Media Bias Returns to Haunt Hillary

Dasu Krishnamoorty

The media exercise of negative reporting of Democratic Party’s nominee for presidency Hillary Clinton in 2008 has begun a replay no sooner she announced her candidature for 2016. It is not just Clinton accusing the media of bias but the media themselves seeming to confirm the veracity of her claims of bias. That the liberal The New York Times too joined the other media in Clinton baiting became evident in its misreporting of the nature of investigation she faced following the mismanagement of sensitive government information in her private mail account. Reuters reported that the Justice Department said that it had indeed received a request to look at Clinton’s email, but that it wasn’t a request for a criminal investigation.

Dasu Krishnamoorty

Dasu Krishnamoorty

Hardly a year ago comedian Cecily Strong, created a stir at a White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on April 25, when she asked the journalists to vow: “I solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary’s appearance, because that is not journalism.” This shows the state of more than uneasy relations between the Democratic Party’s frontrunner to contest the presidency, Hillary Clinton, and the American media. At work is a combination of media’s investigative zeal and Hillary’s penchant to remain distant and secretive. Very early in her campaign she refused to be drawn out of her cordon sanitaire.

The media have a history of profiling female candidates by highlighting feminine traits and issues. They got less coverage than men. Hillary’s campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president and Sarah Palin’s campaign as vice president on the Republican ticket were covered in print, TV and social media, portraying Palin as a sex object while attacking Clinton for her lack of femininity. Two well-known columnists Peter Daou and Tom Watson, linked to a support group called Hillary Men, wrote: The 2016 presidential race has been a display of semantic gymnastics, with a dictionary’s worth of adjectives devoted to coverage of Hillary Clinton. These terms (cold, calculating, defiant, testy, secretive, etc.) appear as word clusters in the media – created, transmitted and repeated for maximum persuasion. They are amplified through social channels and rapidly congeal into conventional wisdom.

The fact that Hillary has no contender for presidential ticket from her own party and that the Republican Party has so far provided no indication of who its contender would be are seen as one reason for the absence of fire and rhetoric in the campaign and lack of enthusiasm in the media  to prod Hillary to spell out her programme to revive the nation’s economy and revitalize its security machine.

This drought of campaign issues may be behind the media reviving the 2008 campaign etiquette of writing about her behavioral idiosyncrasies and her wardrobe. A top Hillary aide thought that “it feels sometimes like the primary is Hillary against the media.”

Yet Hillary continues to be the frontrunner for presidential nomination. Her name recognition and fund-raising ability are still unmatched. Yet according to Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of history and education at New York University, ”In popular perception her gender seems to check her progress to the White House.” There is also the Republican-floated myth that she is distant, privileged and barely in touch with the concerns of everyday American. Some of the adjectives the mainstream media employ to describe Hillary are cold, calculating, defiant, testy, secretive etc.

Even reporting the results of public poll was not free from bias. Lanny Davis of New Hampshire Union Leader in a long article cites a CNN poll that showed Hillary ahead of senator Bernie Sanders who is also seeking a Democratic Party nomination by eight points. A parallel poll by Bloomberg showed Hillary was leading Sanders by 32 points. The media highlighted the CNN poll showing Hillary’s marginal lead and virtually ignored her convincing lead by 32 points.

Rick Jensen, one of America’s most influential talk show hosts, cites two incidents that in his view have ruptured Hillary’s equations with the press: one, The New York Times misreporting an ongoing Justice Department inquiry into Hillary’s poor management of state-emails and two, her cordoning off the press contingent at New Hampshire with a rope.  “There is definitely an agenda when it comes to Hillary. A predetermined narrative exists to deride her character,” said Anita Finlay, American TV and film actress, talking to Ed Berliner on Newsmax’s The Hard Line.

Dana Milibank, a columnist with The Washington Post, wrote about how The New York Times created the Hillary-media tension by incorrectly reporting that the Justice Department had been asked to launch a “criminal investigation into whether Clinton had mishandled sensitive government information in her private mail account. On The New York Times apologizing and cleaning up the reporting mess, the paper’s columnist Maureen Doud wrote a piece comparing Clinton to US football quarterback Tom Brady (destroying digital messages and thwarting official investigation while acting all innocent). Political talking heads think Hillary has a grudge against the media, arguing that the media have repeatedly embarrassed her and her husband.

Explaining the reporting lapse, Margaret Sullivan, The Times Public Editor, wrote a long article mentioning, among other things, that “A front page article described Hillary Clinton as the subject of a criminal inquiry into her email practices while she was secretary of state. I wrote a blog post Monday, faulting The Times for too much speed in publishing the story, and too little transparency in correcting and revising it. Rushing to publish a scoop, The Times failed and hurt its reputation for authoritative accuracy to make sure that the story was correct.”

A Times reader said, “The reporting on Clinton from such a dominant news source has an unfairly critical edge.” A longstanding subscriber objected to what she saw as jaded coverage concerning Hillary. Another reader said that The Times seemed to be on a mission to cut her down to size.

About the rope affair Jensen maintained that journalists had agreed to this arrangement because Hillary wanted them far enough away from her campaigning so they could not hear what she was saying to potential voters. CNN and The New York Times reporters felt outraged when pictures of them being roped off appeared on the Internet.   The New York Times incorrectly reported that the Justice Department had been asked to launch a “criminal investigation” into whether Hillary “mishandled sensitive government information in her private e-mail account. The Times later apologized to Hillary for the lapse.

If we look back into the past it becomes clear that the American male is firmly stuck in the May Flower ethos. All the first women Presidents and Prime Ministers of the world came from Asian societies.

Hillary is not the first woman to set her sights on the White House and get snubbed by a misogynistic society. Look at America’s record: the first woman to cast an eye on the presidency was Margaret Chase Smith, a senator from Maine. The moment she announced her candidacy in 1964 for a Republican ticket journalists began writing about her trim and white haired looks. They referred to her ambition implying that it was unfeminine attribute. They said that she has neither the money nor the time to run.  Ignoring this forecast she announced nonchalantly that she is going to run.

Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American to seek a Democratic nomination arguing for increased spending on education and defence. The voter considered those two areas as typical female concerns and said they wanted a strong person, euphemism for man, to enter the White House and squashed her ambition before it budded.

Both the media and Hillary will have to shed mutual distrust because they serve the same constituency: the American nation.

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