Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hillary's P.C. Pit Bulls

There is a website out there with the innocuous name of Media Matters that has the following mission statement:
Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.
While that seems like a valuable service, in reality it serves as a water carrier for Hillary Clinton and attempts to silence criticism of her with harsh and casual accusations of sexism. They have become a hotbed of the umbrage industry. No remark is too slight or innocuous to incur their wrath.

Joel Achenbach, a journalist, blogger, and erstwhile humor columnist, had been covering the Clinton campaign when he came up with this observation about her speaking style:
Clinton fought back, but she needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy. She came perilously close to going on a tirade. Volume is critical in these things: Ask Howard Dean.
It seems like a mildy humorous take on a frequent observation about Hillary’s triangulation on the right mix of wonkery and folksiness in her campaign appearances. Media Matters took it another way:
As Media Matters for America has documented…, the media have frequently attacked Clinton for the tone and volume of her voice or laugh. Most recently, following Clinton's appearance on all five Sunday political talk shows on September 23, 2007, the media latched onto Clinton's purported "cackle."
Now Joel never used the word “cackle” or even referred to a laugh, but he is now tarred with the same broad brush that Media Matters has used on a half-dozen other commentators that have noticed something off-putting about Hillary’s tone. While Media Matters did not directly accuse Acehnbach of thought-crime, their stories tend to get picked up by more strident sites with fewer qualms about mudslinging. Feministing, without the benefit of ever reading anything else by Joel in context, said:
Thanks Joel, for doing the work of marking yourself as a misogynist so I now know never to read anything else you write. Shameful.
The remark even got a Malkin Award nomination from Andrew Sullivan, who is normally in favor of Hillary bashing. In all, nearly two dozen blog posts were made as a result of the original Media Matters post, some extremely vitriolic and one Spinal Tap parody that was pretty funny.

In addition to their website, Media Matters runs e-mail campaigns to have subscribers register protests against the employers of public figures they have singled out for action. I don’t know if such a notice went to Joel’s higher-ups, but a few days later he published an apology that has the most obsequious groveling since E. G. Marshall knelt before Zod:
…a single sentence has escaped the confines of the A-blog and gamboled across blogworld like a streaker at the Super Bowl. It was that rather ungentlemanly comment about Hillary at the debate. I won't bother with excuses and context: That one kind of got away from me. Shoulda hit the backspace the moment I typed it. [Was I channeling Mailer???] Regular readers here know that I am not a proponent of coarse, sexist, piggy, knuckle-dragging discourse, especially given my vulnerable personal situation as the lone male in a tribe of Amazons. I think anyone reading this blog also knows that I've praised Sen. Clinton repeatedly over the past year … for running an effective and disciplined campaign (to the point of being accused of being in the tank for her).
It is exactly that discipline that the Hillary campaign is exhibiting. Nobody, no matter how reliably liberal is allowed to go off-message. Achenbach’s 0ne-eighty was just a warm-up for the pressure Media Matters put on a bigger fish, Chris Matthews. Matthews is an Irish Catholic blowhard that revels in his candor and frankness. So of all the senseless off-the-cuff tirades he has made, what remark was the final straw in the minds of Media Matters?
"[T]he reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around."
This is not a unique opinion. In Are Men Necessary?, Maureen Dowd says:
Absent her husband’s strengths, Hillary never would have been First Lady. Absent her husband’s weaknesses, she never would have been the Senator from New York. She owes her election, in part, to Monica.
But by attacking Hillary, Matthews opens himself up for the full political colonoscopy. Media Matters took the Chris Matthews oeuvre and searched for every word and phrase with a feminine and/or derogatory implication and began a high-level campaign to silence him. On January 11th, the site ran seven articles related to Matthews and issued one of their e-mail alerts to have subscribers pressure MSNBC.

