Fear and self-loathing on the campaign trail

During the 2016 presidential race, we often heard about “dysfunction” within the Trump campaign. Indeed, this was a theme of mainstream media coverage. The Clinton campaign, by contrast, was portrayed as a smooth, if uninspiring, operation.

Only after the election did we begin to learn about discord and dysfunction in Hillaryland. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes provided details.

Along, now, comes Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling by Amy Chozick, who covered the Clinton campaign for the New York Times. I haven’t read the book, and probably won’t. However, a longish excerpt in the New York Times plus a Washington Post book review suggest dysfunction on the part of both the Clinton campaign and Chozick herself. One suspects that Chozick’s dysfunction was shared by the “girls in the bus,” her name for the female reporters who comprised almost the entirety of the gaggle that followed Hillary from stop to stop.

Let’s start with the Clinton campaign. Among other things, it was plagued by sexism, at least in Chozick’s telling. For example, some male staffers would ask her ask if there were any other Times reporters, preferably male, they could talk to instead of her.

The worst was Philippe Reines (to whom Chozick refers not by name but as “Original Guy”). He comes across as loathsome.

I’m not sure, as a general matter, how reliable Chozick is when it comes to finding true sexism. However, I think we can trust her when it comes to Reines.

Hillary herself seems mildly sexist. Chozick writes:

For all the lesbian theories, Hillary enjoys nothing more than flirting with a handsome, preferably straight man. She would regularly look past her almost entirely female press corps to call on the Fox News correspondent [Ed Henry, hardly a pro-Clinton reporter], with his cherub cheeks and Pucci pocket squares.

As this passage suggests, Chozick comes across as troubled. Consider, too, this passage from the Post’s book review:

[Chozick] is indignant whenever Clinton disregards [the press corps], and she obsesses over what the candidate thinks of her. “I still wanted, more than anything, for Hillary to see me as a fair reporter,” Chozick worries early in the race. “She really, really hates me,” Chozick moans to her husband over the phone during a stop in Iowa. “The less I interacted with Hillary,” Chozick writes as campaign reporters seem to get less and less access to Clinton, “the greater her imperial hold on my brain became.”

Yes, she chases Hillary. But it is Chozick who gets caught.

Memoirs are supposed to be self-involved — that’s the point of the exercise. The thing about Chozick’s memoir, though, is that it’s also about being self-involved. In her mind, Chozick’s connection to Clinton assumes epic dimensions. “Ours was destined to be an impossible, tortured, and unrelentingly tense relationship weighed down by old grudges and fresh grievances,” she writes. “To Hillary, I was a big ego with no brain and no amount of cordial small talk could make up for the bad blood between her world and mine.” For a second you almost forget that Clinton is running against Trump. . . .

To make matters worse:

[T]oo much of the book is devoted to Chozick’s worrying and whining — “Jesus did I whine” — about her status at the Times. In a chapter titled “I Hate Everyone,” she complains that editors bypassed her for big stories and that colleagues “bulldozed” her on primary and debate nights.

Can readers expect quality coverage from a reporter obsessed with what the candidate she’s covering thinks about her and her status at her newspaper? I don’t think so. Add to this, Chozick’s obsession, manifest from the title of her book, with the “glass ceiling, and the odds against balanced coverage of a woman’s quest to become president become even longer.

Ironically, Chozick now obsesses over the idea that her coverage was unfair to Clinton. She’s haunted by her decision to report on the emails Russia (presumably) hacked from the account of John Podesta. She claims that through such reporting, she and others became the puppets of Vladimir Putin. Invoking one of the left’s most objectionable cliches, she frets that she “ended up on the wrong side of history.”

This hand-wringing is pathetic and revealing. The Podesta emails weren’t Russian propaganda. They weren’t propaganda at all; they were facts relevant (though not highly so) to the campaign and to persons at the center of the campaign. Nor did Chozick steal the information.

To have declined to report on the Podesta emails would have constituted partisanship even more blatant than that which the mainstream media engaged during the campaign. Yet, Chozick now apparently wishes the media had suppressed the information. Indeed, I have to wonder whether, had she and others suspected that the election truly was up for grabs, they would have suppressed it throughout the 2016 campaign.

If Chozick is even close to a typical modern campaign trail reporter, and I suspect she is, then we should be even more wary of mainstream media campaign coverage than Power Line has advocated for the past 15 years.