Playing by media rules

Media and Obama fans are trying to change the rules and kick Clinton out of the race. It’s no surprise that Obama would try to do that; it’s politics. But that media has accepted this meme is only further demonstration of their Obamalove.

This week’s On the Media is a mash note for Obama if there ever were one. My friend Bob Garfield repeats over and over that Hillary can’t win and then goes on to ask whether media should even be covering her or at least not as much as they are because, after all, he has declared her the loser.

Let’s get this straight (again): Obama, too, is not likely to walk into the convention with enough delegates to win. And then the rules decree that it should be up to the superdelegates. There is no rule that says they must act as a proporational whole or that they all should accede to the wishes of the majority. I’m not saying that would be a bad rule — indeed, I’ve long wanted national or regional primaries that count onlly the popular vote and I’ve long wanted to abandon delegate votes, not to mention the Electoral College, because — we need no better proof than 2000 — it can be gamed. But we are still stuck with our system and so both sides will maneuver within those rules. However, media and Obama think Clinton should not have that right.

Let’s put forward another scenario: Imagine that John Edwards had sparked voters more and that he stayed in the election until the convention, walking in as the kingmaker who could throw his support either way and crown the nominee. I don’t think we’d be insisting that whoever was behind — No. 2 — in the vote should be quitting before the convention. I don’t think we’d be insisting that Edwards had no choice but to throw his support behind the candidate with the most votes (though that candidate might make a wishful try to argue that). No, we’d realize that Edwards would decide where to throw his critical support based on (1) his self-interest, (2) his party’s best interest — which is to say, victory in November, and (3) his own beliefs (not necessarily in that order). We could only hope that those interests would all coincide. But that would be his decision.

Well, the superdelegates are all John Edwards. They have been charged with making this decision at the convention if there is not a nominee thanks to the fucked-up system of popular vote mixed with caucuses mixed with disenfranchising crucial states. The election remains close, not over, and for better or worse, it is going to be in their hands — not to mention the voters who’ve not yet voted. How dare media try to grab it away.

Hey, Obamalovers, the election’s not over yet. In the soon-to-be-immortal word of Bill Clinton: Chill.

: ALSO: Just to show there are no hard feelings with Bob — it’s politics — I’ll embed his masterful commercial for ComcastMustDie, which I see I forgot to embed before. One has nothing to do with the other but I’ll take the excuse to show how Bob and I agree about defeating something: cable companies.

  • What bothers me is that all this Dem infighting is diverting attention from the real battle to come.

    I see either candidate as having a tough time winning the general election. Recent data seems to indicate that “independents” really aren’t, but are generally partisan, but unwilling to state this to pollsters for a variety of reasons. The independent independents seem to be about 5% of the voting population.

    Both Dem candidates do not fit the traditional model (white, male, protestant) and thus either of them will have to be able to break through the normal expectations. This will be a tough sell.

    Not only is the effort against McCain lagging (although it is starting to pick up), but there isn’t even any discussion of a contingency plan if he should happen to win. What would a divided government look like? How would the Dems get anything done if they end up with a strong majority in the house a weak majority in the senate and McCain as president?

    Perhaps if the most vocal supporters of either stopped to contemplate this possibility they would realize that they aren’t helping the greater cause with their present actions.

  • Jeff, negativity is the nature of journalism. It doesn’t necessarily follow that this is boosterism for Obama.

    Garfield himself did a piece for OTM about this. He used this simile (I’m paraphrasing): Journalists are like electrons in that they are mostly negative, lightweight and easily spun.

  • Media and Obama fans are trying to change the rules and kick Clinton out of the race. It’s no surprise that Obama would try to do that; it’s politics. But that media has accepted this meme is only further demonstration of their Obamalove.

    Jeff: Making statements about “media” and using the last bit of media you saw as the “evidence,” attributing clear intentions to a system that is often confused about itself and going in several directions at once, allowing your anger at political opponents to transmutate into sweeping statements about news producers, subsuming political conflict into media criticism– these are the hallmarks of culture war, and far, far below the intellectual standards you have set for yourself and maintained so well at Buzzmachine.

    I find this a sad post.

  • Jay,
    I’m too busy to play this game today. You and I know that I can spend the next hour finding a dozen examples of media reports that declare Clinton dead — start with Slate’s abhorrent Hillary Death Watch. But instead I’ll do something useful. This is becoming your standard rhetorical trick. I’ll play another day.