As I’ve demonstrated, a single Media Matters article is chum in the waters of the blogosphere. A dozen articles in a few days ignites a feeding frenzy. After a week of fanning the flames with updates, the next e-mail alert is aimed at Steve Capus, president of NBC News. In it, they threaten the spectre of Imus and like all good shakedown artists, only hint at the consequences of not complying:
Mr. Capus, during the controversy last spring surrounding Don Imus' racist and sexist remarks broadcast on MSNBC -- remarks first documented by Media Matters -- we commended your acknowledgement that NBC has a responsibility to protect the network's trusted reputation for fair and equal coverage and to "continue the dialogue about what is appropriate conduct and speech" on its air. In the case of Chris Matthews, I implore you to once again consider the gravity of that responsibility.
That night Matthews goes on his Hardball show and makes a five-minute apology of sorts. Even this pound of flesh does not assuage the group. In the e-mail after that mea culpa, they send out another message and warn:
Again, thank you for your continued support; we've only just begun to play "hardball."
And they mean it. The next day another e-mail rehashes every prior accusation and then lists the people that have expressed public support for Matthews including Joe Scarborough, David Shuster, and Tucker Carlson, trotting out allegedly misogynist and sexist remarks each of them have made. They even take to task Mika Brzezinski for suggesting that in some cases Matthews may have been quoted out of context.

By making Matthews kowtow, they have started a witch hunt. Or at least a hunt for people that have ever called Hillary a witch. They know that if they can’t win the war of ideas, they can silence their opponents with accusations of (age/sex/race)-ism in order to disgrace even the mildest critics of their sacred cows. And as history has proven again and again, once a reign of terror begins, no one is safe. This is watchdog group that needs a muzzle. Or a shock collar.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Were Achenbach or Matthews over the line, or is this a case of intimidation?


Dave2 said...

=sigh= I miss Spy magazine.

yellojkt said...

I miss Spy a lot too. I reviewed a good hardback history/collection a while ago. Another Hillary cover they did has her in hospital scrubs snapping on rubber gloves for an "exam". It was all about her handling of her secret health care committee.

2fs said...

I can't say that Matthews' or Dowd's analysis - that H. Clinton would not have been elected had B. Clinton not fooled around - makes any sense to me. How the hell does that make any sense? What, the people of the great state of New York decided, awww, poor Hillary - that bad, bad Bill treated her mean...let's make her our Senator so she'll feel better? It's a lot more arguable that had she not been First Lady, she wouldn't have become a Senator...but that's America: fame matters. Can anyone seriously argue that the current occupant of the White House was the best-qualified person among Republicans to run for office...if he'd been named something else, and not the son of a President? Same's true for many other politicians (Gov. Ahnuld, for one). Is that Hillary's fault? No: what counts is how well she governs.

Anyway: I think Achenbach was ill-advised in using the word "screechy," and I think he should have phrased the argument by putting the Dean comparison first (so people understood immediately the relevant point was emotionality and its control, regardless of gender) - but no, I don't think either commentator's remarks were out of line.

That's not to say there isn't sexism in the way Sen. Clinton's being treated...just that neither of those quotes is a particularly good example of it.

2fs said...

Also, brief rant: I think we should retire the phrase "P.C." (and similar), because it's nearly impossible to use it without implicitly supporting the right-wing implication that matters of gender, race, sexual orientation (etc.) are inherently trivial and/or that those who point out such problems are (therefore) doing so not because of the problems but because of some need to control the terms of discourse or seize power if only rhetorically. The irony inherent in the term (in that damned near no one outside of Maoist China *ever* uses the term "politically correct" to describe themselves as a term of praise) means it *always* evokes the right-wing criticism of left-led culture wars.

yellojkt said...

P.C. has been used ironically for nearly thirty years, so you have a point.

As for Hillary, I am certain she used her position (so to speak) over Bill to elicit support from top Democratic leaders to get enough support. Many other factors played a part such as Rudy's health and Lazio's ham-handedness, but wronged woman perception didn't hurt. It softened and otherwise harsh image.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with 2fs on this one. He's got the Achenbach thing nailed.

As far as Matthews, the argument is a little over-parsed, but the sentiment is there: how does that conclusion make any sense? Maureen Dowd's comment is really no better. As far as I know, Clinton has always had the political aspirations, and I think she was shrewd enough to know that, without some assistance in increasing her visibility, she wasn't going to stand a chance. Becoming a Senator from New York dramatically improved her visibility, her standing and her geographic attractiveness--she's balanced the ticket single-handedly from that standpoint, with the Arkansas/New York connection.

As far as Media Matters is concerned, let's see what happens to them should Obama take the nomination. Will they still go after the "conservative misinformation" or will they quietly fade away?

Off-topic: Wasn't there another Spy cover involving Hillary wearing tighty-whities?

yellojkt said...

Yes there was. I will post all the Spy covers someday in one place.