Journalism Retrospective: CNN Asks 20 Women to Describe their Thoughts on Hillary Clinton

I want to discuss an article that, perhaps more than any other, compelled me to break myself away from American journalism. This was not some erudite exposé of American media, not one of the great achievements of underground reporting, but a collaborative op-ed published by CNN on the Tenth of November 2016. It is titled: “Cracked but not shattered: 20 women on Clinton’s run.”

[Let’s take a gander.]

I’ve always wanted to discuss this piece, but I don’t think I ever have. Certainly not here, not with you. As a matter of fact, it took me a long time to find it. The geyser of information on the Internet tends to wash away more than it washes up, and it’s easy to lose things if you don’t hold them. A lot of the film criticism that I grew up reading, and adoring, has been permanently purged by the invisible electronic powers that be. I read this piece on Hillary Clinton this afternoon for the first time in almost two years.

[Was it the glut of information on the web that kept you from finding it?]

No, it was actually the words that I used in the search engine. I thought this piece featured twenty women commenting on the election of Donald Trump, so I searched for “CNN 20 women Trump election” or something similar—all to no avail. Only when I searched “CNN 20 women Clinton” was I able to find the piece.

[Does it say something about your misogynistic tendencies that you placed the emphasis on Trump, rather than on his female opponent?]

Cute, but wrong: Trump won the election. Obviously, there is a clear interest in collecting women’s views on a female candidate, but then again . . . Trump won. I would argue that, if there were any specific reason for my confusion on the name, and subsequently on the focus, it would be the state of mind that I was in at the time of the election.

[Meaning what?]

We tend to forget how astonishing it was to realize for the first time that Trump was about to win. This astonishment is particular to those who were hopelessly benighted by the corporate press, but because that group includes almost everyone in this country, the astonishment is provocative and, yes, remarkable.

[That which is common is remarkable?]

Of course. Has not the lion’s share of philosophy addressed popular misconceptions?

[Touché. So, you and the rest of the gullible were blindsided by the electoral result. Consequently, you were . . . what? Spending a lot of time thinking about Trump?]

Ergo, it stands to reason that I remembered this article, too, as being about Trump.

[But wouldn’t those who knew better, those who saw Trump’s victory coming, have been obsessed with Trump for the moment, too? It was a pretty big deal, after all, reconciling ourselves to the new reality of the Trump Administration, which hadn’t even been assembled by the time that this article was published.]

Yeah, but they would have been able to put the subsequent eruption of media in context. I’m not even sure if my surprise was truly responsible for my muddled recollection of this piece. All I can say is that I misremembered. I made a mistake, if it’s still legal for an American, even a self-styled political commentator, to make such an admission.

[I believe it is. So, let’s take a look at the piece itself. Twenty women comment on Hillary Clinton’s second ill-fated presidential campaign. Clearly, whoever thought of putting this together saw the subject matter as something very serious, possibly even something very solemn. It’s almost like it was . . . a historical event.]

Maybe that’s why I thought the piece was about Trump: it was written, by the various contributors, as if it were about history, when it wasn’t. Hillary Clinton was, or is, the first American woman to be nominated by a major political party for the presidential election, but she did not succeed in the ultimate pursuit. When the historians of the next century write about American female politicians in this century, you have to imagine that Hillary Clinton will be of much less interest, and indeed of significantly less interest, than whoever becomes the first female president.

[And yet, that is something that many feminists struggle, or refuse, to understand. Of course, it’s actually a very simple matter. Imagine that Hillary Clinton becomes the nominee again in 2020, only this time, she wins: would a feminist historian place greater emphasis on that contest, or on that of 2016?]

We could actually have a very long debate about that, but for the sake of brevity, let us agree that the successful campaign would be more remarkable, at least to the historian. Not to the sociologist, alas.

[Let’s take a look at the article. Gloria Steinem is the first woman quoted. She has quite a few very positive things to say about Clinton.]

The encomium begins with the introduction. I’ve never had any respect for Gloria Steinem. I heard some of her comments on the novel American Psycho, and they were hard to endure sitting still. Either she did not understand the point of the book at all, or she deliberately distorted it in order to make a cheap, dishonest point. Neither would surprise me. The latter phenomenon, though, has become all too common in the last several years: we all know about the university system, which is busily discrediting the work of so many brilliant writers, but the media is an active accomplice, as well. The editors of the BBC seem to love nothing more than to misrepresent works of art—

[I’m sorry to cut you off, but you’re beginning to go on a tangent, I fear. Why don’t we save that for a future discussion?]

Very good of you to help me keep upright, my friend. Steinem has never been the most trustworthy person, but she may have lethally embarrassed herself in 2016 when she alleged that sexism fueled Bernie Sanders’s campaign.

