Hillary Clinton, whose battles with the media defined her latest ill-fated presidential run, seems to have learned a belated lesson about appealing to the press. In a new book about reporting on Clinton, New York Times veteran Amy Chozick recalls how the presidential hopeful struggled on the campaign trail to understand why her authentic self—the caring, dedicated public servant described by close confidants—was so caricatured and misunderstood. “You know, I am getting pretty tired of hearing about how nobody likes me,” Clinton reportedly snapped at one particularly tense moment. “What’s the point? They’re never going to like me.”
In the months since her bruising electoral loss, however, Clinton has taken small steps back into the limelight, recalibrating her public persona to resonate in the Trump age. Where she was once deliberately overcautious in her remarks—a tic, cultivated over decades of public scrutiny, that made her polished to the point of dullness—the new Clinton, reborn in the crucible of #resistance politics, has discovered an almost Trumpian flair for hyperbole. Speaking at the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture in New York on Sunday night, Clinton defended press freedom and lobbed barbed attacks at Donald Trump. Drawing parallels between the president and authoritarian leaders who have imprisoned journalists, she recited a list of some of his assaults on the press. “Given his track record, is it any surprise that, according to the latest round of revelations, he joked about throwing reporters in jail to make them ‘talk’?” she said, referring to an anecdote in James Comey’s recently released memos.
“We are living through an all-out war on truth, facts and reason,” she continued. “When leaders deny things we can see with our own eyes, like the size of a crowd at the inauguration, when they refuse to accept settled science when it comes to urgent challenges like climate change . . . it is the beginning of the end of freedom, and that is not hyperbole. It's what authoritarian regimes through history have done.” Trump’s obsession with the media is so disfiguring, Clinton argued, that it’s even more important to support methods of information dissemination beyond the White House and its associated organs. “It can’t only be journalists who stand up and speak out,” she said. “We can all do more, we can all subscribe to newspapers . . . we can support libraries and schools that teach media literacy to young people, and empower them to be thoughtful readers and consumers of news.”
The resulting headlines practically screamed, relative to the prosaic coverage Clinton was generating this time in 2016. “Hillary Clinton attacks Trump for 'all-out war on truth, facts and reason.” “Clinton: Free press is under open assault in Trump era.” “‘Relentlessly Negative’: Hillary Blasts 2016 Media Coverage for ‘Opening Door to Charlatans.’”
Clinton’s grasp of the media landscape was markedly less shrewd during her campaign. As Chozick put it, “Trump understood our gluttonous short attention span better than anyone. But especially better than Hillary, whose media strategy amounted to her ignoring us.” As a studied policy wonk, it must have frustrated Clinton to no end that Trump, the embodiment of everything despised by the mainstream media, could nonetheless speak their language of clicks and ratings, singlehandedly generating headlines—positive or negative—that spread like wildfire. Now, in her life as a private citizen, Clinton seems to be following in his footsteps somewhat, adopting a more laissez-faire attitude toward public speaking.
This method was on display during a recent appearance at The Wing, a women’s co-working space in New York, where she quipped, “Fox News is always trying to impeach me, so somebody needs to tell them, that doesn’t apply to a private citizen.” But it backfired in March, when her more unbridled remarks in India—“I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward,” she said, comparing parts of the country that voted for her to those that voted for Trump—prompted unfavorable comparisons to her “basket of deplorables” comment.
As she shapes her position in the post-election era, Clinton can be confident that a swath of supporters will appreciate her open attacks on the president. And while she’ll certainly generate the provocative headlines Chozick believes she needed during the campaign, she’s also certain to incite the same vitriol and misogyny that shaped the presidential campaign. A recent Fox News report suggests that, despite her newfound status as a private citizen, and her ostensible removal from political life, Republicans are nevertheless gearing up for a round of Clinton-bashing during midterm elections. “She’s a very powerful motivator,” Congressional Leadership Fund’s Corry Bliss told Fox. “It’s about what she represents. What she represents, just like what Nancy Pelosi represents, is out-of-touch far-left liberal positions.”
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