  • Jay: It’s all about intent. This is the crucial piece of metadata we need to discern, no matter how difficult it may be.

    Jeff is trying to hit the right target, even though you may disagree about his aim.

    Cynically I could say that political stories are chosen on their perceived ability to attract and maintain the audience’s interest. Realistically I don’t think the MSM is trying to affect the outcome of the presidential election in a united effort.

  • Sam


    Your take on the political landscape is off base. Clinton’s pinning her hopes on the super delegates when all of the super delegate momentum is with Obama.

  • Bill,
    Yes, I’m not necessarily seeing intent in every such report; sometimes, it may be there, but sometimes, it’s just being victim to really good PR (and thus bad reporting): the acceptance as presumed of what someone else says. It’s worth questioning those presumptions and that’s what I’m doing here. The fact that I have a horse in this race and you know it allows you to interpret what I say any way you like. But on the face of it, I do believe that Garfield’s contention that Clinton should be getting less coverage because she has already lost jumping the gun as much as Slate’s awful Death Watch.

  • I think the operative term here is “should”. Clinton doesn’t “have” to drop out – as you point out the rules are in her favor and there is no rule that says she has to drop out.

    The argument instead is whether she “should” if she has only a mathematical chance (but low probability) of winning. The theory being that “should” represents acting in the best interests of the Democratic party.

    In the end since no one knows what her chance really is until the convention you are right, everyone should chill.

    (Don’t take that advice from Bill though, he’s been anything but chill.)

  • Jeff, I’m glad you did this post, though I feel some of your arguments are hamfisted and clouded by your political leanings.

    I felt the OTM report odd and maybe misplaced. But it did bring up some interesting points.

    Sean is right that the operative word is “should.” Should she drop out for the good of the party?

    You’re right: Obama won’t walk into the convention with enough delegates to conclusively win. He’ll lose PA, but will cut her gains yet again in IN and elsewhere.

    Should this come down to superdelegates? Obama has seen a fast rise in Committed superdelegates, where HRC has stagnated recently.

    Mathematically, she has a difficult road ahead of her, which is what I think the OTM report tried to get at–poorly.

    I was, however, saddened that the conversation turned to whether or not Clinton campaign should be covered while she’s still technically in the race. Obviously she should.

    But, I think the key point to take home from the piece was that the coverage has become about a horse race because horse races are good for media as business, when the race for delegates has been largely deadlocked and will continue to stay deadlocked until the DNC if Hillary decides to stay in the race. There simply is no back and forth and there hasn’t been for weeks. Is media, by and large, distorting the basic realities of this race?

    Disclaimer: I’m not necessarily anti-Clinton, I like her policy points, though I am pro-Obama, who has a near-identical platform, with a few reasonable exceptions. His chances in the generals have consistently been shown as better than Clinton’s in national polls and he’s bringing new people to the party. That’s what I care about more than “Just Words,” 3 a.m. calls or other political infighting.

  • I’m too busy to play this game today. You and I know that I can spend the next hour finding a dozen examples of media reports that declare Clinton dead — start with Slate’s abhorrent Hillary Death Watch.

    I will concede your dozen examples, Jeff. What do they prove? My observation was not that you lack examples or that you should spend your Sunday rounding them up; it’s that you are making a statement, “The media wants to change the rules and kick Clinton out of the race,” that is reckless and meaningless. It attributes intention to a system that does not have intention. It is an analytically weak.

    As I argued in my essay, Beast Without a Brain:

    Just so you know, “the media” has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not “get behind” candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. Nor does it “buy” this line or “swallow” that one. It is a beast without a brain.

    That is my point– not “go find some more examples.”

    Here are twelve examples from the last few weeks that show the exact opposite of what you claim. Shall I use them to prove “the media wants Clinton to stay in?” I don’t think they prove anything of the sort. They show only that making statements about what “media wants” is a bad way to go about media criticism.

    Robert Shrum, New York Times op ed, Stay in It to Win It.

    Ruth Marcus, Washington Post columnist, Too Soon to Stop this Movie.

    Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist, The Hillary Waltz.

    Denver Post, editorial, Clinton right to hang on in race.

    Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe columnist, Fired up and ready for a nomination battle

    Helen Thomas, Hearst columnist, Clinton should hang in there and run a good race to the end.

    Connie Schulz, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist, Men, it’s not your place to tell Clinton to quit the race.

    John Harwood, CNBC, Hillary Clinton: Should She Stay Or Should She Go?

