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Eric Deggans

Eric Deggans

Posted: June 5, 2008 08:14 AM

Did Hillary Clinton's Media Missteps Help Doom Her Campaign?


It's tough to look at the cavalcade of sexist comments assembled by the Women's Media Center of pundits mouthing off during the Democratic primary race, and not conclude that media-fed sexism played some role in Hillary Clinton's electoral troubles.

That said, this media critic doesn't think sexism was her biggest problem there. Instead, I offer this humble list of the many ways Hillary Clinton blew it when it came to dealing with media during her campaign.

Underestimating the YouTube factor -- It wasn't just that she talked about dodging sniper fire when reporters who had been on the trip had video proof that she didn't. Or that her husband said something on a radio show and then tried to tell reporters that he didn't say it. It was that those about-faces and many more were immortalized on the Internet, allowing foes to pass them around like baseball cards -- endlessly reliving the worst hits of the campaign.

The Clintons, Bill in particular, seemed unprepared for the instant fact-checking and worldwide distribution that the smallest lies get online. It defused one of his biggest weapons, the ability to make any statement sound like the God's truth with his combination of personal charm and ex-Presidential authority. It also made him look whiny and evasive when complaining about press coverage that exposed his obfuscations.

Needless withholding of information that isn't damaging -- The Clintons gave Barack Obama weeks of free milage on criticism that they refused to release their tax records until close to this year's filing deadline. I knew the Clintons were too smart to have anything really damaging in the material -- beyond the fact that they've made a lot of money outside the White House. But this dynamic is something Carl Bernstein dissects in his book about Hillary, A Woman in Charge. In the book, he describes how Hillary Clinton fed some of the trumped-up scandals which bedeviled their presidency, simply by her lawyer-like refusal to release documents which might have proven their innocence. If she becomes a VP nominee, expect a struggle with Obama's camp over Bill releasing the name of donors to his presidential library.

Reliving the Whitewater/Lewinsky press dynamic -- I get that the Clintons feel persecuted by the press because of all the Mickey Mouse crap that went down during the Whitewater/Lewinsky/Impeachment debacle. But when the dust cleared, the president had lied to just about everyone, and the lot of a politician is to endure constant vetting. Acting like a victim every time the press wrote a tough story on them, the Clintons just encouraged irritated journalists to nail them even harder. Isn't it better to pull a McCain and charm them into submission?

It remains an enduring legacy of the conservative media machine -- and their own past mistakes -- that a couple so admired by the public has such awful relations with the Fourth Estate.

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