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When The Media Play By ‘Clinton Rules’

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When The Media Play By ‘Clinton Rules’


Having coined the phrase “Clinton Rules” to explain the national news media’s obsession with phony scandal narratives involving Bill and Hillary Clinton, I should be gratified to see it pass into general circulation.

First came New York Times columnist and liberal MVP Paul Krugman, casting doubt upon that newspaper’s virtually incomprehensible 4,400-word treatise, which insinuated that Secretary of State Clinton had peddled a Wyoming uranium mine to the Russians in return for contributions to her family’s charitable foundation:

“If you are old enough to remember the 1990s,” Krugman wrote, “you remember the endless parade of alleged scandals, Whitewater above all—all of them fomented by right-wing operatives, all eagerly hyped by mainstream news outlets, none of which actually turned out to involve wrongdoing. The usual rules didn’t seem to apply; instead it was Clinton rules, under which innuendo and guilt by association were considered perfectly OK, in which the initial suggestion of lawbreaking received front-page headlines and the subsequent discovery that there was nothing there was buried in the back pages if it was reported at all.”

Actually, Krugman first used the term during the 2008 Democratic primaries to characterize some Obama supporters’ hostility toward Hillary Clinton, an attitude Barack Obama himself appears never to have shared. Social media conversations among Democrats show that something similar is currently happening again among Bernie Sanders supporters, also without his cooperation.

To some degree, hard feelings are inevitable in politics. The Times has recently documented how successful conservative groups such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads are at planting anti-Clinton messages among Democrats. That Hillary hater on Facebook may be a professional troll. They’re also spending big bucks on focus groups, studying how to make the party’s likeliest nominee look like a gold-plated bitch come November 2016.

“They’re trying to make her Mitt Romney in a pantsuit,” said David Brock, former right-wing hitman turned liberal culture warrior. I’d have said Leona Helmsley; the New York hotel heiress who declared that paying taxes was for little people. There’s an unmistakable whiff of woman hating about the whole enterprise.

Recently Vox reporter Jonathan Allen made a halfway brave attempt to describe “the media’s 5 unspoken rules for covering Hillary,” and his own conflicted role in applying them. I say “halfway” brave because the unvarnished truth probably couldn’t be written by any insider who wasn’t prepared to quit Washington journalism altogether.

That said, Allen cuts close to the bone, making it clear that, among political reporters, “the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton” ranks as “the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism.” He adds that regardless of how ultimately baseless and even ludicrous the allegation, “the act of choosing, time and again, to go after the same person has the effect of tainting that person, even when an investigation or reporting turns up nothing.”

Why does Hillary so dislike the political media? Because any normal person would, Allen thinks, if her first experience of them was being treated as a suspect in the death of a dear friend (Vince Foster) who’d committed suicide. And no, it wasn’t just Rush Limbaugh. It was Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, the TV networks, basically everybody.

So a CNN interviewer asks the former Secretary of State why nobody trusts her and she’s supposed to show contrition or be derided as “inauthentic”? Allen’s Rule #5 states that “everything she does is fake and calculated for maximum political benefit.” If so, what answer can she possibly give?

Maybe the one she did give: that right-wing apparatchiks have been peddling this line to reporters for 25 years, but she’s won elections anyway. So aides used a rope line to keep reporters out of her face while she walked in a parade? Boo-hoo-hoo. They ought to be glad she didn’t break out stock whips and cattle prods.

Because that would be really bitchy.

Meanwhile, these guardians of public morality can be awfully selective about admitting their own mistakes. Consider the experience of Sidney Blumenthal, the former Clinton White House aide dragged before the latest House Benghazi investigation because he emailed Clinton information about Libya that was offered by a retired CIA analyst they both knew.

Supposedly, according to a heavy-breathing New York Times story, Blumenthal had highly suspicious financial interests in Libya. Supposedly, too, “the committee’s investigators are… interested in whether the planned business venture in Libya posed any potential conflicts for Mr. Blumenthal or Mrs. Clinton.”

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius depicted Blumenthal as Hillary’s “Svengali,” cunningly manipulating the Secretary of State for his own devious ends. It was all terribly suspicious, emblematic of Hillary’s well-known propensity for skirting the law.

Except that Blumenthal (a friend) had no such business ties, as his attorney and his subsequent testimony have made clear. He’s labored in vain to have that testimony released by seemingly embarrassed GOP investigators. So when will the Times and Post correct the damage to Blumenthal’s reputation?

I’m guessing never: Clinton rules.

File photo: Hillary Clinton, 2007 (Marc Nozell via Flickr)

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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  1. ps0rjl July 15, 2015

    The Clintons are guilty because they are the Clinton. Meanwhile Scott Walker, the darling of the conservative right wing, is actively under investigation or criminal wrongdoing. Frankly would take Hillary over any of the clowns of the GOP. She may not be the perfect candidate but least her speeches are not the GOP speeches of prosperity is just around the corner for all of us. All we have to do is give billionaires and corporations more tax cuts

    1. TZToronto July 15, 2015

      A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage! The GOP message doesn’t change much, does it? . . . Herbert Hoover would be a better candidate than any of the current crop of clowns, and he was pretty bad.

