How Much Does Hillary Clinton Drink?

Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage during the LA Promise Fund’s Girls Build Leadership summit in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
Amy Chozick probably knows, but she isn’t telling.

When the author of a book on the Hillary Clinton campaigns admits to breaking down in tears as Clinton’s defeat registered, you have to read between the lines to guess just how flawed Clinton is. Unflattering details come up, but because they’re being delivered by a friendly source, they’re not dwelt upon at great length.

One intriguing aspect of Amy Chozick’s reporting in Chasing Hillary is that Chozick wrote a story for the New York Times that never ran that celebrated Clinton’s convivial spirit (or, if you like, her boozing). After Clinton’s certain victory, the Times was prepared to run a full slate of stories exploring various aspects of its darling. In contrast, reports Chozick, as Donald Trump’s victory became increasingly probable on Election Night, an editor in the newsroom was heard to shout, “We got nothing,” meaning no stories prepared for the eventuality of Trump’s victory.

Scrambling, the Times repurposed a story that was intended to describe “white patrons at a dive bar in a Pennsylvania steel town ‘crying in their beers’ after Trump lost,” in Chozick’s words. The paper churned it into a tale of Trump’s unexpected triumph. It was pulled together so hastily that it was sent out into the world with the wrong bylines: Michael Barbaro and Matt Flegenheimer wrote it, but it was credited to Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin, according to Chozick.

Chozick’s unpublished color piece on Clinton’s drinking was meant to illustrate that Clinton was not the starchy, purse-lipped frump of popular perception but a freewheeling good-time gal. Why couldn’t the story have run during the campaign rather than after it? That seems obvious. The factual details were such that they might have made readers question the Times’s spin that Clinton’s drinking habits reflected well on her. The attentive reader will wonder whether Clinton has a drinking problem. Chozick says that Clinton would have been “the booziest president since FDR” and “enjoys a cocktail — or three — more than most previous presidents.” Chozick isn’t saying that Clinton has three cocktails but that she has three cocktails more than a man. So: five cocktails, then? Five cocktails for a woman is generally said to have the same effect as ten cocktails on a man. Would you want a man who regularly put away ten cocktails to be president?

It is fair to ask of the nation’s press corps how much information about Clinton’s drinking they withheld from the public.

Clinton’s career in elected office is obviously over, and Chozick no longer has any reason to worry about whether she is ingratiating herself enough with Clinton’s handlers to assure her continued access. Instead, she abruptly stops the anecdote here and moves on to such matters as what Jon Bon Jovi was wearing while hanging out on the Clinton campaign plane. It makes Chozick look protective of Clinton rather than dispassionate.

But it is fair to ask whether the nation came close to electing a president who regularly drinks to excess, and it is fair to ask of the nation’s press corps how much information about Clinton’s drinking they withheld from the public. Given that, according to Chozick, virtually everyone embedded with the Clinton campaign was a woman who was excited about the prospect of her winning, it’s also fair to ask of the major media’s assignment editors whether the reporters they put on the Clinton beat were even close to being objective observers.

Another potentially intriguing story that Chozick alludes to but leaves hanging is the question of Chelsea Clinton, who has become an increasingly vocal public figure in the last year and a half and perhaps has her eye on political office. (She keeps saying she isn’t running and has no plans to run but pointedly refuses to rule out running for office in the future.) Chelsea, we learn, is not the adorable figure portrayed in the slicks. To be blunt, she is “a real pain in the ass,” according to people working on her mother’s campaign. But we shouldn’t blame her because she was “raised by wolves,” one Hillary aide said.

In keeping with the family tradition, Chelsea is upset about the specks of reporting about her that did make it into Chozick’s book.

Instead of elaborating, though, Chozick simply implies that she knows much more than she lets on. Keeping the most interesting stuff private isn’t what reporting is all about. During Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic National Convention speech, Chozick thought, “She looked resplendent . . . [and] made all the complicated feelings I had about her briefly fall away.” It seems unlikely that a reporter harboring such emotion would be quite so circumspect if it was the Trump family she was covering — especially if Ivanka Trump seemed to be mulling a political career.

In keeping with the family tradition, Chelsea is upset about the specks of reporting about her that did make it into Chozick’s book. The younger Clinton enjoys telling interviewers that her famously frizzy hair suddenly went straight in her early twenties, but Chozick (who is also plagued by curls) implies that she knows this to be false: “I also happen to know her New York hairdresser — and a keratin job when I saw it.” This sounds like merely an educated guess on Chozick’s part, not an assertion of fact, but Chelsea seems to hope she can undermine Chozick’s book as a whole by casting doubt on this inconsequential aside. Now that her parents’ careers are over, it’s Chelsea’s turn to try to convince the world she isn’t habitually misleading. Good luck with that.

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