During her quarter-century on the national stage, Hillary Clinton has developed something of a hate-hate relationship with the political media. According to a Politico story published on Thursday, should she end up not running in 2016, Hillary’s relationship with the press may end up being a big factor.
“When asked why Clinton hasn’t done more to reach out to reporters over the years, one Clinton campaign veteran began to spin several theories. She was too busy, she was too prone to speaking her mind and the like—then abruptly cut to the chase: Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change.”
Upon her ascension to national politics with her husband’s first White House race, Hillary Clinton took the lead in battling the “bimbo eruptions”which dominated the news during points of the campaign. After the election Clinton became the subject of some legitimate investigations such as Whitewater, “travelgate,” and a cattle futures investment. Politico writes that there were also some illegitimate charges:
…among other things, that she is a lesbian, a Black Widow killer who offed Vincent Foster then led an unprecedented coverup, a pathological liar,… a Commie, a harridan. Every aspect of her personal life has been ransacked; there’s no part of her 5-foot-7-inch body that hasn’t come under microscopic scrutiny, from her ankles to her neckline to her myopic blue eyes—not to mention the ever-changing parade of hairstyles that friends say reflects creative restlessness and enemies read as a symbol of somebody who doesn’t stand for anything.
[…] If she doesn’t run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article. As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.
Part of the problem, at least during her eight years in the White House is that she was reluctant to reach out to the press:
When asked why Clinton hasn’t done more to reach out to reporters over the years, one Clinton campaign veteran began to spin several theories. She was too busy, she was too prone to speaking her mind and the like—then abruptly cut to the chase:
“Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change.”
Another confidante said:
“It’s like a war. You need both defensive and offensive air power,” says Joe Conason, an author and columnist with deep connections in the Clinton camp. “She’s serious about considering a run, but she’s also aware of the price she’s going to have to pay.
… That’s why she might say, ‘Who needs this?’”
During her her years in the Senate, the relationship began to change:
Clinton, liberated from the White House fishbowl, was no natural on the campaign trail, but dealing with the press on a day-to-day basis gave her a sense of confidence she’d never had in her husband’s shadow, especially once she won an election in her own right and moved into the Senate. Sotto voce, she even set out to improve her relationship with conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Her 2000 campaign communications chief, Howard Wolfson, served as a back-channel emissary between the Clinton and Murdoch camps in his capacity as a strategic adviser to Murdoch’s News Corp. in its long-running battle with Nielsen over the ratings company’s viewer-tracking practices. Clinton herself made nice with the New York Post, Murdoch’s sharp-knifed right-wing tabloid. She cultivated a friendly rapport with Vince Morris, author of the paper’s “Hillary Watch,” column: When Morris’s wife delivered a daughter in 2002, Clinton wrote a letter directly to the child on Senate stationery.
Her relationship with the press deteriorated during her 2008 campaign, she felt the press was misogynistic and in the tank for Obama. But detente returned during her years in the State Department
Still, this was a different Hillary Clinton with the press. It’s a stretch to say Clinton was ever buddy-buddy with the Foggy Bottom crew, but over time they grew to like her and, at times, even felt protective. During a 2010 trip to Peru, Clinton met with reporters to talk over a couple of potent pisco sours. For reasons that eluded her companions, Clinton had scheduled a later meeting in the same hotel bar with a Chinese official. She wasn’t wobbly, but as Clinton was saying her goodbyes, a scribe jammed a drink into the hand of the Chinese diplomat to “even the international playing field,” according to an attendee.
As she moves toward the decision to run for president, her supporters are worried that her history is leading her to avoid setting up a communications operation:
“People ask me all the time to define what she did at State, what did it all mean,” says one former Clinton press aide. “Somebody needs to be out there telling Hillary’s story in a more consistent way, not just breaking legs.”
Clinton advisers outside her inner circle fret that she is waiting too long to set up even a rudimentary messaging and communications structure, to build a case for Hillary as president, not just against those who would take shots at her. (“It may seem early, but the calendar is burning, and we’ve got no infrastructure,” says one Clinton operative active in fundraising.)
The former Secretary of State has been avoiding the press during the cross-country speaking tour she’s been on since she left office. But Clinton begins the press tour for her book in a month and she will have to deal with reporters. That’s when we know if her political communications operation will be in place, and how she will respond to constant contact with reporters. It is also the opportunity for her to decide whether the chance to be president is worth having to deal with reporters.