  2. itsfun July 15, 2015

    I think that any candidate the media can find dirt on, they will jump at the chance to report it. Doesn’t matter what party, sex, or race. Reporters want to be famous and make a ton of money just like most politicians.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker July 15, 2015

      That’s because they are not journalists. Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Edward R. Murrow and Douglas Edwards were reporters of news…not packed and padded biased ideological garbage intended for no other reason than subtle indoctrination of the most naive.

    2. jmprint July 15, 2015

      But there is so much more corruption and greed on the republican side, that goes untapped.

  3. Eleanore Whitaker July 15, 2015

    When it comes to guilt, You can’t beat the record of TX…Starting with the disgraced former Speaker of the House, Tom DeLay and his Abramoff K-Street caper. Abramoff went to jail while DeLay got his Texas Oil billionaires to absolve him of wrongdoing.

    Then, there’s Pretty Boy Rick Perry. Not exactly known as a straight up and down arrow. But, he is from TX where corruption is “business.”

    Of course, if you factor in TX most famous Maine export, Bush and his magically selling off his Harken Energy stock 6 months before it flopped and he pocketed $650,000 from his insider trading, his dumping the bankruptcy of Arbusto oil on taxpayers in the tens of millions and then finagling his way into the White House, you see how the media is bought so easily into silence when it protect crooks.

  4. pmbalele July 15, 2015

    I have been trying to find an alternative candidate to Hillary Clinton; but have found none. I would nevert vote for Walker a high school drop-out, a bully of women and racial minorities and running a corrupt government in Wisconsin. I would never vote for Christie who is too fat; corrupt with bridgegate; I would never vote for Carson-wants to kill Obamacare to kill all Blacks; I would never vote for Santorum who wants us all be Catholic. I would never vote for Rubio who hates Latinos, Cubans and Blacks. I would never vote for Perry-corrupt, alcoholic and racist; I would never vote for Jindal-too ugly and hates Blacks; I
    would never vote for Herman Cain who is the underwear groper; and worst candidate is Cruz who is not born in USA and is nephew to Castro. Therefore we should settle with Hillary or Biden as the only candidates.

  5. David July 15, 2015

    I can’t believe what the press is trying to do to Hillary! I mean c’mon…she hasn’t done anything too bad. Whitewater? Nahhhh. Cattle futures? Nahhh. Stealing furnishings from the Whitehouse? Nahhhh. Dead broke when they left the Whitehouse? Nahhhh. Running her own private server while being Secretary of State? Nahhhh. 33,000 emails erased? Nahhhh. 4 dead in Benghazi because of a movie? Nahhhh. We are so, so lucky to have her!

    1. jmprint July 15, 2015

      So why don’t you list the findings of these accusations?

      1. David July 15, 2015

        The findings are that she is a lying and conniving POS! She was the one who decided which emails on her private server were “personal” and which were not. She was the one who ignored the 3 subpoenas to turn over this information to Congress. Why can’t she get people to trust her? Because, she is liar!

        1. jmprint July 15, 2015

          Is that the best you have? Insinuations and false accusations. Psychopaths don’t need to trust her as they don’t trust anybody.

        2. Cracking Ceilings July 16, 2015

          Puppet for Karl, ‘eh? Loving those $$$ aren’t you? Helping you pay rent? What a joke you are!

          1. David July 16, 2015

            The only $$ I am seeing are those leaving my pocket to be sent to the Federal government to provide benefits for illegal aliens.

    2. Daniel Jones July 15, 2015

      HI, David!! I hope your check for this absolute BS was worth it.

      Oh, watch out for the cattle prods.

    3. drdroad July 15, 2015

      Just the fact that you list Whitewater, which we spent $35 million taxpayer dollars on a special prosecutor to investigate and came up with nothing, puts everything you say in the doubtful to ridiculous category! But keep it up, that’s what you’re paid to do.

      1. Theodora30 July 16, 2015

        Nearly $80 million and that is not counting the cost of the two (yes TWO) investigations prior to Ken Starr that found absolutely no wrongdoing by the Clintons. Both of those investigations were conducted by well-respected Republicans, Jay Stephens of the RTC and Special Prosecutor Robert Fiske. The results of those investigations were either not reported by the MSM or were buried on the back pages so very few people realize they took place. When Hillary complained about this she was vilified.

    4. Theodora30 July 16, 2015

      Sounds like you are one of those professional right wing trolls.

      1. BiteMeLiberals July 17, 2015

        Sounds more like you are one of those professional left wing idiots.

  6. Cracking Ceilings July 16, 2015

    #HillaryWomen & #HillaryMen >>>> we’re just getting started!


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