CNN’s Chris Cuomo opened up a can of worms on Monday.
Via the Washington Free Beacon, Cuomo half-jokingly observed that the press has been giving Hillary Clinton a “free ride.”
“We couldn’t help her any more than we have,” Cuomo remarked. “We’re the biggest ones promoting her campaign.”
The CNN host was kidding, but the key ingredient in any strong joke is an element of truth.
We are fortunate to have one recent example of that truth. On Monday, in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Clinton stipulated that her husband’s post-impeachment legal debts and her quest to purchase property in New York ahead of a U.S. Senate bid constitutes financial hardships akin to those of average Americans.
This appropriately prompted Clinton’s interlocutor to cock an incredulous eyebrow, but the former secretary of state was not pressed on the details of her claim. Sawyer pushed back merely on the politics of Clinton’s statement: “Do you think Americans will understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?”
They won’t, but being wealthy has never been a disqualifier for those seeking the presidency. In fact, it’s a prerequisite. While Clinton’s largess may give Democratic primary voters some pause, it will not turn off the average general election voter. Some of the details of Clinton’s rollercoaster financial hardships, however, are political vulnerabilities.
Sawyer might have noted that Bill Clinton incurred millions in debt while defending against the charge that he perjured himself during the Lewinsky affair and in the ultimately unsuccessful effort to keep his Arkansas law license.
The ABC reporter also may have pointed out that some of those lingering legal fees were paid by big name Democratic donors. When Bill Clinton prepared to leave office in the summer of 2000, for example, his legal defense fund had already raised $8.5 million.
Donors giving the $10,000 maximum to the legal fund this year include Peter Angelos, a trial lawyer and owner of the Baltimore Orioles; Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films; Eli Broad, chairman of SunAmerica, the insurance giant; Fred Eychaner, president of Newsweb Corp.; and Lew Wasserman, chairman emeritus of Universal Studios.
Reporters may be sensitive about bringing up the inconvenient details of Clinton’s past because it so often results in accusations of sexism and misogyny.
“Any Republican who is dredging this up is a misogynistic sexist hypocrite,” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski declared in February. This serious charge was inspired by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who brought up the incontrovertible fact that Hillary’s husband engaged in sexual relations with an intern in his place of work.
“This just conjures up memories of the gender element when Hillary was running,” University of Texas professor and MSNBC contributor Victoria DeFrancesco Soto insisted when reports surfaced that Clinton kept an “enemies list” consisting of those who endorsed Barack Obama in 2008.
Clinton supporters hurling accusations of anti-female prejudice is a familiar one. In 2008, the former first lady’s acolytes created a “Media Hall of Shame” for those in the press who were dubbed insufficiently supportive of Clinton over her chief Democratic rival. Among the most ironic members of that list were Chris Matthews, Katie Couric, and The New York Times.
Clinton supporters, The Times noted, “exploited a few glaring examples of sexist coverage to whip up a backlash and to try to create momentum for Mrs. Clinton.” The internecine nature of the Democratic primary fight made it easier for the press to dismiss accusations of sexism in 2008, but they are already a prominent and more widely accepted feature of the 2016 campaign.
“We just don’t know how to deal with gender yet with her,” DeFrancesco Soto submitted. And, judging by the predictable repetition of this charge, we never will.
If dealing with Clinton’s gender consists of treating her with kid gloves, then that does suggest that there is a form of sexism characterizing the coverage of her candidacy: toxic and insulting paternalism.