Editor’s Note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.
Howard Kurtz: Hillary Clinton getting media coverage without generating any real news
Media find it easier to do speculative stories about Hillary than ongoing issues, he says
She'd be a great nominee, but she's still not talking, he says; so where's the news?
Kurtz: She's seems to be keeping her options open
Hillary Clinton is front-page news again. What did she do to warrant this treatment?
The Page 1 splash in The New York Times the other day was a nicely executed compilation of … sheer speculation. That is, the same sort of chatter that everyone in the political/media world has engaged in since the day after Barack Obama’s re-election. And it immediately launched dozens of cable news segments to rehash the rehash.
What explains this? Whatever happened to having to generate a little news, or even pseudo-news, to warrant some coverage?
The answers, in no particular order:
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– It’s Hillary. Which means clicks and ratings.
– Things are slowww right now.
– Covering the legislative drip-drip-drip over immigration and gun control is boring; handicapping the 2016 race is easy, fun and nonfattening.
– It’s another excuse to write about Bill.
– The media love Hillary and are not-so-subtly rooting for her to run. First woman president and all that.
Now there’s no denying the obvious: Clinton would be a prohibitive front-runner. Most Democrats hope she’ll make a White House run. She would probably be a strong general-election contender, given the Republican Party’s disarray, especially after honing her foreign-policy chops as secretary of state.
So how did the Times story advance the dialogue? Let’s see:
– Clinton hasn’t made up her mind.
– Her spokesman says she hasn’t made up her mind. Friends say she’s ambivalent.
– Lots of donors would give her money if she ran.
– Other Democrats are hamstrung, waiting to see what she’ll do.
– She will be 69 when the next election rolls around.
– She hasn’t issued a Shermanesque statement against running. (See?!)
– Oh, and she has a half-dozen staffers working for her at a transition office while she gets ready to give big-money speeches.
The coverage seems a bit myopic to me. Hillary Clinton is incredibly popular right now in part because she’s had diplomatic immunity for the past four years. Except for the aftermath of the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya – and the trumped-up fiction about her suffering from “Benghazi flu” – she has managed to stay out of politics during her tenure at Foggy Bottom.
Now that Clinton is a private citizen, she can steer clear of the crossfire for a couple of years while building her brand and her bank account. The moment she lets it be known that she’s running, if she does, the Republican attack machine and conservative media complex will begin beating her up.
That reminds me of a reality that seems to have faded into the ether. Clinton royally botched her campaign last time around. She blew a 30-point lead to a freshman senator, allowed massive staff infighting and failed to fully compete in the caucus states. That doesn’t mean she won’t learn from her mistakes, but it’s hardly an insignificant fact.
When Clinton, barely out of the Cabinet, made a video endorsing same-sex marriage, it was a clear sign that she’s at least keeping her options open for 2016. But there was barely a skeptical note in the press: Why was she changing her stance now, when it was politically safe for a Democrat, from 2008, when such a move would have been courageous?
I wouldn’t bet a ton of money against Clinton being the next Democratic nominee, but the 33 months between now and the Iowa caucuses is a political lifetime.
Who would have picked Obama to win in April of 2005? A Times story from that month had Newt Gingrich predicting that Clinton would be the nominee and “very formidable.” And any Hillary health problems, of course, could scramble the equation.
The latest New York Times piece is just the beginning. The political press will plow this ground again and again until the former first lady makes up her mind. But keep in mind that the media don’t get to conduct a coronation.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.