Hillary Turns a Page With the Press -- Back to the 1990s
“Old habits last,” Hillary Clinton joked Monday night while addressing a room full of political journalists in Washington.
At an awards ceremony among reporters and editors, Clinton disarmed an audience by commending their work, staying for dinner rather racing for the exits, unleashing humor at her own expense, and engaging for an hour with people, including former White House aides from the 1990s, who haven’t been within yards of her in months, if not years.
Clinton’s Monday schedule, which hinted at a presidential campaign launch within a few weeks, highlighted a familiar yen for delivering studied surprises.
Even her private, hour-long tete-a-tete with President Obama in the Oval Office in the afternoon was both opaque and crystal clear. Reporters had speculated the two might meet. The White House left the idea hanging, and then hours later confirmed in a statement that, indeed, the president met with the Democrat who wants to succeed him. The White House confirmation of the meeting occurred after Clinton tweeted a White House photograph from March 2010 in which she threw her arms around Obama as the Affordable Care Act cleared the House.
Her Twitter message was plain, and appeared in the wake of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s announcement that he is now a presidential candidate who seeks to repeal the health law. On Obamacare’s fifth anniversary, Clinton said in her speech and her tweet that she’s for the law’s preservation: “#ACA@5: 16m covered. Young ppl. Preexisting conditions. Women get better coverage. Repeal those things? Embrace them!”
Embrace Obama. Embrace the health law. Embrace the media (for an evening). Demonstrate that a seasoned politician knows old tricks, and can learn new ones.
Clinton began her day at the left-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington, alongside union leaders and advocacy group experts whose backing she will welcome during a presidential race in which she’s expected to dominate the Democratic field. As the star on the think tank panel, the former New York senator showcased her affinity for policy while arguing for improved economic opportunities for people living and working in U.S. cities.
“I’m looking at not just what can be done by working across governmental lines,” she said, “but what we can do in partnership with the public and private sector.”
Winning the support of working-class voters in blue states and urban centers is part of the playbook for any Democratic presidential aspirant. Wage equality, educational opportunities, higher minimum wages, overtime pay, health benefits and retirement security are among Clinton’s economic touchstones.
She championed “evidence-based” policies while speaking at CAP, and she applauded fact-based reporting while praising the Toner Prize, named for the late New York Times journalist Robin Toner, which was awarded to veteran Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz during the dinner.
Toner, who died in 2008, covered the 1992 presidential campaign and the health care debate launched by President Clinton and his wife during the administration’s first term. The award, administered by Syracuse University, was established by Toner’s family.
During her recent speeches, Hillary Clinton has taken the GOP to task for placing partisanship and ideology ahead of what she labeled facts and reason. Reporters, too -- who are at the moment poring over Clinton Foundation fundraising details and suing to obtain Clinton’s emails and other State Department information -- heard a few digs as Clinton made light of her “complicated” track record with the media.
“I am all about new beginnings,” she said to applause and laughter, “a new grandchild; another new hairstyle; a new email account. Why not a new relationship with the press? So, here goes. No more secrecy. No more zone of privacy. After all, what good would that do me?”
Speaking to some of the most esteemed journalists who have dissected American politics over many decades, she championed news coverage that “informs our debates, educates our citizens and makes it possible to base public policy decisions on evidence rather than ideology.”
There it was again.
“Too many of our most important debates occur in what I call an evidence-free zone,” Clinton said. “Ideology trumping facts; made-for-cable shout fests; Twitter storms drowning out substantive dialogue and reporting -- it too often leads to shallower, more contentious politics, and either no, or not the best, public policy.”
The fracturing of the media landscape and Americans’ evolving information consumption habits contribute to “echo chambers we all inhabit,” she added.
Nonetheless, Clinton’s advisers and supporters predict she will soon launch a digital-first presidential campaign that integrates Democratic messaging across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, live-stream videos, photos, cable television, radio, advertising, email and other tools that can reach voters.
She joked Monday about Meerkat, a new app that enables live video streaming via smartphones, and she spoke of information accessible across media platforms.
Those may be the new tricks. Finger-pointing at ideologues who ignore facts happens to be a well-used Clinton campaign habit that dies hard.