Two stories, both about politicians named Clinton, collided recently at one of the nation’s most prominent magazines, raising questions about journalistic integrity and hardball political tactics.
GQ killed a 7,000-word article about infighting among aides to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, a move that came after the magazine began work on a cover story on the philanthropic efforts of Bill Clinton. The final decision was made after a spokesman for the Clinton camp told GQ that running the piece on Hillary would endanger the piece on Bill.
GQ Editor Jim Nelson insisted in an interview that the two events were not directly linked. “Hillary didn’t kill the piece; I killed the piece,” he said. While the author, Joshua Green, is a “terrific reporter,” he said, “the story didn’t end up fully satisfying. . . . I guarantee and promise you, if I’d have had a great Hillary piece, I would have run it.”
Green said the spiking had nothing to do with his work. “GQ told me it was a great story and a hell of a reporting job, but they didn’t want to jeopardize the Clinton-in-Africa piece,” he said. “GQ told me the Clintons were unhappy and threatened to revoke access to Bill Clinton if the Hillary story ran.”
The incident, first reported by Politico.com’s Ben Smith, reflects the kind of pressure tactics that are not unusual in political campaigns but may be practiced with unprecedented aggressiveness by the tightly controlled Clinton media operation. It also demonstrates how the former president’s star power — he is a media magnet riding a wave of favorable publicity — can be employed on his wife’s behalf.
The freelance article was submitted to GQ by Green, a meticulous and well-regarded Atlantic Monthly writer but not a popular figure in what insiders call Hillaryland. In a cover story for the Atlantic last year, Green portrayed her as a “diligent” New York senator who skillfully forged alliances with detractors but also a cautious politician with “no big ideas.”
Here’s more via the Ben Smith Politico article:
The Clinton campaign is unique in its ability to provide cash value to the media, and particularly the celebrity-driven precincts of television and magazines. Bill Clinton is a favorite cover figure, because his face is viewed within the magazine industry as one that can move product. (Indeed, Green’s own magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, ran as its October cover story “Bill Clinton’s campaign to save the world.”)
It’s a fact that gives the Clintons’ press aides a leverage more familiar to Hollywood publicists than even to her political rivals — less Mitt Romney and more Tom Cruise, whose publicists once required interviewers to sign a statement pledging not to write anything “derogatory” about the star.
The Clinton campaign has more sway with television networks than any rival. At the time Clinton launched her campaign, the networks’ hunger for interviews had her all over the morning and evening news broadcasts of every network — after her aides negotiated agreements limiting producers’ abilities to edit the interviews.
I know all politicians like to “control” the message that gets out, but Hillary’s threats towards GQ are extreme, and reading between the lines of it tells a lot of people that Senator Clinton has a lot of things she’d like to keep secret. She knows that, with a couple of exceptions (the WSJ and the LAT), the media will give her a pass on anything, but in the rare instances that the media gets too close to finding out that all is not well in Hillaryworld, she will use whatever leverage it takes – including controlling access to her husband – in order to keep unflattering stories about her from being published.
And while we’re talking about Hillary, the NY Daily News reports today on Hillary’s flip-flop on the use of aggressive interrogation tactics on terrorist suspects in order to obtain information that could save lives:
WASHINGTON – Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign yesterday belatedly explained that her flip-flop to oppose torture was an evolution inspired by talks with retired generals.
“Upon reflection and after meeting with former generals and others, Sen. Clinton does not believe that we should be making narrow exceptions to this policy based on hypothetical scenarios,” said campaign spokesman Phil Singer.
Clinton (D-N.Y.) came out against all torture – “period” – in Wednesday’s Democratic debate after previously telling the Daily News last October it would be okay to torture a terrorist to foil “something imminent.”
Clinton’s transformation on torture now aligns her perfectly with the voters she’s trying to woo. A Zogby International poll this month found 64% of Americans oppose the interrogation tactic – and an earlier ABC poll showed more than 70% of Democrats are against it.
Clinton aides said she changed her mind after meeting in April with a group of retired three- and four-star generals.
But her epiphany appears to be incomplete. Clinton still hasn’t signed a pledge with a group called the American Freedom Campaign that requested presidential candidates oppose all torture.
And I doubt she will. Signing a pledge would mean she would actually have something in writing with her signature stating what her stance on a particular issue is, which would be inconvenient for Hillary, especially during a campaign season that has seen her stay way ahead of Barack Obama in the polls. If she makes it beyond the primaries, not signing that pledge will give her the opportunity to shift her position once again, in an attempt to appeal to moderate voters.
Related: The Washington Post lines up with Hillary on the issue of aggressive interrogation tactics, while chiding Republicans who are in favor of them, here.