Hillary Clinton’s Double-Bind With the Press

Over the last few days the talk about the presidential election has been mostly about two things. The fist was Hillary Clinton’s remarks about Donald Trump’s basket of deplorables. I was particularly struck by how Ta-Nehisi Coates described that one.

For much of this campaign journalists have attacked Hillary Clinton for being evasive and avoiding hard questioning from their ranks. And then the second Clinton is forthright and says something revealing, she is attacked—not for the substance of what she’s said—but simply for having said it. This hypocrisy carries a chilling implicit message: Lie to me. Lie to the country. Lie to everyone. This weekend was not just another misanalysis, it was a shocking betrayal of the journalistic mission which should urge the revelation of truth as opposed to the propagation of hot takes, Washington jargon, and politics-speak.

The second thing that has consumed us lately is the fact that Hillary Clinton has pneumonia and – horror of horrors – didn’t tell us about it the minute her doctor diagnosed it. Kevin Drum summarized the result.

The LA Times has two front-page stories related to Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia. Ditto for the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post has three. But the New York Times is flooding the zone! Huzzah for the Gray Lady!

He then provided us with a screen grab of the front page of the NYT that includes six (yes, you heard that right…six) stories about this.

What has a lot of Democrats clutching their pearls on this one is that it somehow indicates her lack of transparency.

…it’s not clear to me that the Clinton campaign grasps how colossal a screw-up the overall handling of this information really was. Not only did the campaign delay its release for many hours yesterday, but it also kept it under wraps for the two days that transpired since the diagnosis occurred — all of which looks worse in retrospect than it did as we were learning about it yesterday…

“I honestly don’t think health is an issue of big vulnerability, despite the rantings of her opponents,” David Axelrod emailed me today. “The questions she needs to avoid exacerbating are ones of stealth, not health, and that’s why the way this was handled was ill-considered.”

Does anyone else see the double-bind in all of that? Certainly some truth-telling about the kind of bigotry that is fueling the Trump campaign isn’t the same as truth-telling about Hillary’s health. So the comparison isn’t perfect. But perhaps it explains why she would try to “power through” something as significant as an event commemorating 9/11 rather than fuel the conspiracy theories that were already spreading about her health.

The only reason something as innocuous as that becomes the focus is because the groundwork has been meticulously laid for a story about transparency.

While Clinton has a small 46-41 edge on who is seen as more honest and trustworthy, a full 69 percent of Americans say she is “too willing to bend the rules,” 62 percent disapprove of her handling of her emails, and 57 percent say they’re concerned about possible conflicts involving her presidency and the Clinton Foundation. The question of how much this will ultimately matter aside, it’s obvious that majorities are inclined to believe she is prone to cutting ethical corners with frequency and abandon.

In other words, Clinton is “prone to cutting ethical corners” because of the questions raised about her emails and the Clinton Foundation (i.e., the new Benghazi). All this is corroborated because she decided to power through pneumonia in order to attend a 9/11 event. But gawd forbid that she actually tell the truth about the bigotry that is being unleashed in this election. And people wonder why she gets defensive with the press.

What really bothers me about all of this is how stories like this come to be the focus of an election that is this important. As I mentioned yesterday, while all this was happening, Donald Trump threatened to start a war with Iran over hand gestures that he didn’t like. It barely got noticed. And when was the last time we paid as much attention to a policy speech by Hillary Clinton as we have to the fact that she has pneumonia? I’m not suggesting that a presidential candidate’s health is unimportant. But in a perfect world, we’d flip this script and spend a few minutes talking about that and focus most of our attention on things like policies and whether or not we want to go to war with Iran over hand gestures.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.