On a seemingly never-ending hunt for bad news about Hillary Clinton and her political prospects, the New York Times recently published a front-page article about how the former first lady is busy trying to mend fences between herself and African-Americans, "the constituency that was most scarred during her first bid for the presidency."
Under the headline, "Eye on 2016, Clintons Rebuild Bond With Blacks," the Times claimed the turbulent Democratic primary from 2008 left deep wounds and assumed Hillary Clinton's appearances before black audience this year represented a pointed effort to fix that.
Usually when trying to assess a voting community's perception of a politician or public figure, reporters consult polling data. In this case the Times did not. Certain that Hillary needed to "rebuild" a "bond" with black voters, the Times chose to ignore all the polling data that indicates she currently enjoys extraordinary support among black voters. Indeed, including polling results in the article would have completely undercut the premise. (Why would you "rebuild" a bond that's amazingly strong?)
Instead, the Times omitted any reference to a Quinnipiac poll from this summer that found 88 percent of black voters view her favorably. The Times also ignored the recent NBC/WSJ poll that found in a hypothetical match-up against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Clinton would receive 83 percent of the black vote, versus Christie's four percent. As political scientist John Sides noted, "Among black voters, any negative feelings about Hillary Clinton were erased long ago."
As for Bill Clinton, a Fox News poll from this year revealed that 90 percent of "non-whites" view the former president favorably.
The Times piece seemed to be little more than an attempt to pick at a five-year-old political wound, while glossing over the fact that the abrasion's been healed for years. It was the Times trolling around in search of a conflict and justifying the creation of a dedicated beat devoted to the former secretary of state when, in this case, no conflict exists. (What's next for the daily, a look at how Clinton has to "rebuild" her bond with middle-aged women?)
The baffling Times article was just the latest, and perhaps the most egregious, example of a new school of commentary that's cropped up around the Clintons, and specifically around speculation regarding Hillary's presidential plans in 2016. Not content with what-if columns, articles and panel discussions, the press increasingly spends significant time and energy conjuring up what could go wrong if Clinton ran.
Despite Clinton's enviable position with regards to her sky-high name recognition, a proven ability to fundraise, and her strong favorable ratings, the starting point for much of the Clinton coverage lately is She Might Be Doomed. (The New Yorker's Amy Davidson has already declared Clinton's 2016 campaign to be a "predestined" "train wreck.") Does anyone remember two years worth of He Might Be Doomed coverage for George W. Bush when he emerged as the clear Republican frontrunner well before the 2000 campaign?
That's not to suggest that Clinton is off limits from tough, skeptical coverage and commentary. She's not. But pretending she has to rebuild a relationship that's not broken? That's not skepticism, that's just spin.
It's possible that boredom is driving the creative coverage. Specifically, the media fear of being bored during the Democratic primary season if Hillary Clinton were able to easily secure the nomination. It's certainly possible that, if she runs for president, a significant primary challenger could emerge, as happened in 2008. But anxious for a replay of the bruising Clinton/Obama stand-off, the press seems eager to preemptively knock Clinton down a few pegs before she even announces her campaign plans.
Part of the problem is we've never seen this kind of constant, and mostly pointless, speculation about a presidential campaign that's still three years away. But writing about what "could" happen in 2016 seems to be very appealing to pundits and reporters. And since they set the agenda, endless click-bait speculation reigns. And for some reason the speculation often emphasizes the rough waters that await Clinton.
For instance, a Times article last week claimed "some people close to Mrs. Clinton worry" that her accomplishments as secretary of state are being eclipsed by current events. Yet the article didn't contain a single quote from anyone "close to Mrs. Clinton" expressing that sentiment.
The same piece featured this telling construction [emphasis added]:
But the fact that her supporters are eager to defend her tenure -- and connect her work to Mr. Kerry's -- suggests a level of concern about her legacy should she decide to run for president in 2016.
Wait, what? Clinton's allies are eager to defend her tenure as secretary of state, so that means her allies are concerned about her tenure as secretary of state? That's illogical. (If they were reluctant to defend the tenure, the Times' premise might make sense.) But that's what happens when reporters strain to cast every Clinton morsel in a dark, unforgiving light.
And then there's the recent theme pushed by both the Washington Post and the Times that the Democratic Party is suddenly experiencing a dramatic liberal shift, which, naturally, means more bad news for Hillary.
From the Times:
This task has taken on new urgency given the Democratic Party's push to the left, away from the centrist politics with which the Clintons are identified.
And the Post:
The push from the left represents both a critique of Obama's tenure and a clear challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party's presumptive presidential front-runner, who carries a more centrist banner.
But if there's been a big liberal swing inside the Democratic Party and away from Clinton's "centrist" agenda, somebody forgot to tell Democratic voters, who overwhelmingly tell pollsters they prefer Hillary to be the party's next nominee. And that includes a strong majority of self-identified liberals.
According to a Public Policy Polling survey released last week, 63 percent of "strongly liberal" voters picked Clinton as their top choice in 2016; 68 percent of "somewhat liberal" voters did the same.
That's good news for Clinton if she becomes a candidate. But the press insists on flipping the script.
Crossposted at Media Matters.
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