[Was this the comment about how women supported Sanders only because they were looking for boyfriends, or something?]

Actually, she never said that: I will come to her defense, just this once, and confirm that her words were taken out of context. She did say that “the boys are with Bernie”, but this appeared to refer to institutional prejudice, or something similar. Steinem has never been especially articulate, and she probably gets into more trouble than she intends to, simply because she is so verbally clumsy. In this sense, she’s a left-wing Pat Buchanan.

[Oh, that is a very interesting thought. So, what did Steinem have to say when Clinton finally fell?]

Before we get to that, I want to quote something she said on a separate occasion. Several months before the election, she said that, if Clinton were to lose, “it will mean that the majority either did not vote, or is prevented from voting.”

[The majority of what? Women? Americans?]

“A majority of women and men,” she said, whose “needs and issues” Clinton understands. I’ll toss out the link to that statement, for those who really want it.

[A rather creatively bankrupt analysis, don’t you think? Six months before the election, she already convinced herself of Clinton’s perfection, and envisioned her possible loss as the definitive result of something sinister, something extraneous. Was it really so inconceivable that Clinton could lose on her own terms?]

There are Democrats who have criticized Clinton’s campaign, but they’re usually not the loudest people in the room. As for Steinem, she contributes to the CNN piece by lauding Clinton as one who pushed “for a foreign policy that recognizes violence against females as the biggest indicator of all other violence” and “for democracies that see people as linked, not ranked”.

[Oh, my goodness. Which part do you want to demolish first?]

Today I had a rewarding conversation with a very intelligent woman who told me something I had never heard before. She told me that, during the Rwandan genocide, the United States sent planes for the purpose of evacuation—of American citizens only. Rwandans could have been evacuated, but they weren’t.

[This, of course, would have been Bill Clinton’s decision.]

That’s right. Now, there has been much debate as to whether Mrs. Clinton should be condemned, or even taken to task, for the grotesque actions of her husband: I am uninterested in reigniting that debate, but I think it’s very much apparent that his actions lay an intellectual groundwork for what her own foreign policy would have been like, and it surely wouldn’t have been one that “recognizes violence against females as the biggest indicator of all other violence”.

[I’m slightly surprised that you didn’t go right into the American invasion of Libya, which, as we know, was Hillary Clinton’s pet project.]

The ignorance of the American people on this subject is inexcusable. The documents released by WikiLeaks reveal everything that we could ever need to know about Hillary Clinton’s desperation to invade Libya, to engender the slaughter of 40,000 people, and to bring about a cataclysmic migrant crisis, all so that she would have “something to run on” in 2016. Do you understand that? She considers all of that atrocity “something to run on”. And this woman will never see the inside of a courtroom for any of this carnage. “Something to run on.”

[It’s pretty disheartening. Do you think this is why the American people don’t educate themselves on these and other issues? Because they don’t want to learn the depressing truth about what their government does?]

That excuse may have flown in earlier times, but nowadays, when so many people are addicted to mainstream news, the tone of which is anything but sanguine, it’s hard to believe that the content analyzed herein is too depressing.

[That’s true. Did you want to say anything about Steinem’s claim that Clinton favors democracies that “see people as linked, not ranked”?]

No. I think what we’ve stated above covers that quite cleanly.

[I see. Anything else on Steinem at all?]

I would like to know what connection, if any, exists between Steinem and Clinton. I don’t know if they have any kind of personal or professional ties, anything that would call her objectivity into question. Steinem is hardly the only commentator to have written passionately in defense of Hillary Clinton, but the effervescence of her praise, the unbridled nature of which I hadn’t even noticed until I revisited this article, sounds off the alarms of my skepticism.

[Fair enough. Who followed Steinem in this piece of CNN’s?]

Uzo Aduba, an actress whose work I have never seen. She wrote more briefly than Steinem, saying only that “having a female candidate as the nominee of a major political party confirmed the art of dreaming”. She refers, you see, to the political aspirations of American women everywhere, which were apparently validated by the near-success of Clinton’s presidential campaign.

[Do you have to be so caustic? All she’s saying is that girls can dream, as well.]

Girls can dream of what? Of becoming so inextricably embedded in the political machine that they, too, can commission the deaths of more people than currently reside in Concord, New Hampshire, before they become President of the United States? It’s a little frightening, the crude simplicity of our political analysis—and this was before Trump had put his hand on that Bible.

[All right: it’s hard to maintain our innocence in the Trumpish Age, and even harder to look back on our bygone innocence, for lack of better word, and admit to ourselves that, yes, we really were that bad. Who’s next on the list?]

Janet Murguia. Nope, I’ve never heard of her, either. She writes: “Women and young girls will not be discouraged by today’s results. We will continue our century-old fight for our proper seat at the table.”

