[Note: I’ll continue to use Lawrence and Rose’s Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House as a companion to this series.]
In this second part, I will be discussing Hillary Clinton and the role the media played (and continues to play) in how she is perceived by the public. In order to examine this effectively, it is best to look at the political climate at the time of her first presidential campaign.
The 2008 Democratic nomination campaign was obviously a monumental one. Both candidates were unconventional, so no matter the outcome there would be historical implications. In my opinion, there could not have been a more perfect time for this match-up; the country was just coming out of the Bush-era, unsatisfied with conventional politics and ready for a change of pace. Because of the heightened stakes—the prospect of a black guy or woman Head of State—media coverage was imperative.
The book argues that media coverage surrounding Hillary Clinton was less than unbiased. The suggestion that “the standard media routines for covering presidential candidates served [Clinton] particularly poorly” is generally denied by the media themselves (10). However, considering that the media spent weeks covering Hillary’s “new title as grandma” in the midst of more important Clinton Global Initiative events going on, the argument doesn’t seem completely unfounded.
The more conspiratorial argument dates the media’s negative perception of Hillary Clinton all the way back to her days as the First Lady. President Bill Clinton, a popular president in his own right , made it known that Hillary would have an influence in much of what he did as president—even claiming that in electing him the people would get “two for the price of one.”
This came at a time when, according to a CBS News article, America was unsure about having such an involved First Lady, making her quite the divisive subject. Republican commentator Roger Stone reiterated this sentiment; calling her “grating, abrasive and boastful,” he commented that Hillary Clinton was coming in at time when “[t]here’s a certain familiar order of things, and the notion of a coequal couple in the White House is a little offensive to men and women.”
After her stint in the White House, Hillary Clinton’s positions and experience, both as a New York Senator and as Secretary of State, earned her more popularity and widespread acceptance as a credible leader. However, this did not play into her favor as well as it should have during the 2008 election.
According to the book, research found that Clinton’s coverage was more negative due to agenda setting and framing in the media; this in turn clouded the more substantial issues presented during the campaign (181). In other words, heavy horse-race coverage and “lack of substance” (182) within reporting severely damaged how she was perceived by the public.
But if her coverage lacked so much substance, what exactly was being covered in the race? That answer lies within the statistics. In a study that analyzed the covers of the New York Times, Los Angeles Ties and Washington Post, as well as CBS, ABC and NBC news programs, it was found that approximately 1 percent of stories headlined with Hillary Clinton’s name here issue-framed stories, 89 percent of those stories were horse-race coverage (183). Data also showed that within the types of negative coverage by the media, Hillary Clinton had a higher rate than both John McCain and Barrack Obama of criticisms of personal characteristics and criticisms of strategies/tactics (184).
I believe this suggests a biased coverage of Hillary Clinton by the media. The race for president has always been a boy’s game, and both the media and the public had a hard time reconciling her as “one of the boys.” Associating a woman as president is an uneasy decision because of the social norms currently in place.
Despite all of this, I do believe that Hillary Clinton’s chances in the next election (if she chooses to run) are much stronger than in 2008. As of recent, media coverage, though it could be much better, has been doing a better job of bolstering Hillary Clinton’s credibility, particularly through her work in the Clinton Global Initiative. Her activism within CGI will likely work to her advantage in the upcoming election.
The current political climate could also work to her favor. Polls are now showing that her being a woman might be her best selling point . Because of the election of President Obama, a precedent has already been set, which could make way for a campaign trail that doesn’t focus on how surprising it is that she is running (in 2008, the “it’s so shocking” coverage suggested that her election was so unconventional that it wasn’t meant to succeed). There is so much speculation surrounding her nomination, and so many polls that show that her Democratic nomination bid is all but certain, that it seems unlikely that media will present her in the same manner as in 2008. See: rep noms vs hc