With the release of the first batch of the thousands of emails that Hillary Clinton turned over to the State Department, what has America learned about the former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate?
Nothing voyeuristic or venal to thrill journalists ever on the hunt for Clinton “scandals” — but just a few things that voters might be learning for the first time, if all they know about her is what the mainstream media always tell them.
According to the New York Times – a “liberal” newspaper that no longer attempts to conceal its longstanding animus against the Clintons – this initial batch of 3,000-plus emails is “striking” in its “banality,” because so many of the messages from her early months as the nation’s third-ranking official deal with daily problems like scheduling, fax machines, and snow days at Foggy Bottom. Seeking to embarrass her whenever possible, the Times account leads with her apparent concern over possible press comment on a 2009 joint interview with her most notorious predecessor.
Evidently she fretted, for a few minutes at least, that her “distant” relationship with President Obama might be compared invidiously to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s leech-like fastening upon his old boss, Richard M. Nixon.
“In thinking about the Kissinger interview, the only issue I think that might be raised is that I see POTUS at least once a week while K saw Nixon every day,” noted Clinton in an email to aides, using the abbreviation for President of the United States. Then the woman who helped to impeach Nixon snarked: “Of course, if I were dealing w that POTUS I’d probably camp in his office to prevent him from doing something problematic.”
Like so many matters dredged up in her old emails, that fleeting anxiety has faded into oblivion. As for weightier decisions, declares Times reporter Peter Baker, those must have been discussed and debated on the telephone rather than via email, where she seemed “acutely aware that anything she wrote could someday be read by a wider audience.” (A strange observation in a newspaper where the working assumption is that she schemed to conceal her emails from public scrutiny forever, but never mind.)
Still, if these emails offer no hint of titillating scandal or slander, they cannot be said to offer no insight into America’s best-known female leader. While the Times grudgingly concedes that these messages reveal “hints of personality,” Time magazine found a woman in full – and someone whose very existence may surprise voters more familiar with the secretive, imperious, self-centered figure so often caricatured in American media over the past 25 years.
Time informs us that the “complex portrait” of Clinton emerging from the emails shows “a management style that is efficient under pressure and reflective in the late hours of the day,” with “bursts of thinking” that sometimes erupted during “sleepless nights circling the globe.” Nothing new there: Everyone knows she is sharp, thoughtful, and driven to get stuff done. But Time describes her with adjectives rarely used in conventional profiles: “humble,” “self-deprecating,” “concerned,” “generous,” and “one of the best bosses” that members of her staff have ever had.
Humble? She usually went out of her way to meet with friends and colleagues, rather than insisting they come to her. Self-deprecating? She joked constantly about herself and her foibles. Concerned? She repeatedly sought ways to help a young girl she had met in Yemen — and she admonished John Podesta, an old friend who now serves as her campaign chair, to “wear socks to bed to keep your feet warm.” Generous? She often expressed gratitude to staff and kept close track of births, illnesses, and other milestones affecting friends, acquaintances, and employees.
Does any of that sound familiar? Not unless you’ve spoken with people who know Hillary Clinton well. The point isn’t that she is any kind of paragon. She is simply a human being, whose friends and former staffers might also mention her flashes of impatience and temper, her wariness toward the press, her efforts to protect family privacy that can sometimes seem excessively secretive.
The question is whether major media outlets, often hostile and suspicious toward Clinton, can yet draw a fuller portrait of a candidate who is so well known; a candidate whose true character, in all its complexity, has been obscured by negative coverage for so many years; a candidate who, despite those persistent distortions, may yet make history again.