[What else did she say?]

That was it.

[That was it?]

Literally, that was it.

[Breathtaking. Next?]

A transgender woman who writes: “Donald Trump’s entire campaign has been based around the idea that white men want their country ‘back’. His victory feels like a rejection of people like me … and of every single last soul in this country who has a ‘difference’. After this election, how will we react to ‘difference’? With love and compassion? Or with hatred and fear?”

[. . . any comments?]

Well, I think this plays into what we’ve been discussing hitherto: Hillary Clinton perpetuated far more deplorable violence than Donald Trump has ever even thought of attempting, and yet, she is seen as some kind of noble vanguard for the downtrodden, for les misérables. It’s especially lurid when you consider that she was able to inflict all of that needless suffering on the people of Libya precisely because they had so little standing on the global stage, because they had no place at the international table—and yes, this was so, to a very great extent, because they are black.

[So, you don’t have any problem with the characterization of Trump as a racially insensitive dunce. Your trouble, then, is with the suggestion that Clinton sought to unite the many races, to usher us into a colorblind utopia.]

I think anyone who doesn’t object to that suggestion is lacking the right to be taken seriously. Even if we didn’t know what we do about her cruelties in Libya, did anyone honestly think that she, an elderly white woman, could be the forebear of racial reconstruction?

[Your analysis is biting, and damning, but it’s sobering, as well. Who’s next on the list that CNN compiled?]

Billie Jean King, who, needless to say, compared Clinton’s fight against Trump with her own game against Bobby Riggs. Then it’s the daughter of Muhammad Ali. She wrote a little love letter, too.

[Does this say something about the immaturity of the American people? They’ve wasted decades losing themselves in frivolous entertainment, not the least of which is the industry of sports, but now, out of the blue, they want to become activists and revolutionaries?]

Activities don’t feast on saccharine sludge, and revolutionaries don’t turn to unlettered celebrities as if they were Protagoras. Only an amnesiac would allege that the media was dignified before the Trumpish Age, but still, I don’t recall the intelligentsia concerning itself with such folderol before.

[Don’t you remember Anna Nicole Smith?]

Ah, well-played.

[Who’s up?]

The former governor of New Jersey salutes Hillary Clinton. I’m not kidding: she salutes her. Then a computer programmer reminds us of the need for female role models.

[Do you concur?]

Absolutely. Are you kidding? We have to have admirable role models, both male and female. This culture suffers from a paucity of both. Whom do we admire? Whom do we revere? Whom do we dream of one day becoming? Athletes, actors, warlords, and bankers—a nearly homogenous lot of sociopaths. Most of them are men, men whom our sons—and, presumably, our daughters—learn to ask for the sustenance of their souls. Their diet is bloody, the meat long since tainted. And what comes of they who are raised on such gruel?

[How about I answer your question with a question: who’s the next lucky lady?]

Judy Gold, a performer whom I’ve never heard of before. I’m going to give her credit for pointing out that too few people know of Dorothy Fields, who wrote several surprisingly popular songs. Of course, I can’t let her off the hook completely, not when she builds a memorial for the martyr and depicts Clinton as the tragic hero of the crusade against cruelty.

[Where’s Shakespeare when you need him? I’m assuming she wasn’t the only one to romanticize not Clinton, but the election itself?]

Yeah, several of the remaining commentators lament the election as a missed opportunity, as one of the great mistakes of human history. Their tone is reminiscent of a sportswriter who believes his, or her, team was cheated by the referees in the championship game. To them, it’s a wound, an injury—

[Or an insult.]

—that has lingered and festered, ruining the victim, even today. I never wanted Trump to prevail, but I never felt anything even vaguely resembling enthusiasm for Clinton, either. Look, I was taken aback when he won: I was dazed, even gobsmacked. I’ll even admit that I spent a fair deal of time before the inauguration not only hoping, but expecting, some mechanism to stop him from taking the reins. But none of this was ever accompanied by regret, by wistful fantasies of what could have been, if only the numbers had fallen otherwise. Not once in the last twenty-six months have I ever imagined Clinton sitting in the White House and whispered, “Oh, wouldn’t that have been nice.” I’m forcing myself to do it right now, and if I do it for much longer, I’ll make myself sick.

[Although one of the contributors to CNN declares, it’s hard “not to imagine the road not taken”.]

Look, I wasn’t planning on reading every blurb. It’s a long way to the finish, dredging through the thick of amatory slime before we finally reach the startling finish.

[Which is what? A statement from Hillary Clinton herself? Nah, that’s too obvious . . . Michelle Obama, maybe?]

Guess again. Tomi Lahren.

