Media Matters is blaming the media for artificially building Hillary Clinton up only to take her down now. It’s a lengthy piece, but here’s an excerpt:
So what was all that talk about “inevitability” really about?
Maybe it reflected the impression the Clinton campaign itself was trying to create; political reporters and pundits have long ascribed that strategy to the campaign even as candidate and staff insisted they weren’t taking anything for granted.
But maybe it was something else. Take a look at how some of the nation’s most influential journalists have described their profession in the past:
Gloria Borger: “We take people to the top of the mountain and then once we get them to the top of the mountain, it’s our job to knock them down.” [9/10/06]
Brian Williams: “[I]t does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog.” [9/21/00]
Howard Fineman: “We want a race, I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it’s that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that’s partly the psychology at play here.” [9/21/00]
Many in the media certainly seemed to be building Clinton up prior to the Philadelphia debate — though it should be noted that they were doing so strictly in a horse-race context. Clinton wasn’t getting the kind of fawning media coverage that George W. Bush, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee have enjoyed at various points in recent years. The storyline wasn’t that Clinton is a “straight-talker” or someone you’d “want to have a beer with” or an apolitical “maverick” with “folksy charm.”
Instead, media built her up as “inevitable.”
Were they doing so simply so they could knock her down? Here’s The Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut, only moments after Tucker Carlson called Clinton “inevitable” on the October 26 edition of MSNBC’s Tucker:
KORNBLUT: I have to say we in the media are spoiling for a fight. Usually we are biased in favor of a good tussle at about this point. … I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere between now and January 3, now that we know that’s when the Iowa caucuses are going to be, to see some kind of reverse, some kind of Obama surge or an Edwards surge. Something that is going to knock Hillary down a few pegs. Whether it’s a media creation, or something that actually happens on the ground. I would be shocked if there were nothing like that.
Precisely seven weeks later, to judge by the polls and especially the media, something certainly has “knock[ed] Hillary down a few pegs.” As Kornblut recognized, the question wasn’t whether it would happen, but when it did happen, whether it would be a “media creation” or the result of something that actually happened. But, of course, that’s a false choice — the most likely answer is that it was all of the above: legitimate missteps by Clinton and her campaign, good performances by Obama, Edwards, and their respective campaigns, and some “media creation,” all converging during the same two-month period.