accepted as truth. In fact, the opposite is true. Major media platforms are corporate-owned and are hardly favorable to progressive policies.
In 2005, I published THE TRIANGLE: Limits of Blog Power, an analysis of the role blogs played in forming conventional wisdom. As social media platforms came of age, the process of shaping public opinion became more complex. I wrote an essay for Harvard’s Berkman Center about the proliferation of opinion platforms and the complexification of the public discourse. I studied obscure concepts like Inoculation Theory and the Overton Window. I was gradually getting a grasp on the complex interplay between public opinion and media framing.
When I joined Hillary’s team in 2006, I thought I was well-prepared for the insidious process by which a candidate is mischaracterized — and caricatured — by the national media. But I quickly learned that the media’s mistreatment of Hillary is something entirely different, a toxic brew of carefully-honed conservative talking points and personal animus.
Mainstream journalists, it seems, are prohibited from entering the upper echelons of their industry if they don’t openly express disdain for Hillary. Undermining her is a rite of passage. Questioning her integrity is a job requirement. They imbibe and regurgitate a set of destructive frames, which I detailed at the outset of the 2016 race in my Hillary Decoder:
• CALCULATING (Scheming, crafty, manipulative)
• SECRETIVE (Suspicious, paranoid, uncommunicative)
• POLARIZING (Divisive, alienating)
• UNTRUSTWORTHY (Corrupt, lying, unethical, dishonest)
• OVER-AMBITIOUS (Will do or say anything to win)
• INAUTHENTIC (Disingenuous, fake, unlikable, insincere)
• INHUMAN (Machine-like, robotic, abnormal, cold)
• OVER-CONFIDENT (Inevitable, defiant, imperious, regal)
• OLD (Out of touch, represents the past)
For the duration of the 2016 campaign, Hillary has been subjected to relentlessly negative coverage, perhaps best illustrated by a deceptive and dishonest Quinnipiac poll that HillaryMen debunked in the fall of 2015. As we wrote at the HillaryMen site, Quinnipiac claimed to have found that the most cited description of the most admired woman in American politics was “liar.”
The media jumped on it. Commentators seized on it as definitive proof that the American electorate distrusts Hillary. That bogus poll set off a cascade of coverage about her supposed “dishonesty” that continues to reverberate today.
But the conclusion was a sham. We deconstructed the poll, looked at the internals and found that it was highly misleading. While Quinnipiac presented the poll as evidence that voters associated “liar” with Hillary, we demonstrated that it was Republican and Republican-leaning respondents to the Q-poll who linked Hillary to liar and other derogatory terms (including “bitch”). It is a vastly different thing for Republicans, parroting Fox news and talk radio, to hurl misogynistic insults at Hillary than for all voters to believe she is a liar.
For two weeks, HillaryMen called on the media to disavow the poll. A handful of journalists were ethical and responsible. The vast majority ignored our debunking of the poll and ran with the ‘liar” lie, slandering Hillary in the process. One of the most egregious examples was a nationally televised interview in which NBC political correspondent Andrea Mitchell confronted Hillary with the “liar” finding without questioning the poll’s methodology. This is reprehensible for any serious journalist. Mitchell essentially ambushed Hillary and compelled her to answer to a falsehood, to explain something that was factually wrong, something that goes to the heart of her integrity.
NBC’s Savannah Guthrie compounded the inequity in an interview with Chelsea Clinton when she confronted her with the discredited poll.
This “liar” poll was the proverbial egg that can’t be uncracked, the genie that can’t be put back into the bottle. “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
The vast amount of airtime given to that Q poll — as recently as June, 2016, a CNN guest alluded to it as though it were simply an established fact that most Americans have always associated Hillary with the word “liar” — contributed to negative impressions of Hillary, a self-reinforcing process I’ve described in simple terms:
- MEDIA: Is Hillary a liar? Is Hillary a liar? Is Hillary a liar?
- PUBLIC: Maybe Hillary is a liar.
- MEDIA: See, we told you Hillary is a liar.
The widespread use of a highly misleading poll to prove that Hillary is perceived as a liar was just the beginning. Several recent independent studies have confirmed what anyone who follows the news already knows: Hillary gets far worse coverage than any other candidate, including a bigoted bully who regularly bashes the media:
A new study from the Shorenstein Center at Harvard looking at the quantity and tone of media coverage in the months leading up to the 2016 caucuses and primaries casts new light on these contentions. It suggests that candidates who defied early expectations in order to position themselves as competitive candidates — principally Trump and Sanders — received heavy and disproportionately positive media. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, who had almost nowhere to go but down and who was drawing regular fire from both parties and from media sources themselves, had far and away the most negative coverage.
On May 18, the Washington Post wrote: “Trump getting more favorable news coverage than Clinton.”
For Hillary, winning the Democratic nomination and making history has done nothing to temper the corporate media’s mission to destroy her candidacy. If anything, the attempts to distort her public image have become more frantic.
A column in USA Today filed under the headline “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press” is emblematic of everything wrong with the media coverage of this election: In their desperation to turn it into a horse race, the media continually draw utterly unjustifiable false equivalencies. Hillary’s real sin seems to be that she doesn’t share the media’s opinion that they must be the gatekeepers between a candidate and her constituents. They resent that she doesn’t avail herself of them via official press conferences, but that is not, in fact, a threat to the free press.
This CNN headline appeared shortly after Hillary smashed a major gender barrier:
How about this insulting question from Politico:
And this, from AP:
And this laughable WaPo headline:
Not to mention Maureen Dowd’s venomous columns:
In Dowd’s latest poisonous and deceitful anti-Hillary screed, she refers to America’s first black president as “Barry” and says that Hillary’s “goo got on Obama.” For good measure, she accuses Attorney General Loretta Lynch of “dancing with the Arkansas devil in the pale moonlight.”
So when pundits breathlessly announce that Hillary has a trust and honesty problem, think about how hard they’ve worked to make it appear that way.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
Don’t let Donald Trump or the press or anyone else convince you that Hillary Clinton is “dogged by scandal” or “works under a constant cloud of controversy” or whatever the nonsense of the day is. That constant cloud is the very deliberate invention of lowlifes in Arkansas; well-heeled conservative cranks; the Republican Party; and far too often a gullible and compliant press. Like anybody who’s been in politics for 40 years, Hillary has some things she should have handled better, but that’s about it. The plain fact is that there’s no serious scandal on her record. There’s no evidence that she’s ever sold out to Wall Street. There’s no corruption, intrigue, or deceit. And if anything, she’s too honest on a policy level. She could stand to promise people a bit of free stuff now and then. If you don’t believe me, then for God’s sake, at least believe Jill Abramson. If she thinks Hillary is “fundamentally honest and trustworthy,” then you can probably bank on it.
In the end, I’m confident that enough voters will see past the duplicity and double standards to carry Hillary to victory. And that will be the ultimate vanquishing of Hillary’s haters in the media.