[. . . Tomi Lahren? The Trumpeter?]

The very one. Here’s what she said: “Make no mistake, history was made last night. The title of “first female president” has been saved from a criminal and a liar. It wasn’t enough to be a woman. It’s about merit, not biology, and about authenticity over identity votes.”

[Hold it. Was hers the only viewpoint critical of Clinton?]

As a matter of fact, it was. Twenty women were invited to comment on Clinton, and only one came to the altar with something short of a laurel. The nineteen women to precede Lahren slobber with such impudicity, their tears flow into a single shapeless pool, one wherein Lahren makes a mighty splash—not because her own words swim with any grace, but because she brings solidity to the gushing fluids.

[Is the contrast as fundamental as that?]

At the very least. The sole denunciation is so strikingly distinct from that which precedes it, there is no other object on which to naturally gaze. If a reader is going to remember anything from this piece, it will be Lahren’s contribution, sloppy and wroth though it may be. It is remembered simply because it “has a difference”, as one of the other writers observed.

[And why was Lahren’s the only negative view? Surely they could have found someone else who had a pessimistic take on Hillary Clinton?]

There can be no mistaking the point of this piece: it’s meant to suggest that women who don’t like Hillary Clinton—and, by extension, women who like Trump—are less than a fractional minority, the political equivalent of a griffin, or something.

[Maybe not quite that preternatural, but one in twenty comes to five percent, whereas the exit polls reveal that fifty-five percent of female voters went for Clinton. Why does CNN present this piece as if it is representative or reflective, as if ninety-five percent of American women voted for her?]

Plenty of other people have written about the problem of confirmation bias in the news media, but I would like to see more analysis of the problem of moral confirmation bias. Fox News wants you, as a viewer, to believe that you are one of the true American patriots and that only philistines watch CNN and oppose the righteous agenda of President Trump. Meanwhile, CNN wants you to believe that all of the progressive-minded people are on their side, that all of the racial minorities, all of the immigrants, and, yes, all of the women, or at least all of those who have basic decency, watch this network and love Hillary Clinton.

[And, by extension, all of the retrograde racists are lurking on the other side of the fence, where they commit any number of unspeakable deeds, like . . . refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton.]

Either you’re with them or against them.

[But what if the article had featured twenty black commentators, seventeen or eighteen of whom had written positively of Clinton? Would you have taken any issue with that?]

Hillary Clinton received close to ninety percent of “the black vote”, if I am compelled to use that distasteful term. However, I don’t think that ninety percent of black Americans are head over heels in love with her. There was a diversity of thought and motivation among those who voted for her, including a sizeable number of people who voted for her reluctantly, who voted for her only out of frustration or desperation.

[And yet, this article suggests that ninety-five percent of American women not only voted for her, but vaunted her, adored her wholly. The uxorious tone of this CNN piece completely overwrites the intellectual nuance of the election, and of the electors themselves. All is reduced to a threadbare eulogy for Clinton, one which became cloyingly sentimental long before Lahren wrote the twist ending.]

Something tells me that this homogenous approach wouldn’t have worked, had the article featured twenty black writers, both male and female. The gimmick would have been much too transparent. Even the editors likely would have stopped themselves halfway through and said, “We can’t put this up on the website. It won’t pass the laugh test, and it’ll make people sick.” Several years ago, Ann Coulter attracted minor controversy for declaring that “our blacks are better than their blacks”, meaning that the Republican Party’s black voters are “better” than the Democratic Party’s. Clearly, she was trying to use black people as a prop in her childish demonstration, but her dishonesty was too much to overcome.

[So it would have been if eighteen of twenty black commentators had written so slavishly about Clinton. What if it had been eighteen black people, or thirteen women, writing critically of Trump? Would you still express comparable concerns?]

I don’t like the idea that the writer has to be entirely in favor of a particular candidate. It’s the lack of complexity that troubles me with this piece, not the lack of women writing disapprovingly of Clinton. Have you ever seen or read a single interview with a woman who grudgingly voted for Clinton? The cable news conglomerates reject that material because it complicates the very narrow message they are trying to convey.

[And what is that message?]

To keep buying their product. CNN is a vendor selling a commodity, and they have entered into a partnership with the Democratic Party, and with many of their subsidiaries. Accordingly, they have to promote and strengthen their brand, and in this war of public relations, they do what they can to neutralize the power of negative press. They’re not going to invite any trouble willingly, which is why they won’t talk to a woman with a complex perspective, to a woman who makes them, and us, think.

[What are you talking about? CNN produces very serious journalism. Just today, the regal network published a fine article describing a reality television star’s exit from rehab.]

Now, don’t get me too downhearted: Elizabeth Warren is coming to Manchester tomorrow.

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