Hillary Clinton has a strategy for dealing with the media: play Evita. The former first lady, secretary of State and New York senator doesn't have time for the Fourth Estate because she is a woman of the people.
"I'm not running my campaign for the press," she told CNN in a rare interview Tuesday. "I'm running it for voters."
That's a canny response to questions about her campaign's tendency to shut out the press, which includes roping off the media, giving a critical reporter the boot from the press pool, and keeping such tight reins on journalists at events that one reporter said she was escorted to the ladies' room by an aide while covering a Clinton Global Initiative event.
The press, after all, plays a big role in how the voters learn about the candidates.
What ought to be seen as another example of the Clintons' lack of transparency (alongside her use of a private email account and server as secretary of State) is instead turned into a populist badge of honor. There's an easy way to get away with it: lots of voters don't trust or even particularly like the media, especially what they see as a preening and out of touch D.C. press corps.
This is usually a conservative tactic, as complaints of liberal media bias have been ubiquitous for decades. Shortly before the Clintons' first stint in the White House, a popular conservative bumper sticker read, "Annoy the media. Re-elect Bush." In 2012, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina Republican primary mainly because he yelled at two journalists moderating debates.
Hillary is out to prove that this kind of media-bashing can work for liberal Democrats too. Indeed, the Clintons have built a fantastic narrative that the media is biased against them. Liberal Mother Jones editor David Corn has described this as the "Clinton media persecution complex."
"While some might scoff at the 'Clinton Media Persecution Complex,'" observed Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight, "Democratic voters buy it." Even as they were rejecting Hillary in 2008 at the ballot box, Democrats thought the media was too hard on her relative to Barack Obama.
According to a May 2008 CBS News poll, 42 percent of Democrats thought the media was harder on Clinton than the average politician while only 2 percent thought they were going easier. By contrast, only 27 percent thought the press was harder on Obama and 17 percent thought reporters went easier.
Fast forward seven years. Media Matters asked in May, "Why is D.C. media primed to 'take down' Hillary Clinton?" The day before, Salon ran a story headlined, "The media s—t show is back. Why coverage of Hillary Clinton has been an embarrassment." A more recent Salon piece "How Politico became a GOP stooge: Republicans want to destroy Hillary Clinton — and the media is helping them out."
Even the "explanatory journalists" at Vox got into the act. The chief political correspondent of the reputedly highbrow liberal website claimed that journalists — and presumably not just conservative ones—"write as though the Clintons are the purest form of evil." "Want to drive traffic to a website?" Jonathan Allen asked. "Write something nasty about a Clinton, particularly Hillary."
This kind of talk drives conservatives crazy. Politico, a publication of Republican stooges? To the Right, the media's attitude toward the Clintons was best captured by Time magazine contributor Nina Burleigh's 1998 comment that she would fellate Bill Clinton to thank him for keeping abortion legal. "I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs," she added.
But public distrust of the media can be deployed in the service of liberal causes and candidates too. A 2014 Gallup poll found record skepticism of the mass media, with trust among Democrats at an all-time low. Nearly one in five thought the media was too conservative, though a plurality said too liberal.
A poll conducted by Harvard University's Institute of Politics found that only 12 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 — a solid Democratic voting bloc in Obama's two presidential campaigns — trusted the media to do the right thing. Many more thought the media would never do the right thing (39 percent) than always do it (2 percent).
So if the media complains about inadequate access to Hillary Clinton and her campaign, a good rejoinder is to chalk it up to whining and sour grapes by pampered, possibly sexist reporters.
Don't cry for me, Middle America. The truth is Hillary never left you. She will take her message directly to the people, unfiltered by the media — and anybody else not on the Clinton payroll.