    Philip Gailey, St. Petersburg Times, Let all states have say in Obama-Clinton race.

    Michael Barone, US News, Projection: Clinton Wins Popular Vote, Obama Wins Delegate Count.

    Matt Cooper,, Hillary Should Stay in, So Should Nader.

    Chuck Todd, NBC News, Clinton Has Made the Right Call… So Far.

    What do you think about these examples, Jeff? What do they show?

  • LC

    What I find bizarre is the fact that the media seem to be working against their own self-interests.

    What would they talk about for the next 5 months if Hillary dropped out?

    As for a brokered convention: for the past several election cycles, coverage of the conventions has decreased significantly because, excepting possibly for naming the VP candidate, the outcomes were known. Journalists covering them constantly harped back to the “good old days”.

    I think a brokered convention would be great for the party and great for the media. Both Obama and Clinton would have a tough time beating McCain and a fight at the convention, IMHO, would make little difference.

    And, Jeff, you are absolutely right: if it were Obama vs. Edwards or Gore vs. Kerry and everything else were equal, we would not be hearing calls for the person in the rear to drop out. Only women are expected to make that kind of self-sacrifice.

  • Jay,
    I’d say they showed you had a less-busy night than I have.
    I’m complaining about the meta show of media criticism which has its own examples embedded making the argument I’m complaining about. I make no apology for complaining. I make no apology for making my affiliation and affection clear (where have you?). This is a silly argument off the point. The question remains: Was OTM right to argue that Clinton has lost and thus that media should not be covering her? Or not? I say not. That’s the point of the post. Make as much meta out of it as you will but I’m going to finish the dishes.

  • I have to say I don’t get it. The right way to critique a segment for On the Media is to say “the media wants to change the rules….?” The right way to criticize Slate is to say, “I’ve had it with media trying to kick Hillary Clinton out of this race….?”

    Why not say Bob Garfield is cracked when he argues that…..Or Slate is wrong to start it’s Hillary death watch because….

    Oh, and I’m for Obama, everyone. Apply the discount rate accordingly.

  • Jeff, you are usually a straight shooter, but you seem very personally involved in this issue and I think it’s clouding your judgment.

    You are correct that there is no rule that the superdelegates could swing the nomination to Hillary. It’s also technically true that Wyoming and Utah could vote Democratic in November, or the Yankees could lose 130 games this season. But the chances of either happening are extremely slim.

    Obama is ahead in delegates, popular vote, states won and money raised. His campaign organization is far superior to Clinton’s. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if they had switched campaign staffs at the beginning, Clinton would have had the nomination wrapped up two months ago.

    And Obama has broader appeal to independents and moderate Republicans than Clinton, which Dems need in order to beat McCain.

    Superdelegates could vote en mass for Hillary, but why? Where is the overriding reason to overturn the voters’ will? It’s just not there. They aren’t going to risk destroying the party unless there is an extremely clear-cut and unassailable reason, something that would cause the remaining delegates to piss into the wind.

  • Jeremy C.

    Media and Obama fans are trying to change the rules and kick Clinton out of the race. It’s no surprise that Obama would try to do that; it’s politics.

    #1 Problem with this post: You state that the media and Obama fans are trying to get Clinton “out of the race”. The you immediately follow with the understanding of why Obama would want to do that.

    Obama himself has said consistently that he believes HRC has every intention and full right to continue in the race. You are jumping facts by stating that he is pushing for her to quit because he ISN’T doing anything of the sort.

    #2 problem: HRC has been trying to change the rules since .. of well, since about the time it becamse obvious Obama was a serious contender and her tired “experience” argument wasn’t going to work.

  • Jeff says: Media and Obama fans are trying to change the rules and kick Clinton out of the race. It’s no surprise that Obama would try to do that; it’s politics.

    Obama says: “My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants. Her name is on the ballot. She is a fierce and formidable opponent and she obviously believes she would make the best nominee and the best president.”


    I don’t see that Obama himself is trying to kick Hillary out of the race. I see him currently winning the race. And if he continues to run ahead, he doesn’t need to waste energy trying to kick her out. He only needs to reach the last primary and caucus ahead in the popular vote, states won and pledged delegates. I doubt the superdelegates would overturn those results. Perhaps her small chance of winning the popular vote is keeping her in the race. That’s her prerogative. Regardless, OTM’s argument that she lost is a bit off. A better argument would be “she’s losing, has little chance of winning, and may be distracting Democrats from the bigger race to come.”