This is a close-to-home example of what is wrong with media today – wasted newspaper space that could have been used to inform. [see Not Ready for Hillary, published in December, 2013.]
Almost Ready For Hillary
But I’m even readier for the media to grow up.
Recently, as editor of Blog for Iowa, I was contacted by a Washington Post political reporter who was working on a story about Hillary Clinton. Specifically, he wanted to talk about what he called “infamous” green snow shovels that the campaign gave out to supporters last time. He made no pretense of what he was doing. He basically was using the green snow shovel story to write a derisive article about Hillary, using a formula that the national media is enamored with now, focusing on some trite or sensationalistic aspect, and magnifying it – in this case, the (infamous!) snow shovels that I had not heard anything about or forgot.
Here is how he framed it:
“I’m a reporter for the Washington Post, covering national politics. I’m very sorry to bother you, but I wanted to ask your help on something. I’m writing a story about Hillary Clinton’s (in)famous green snow shovels: in the last days of the 2008 primary campaign in Iowa, Clinton’s folks bought more than 600 snow shovels and handed them out to precinct captains and other local leaders. I’m trying to find people who supported Hillary Clinton back then, and still have those shovels in their possession. I’d want to talk to them about their experience with that 2008 campaign, and whether they think Clinton has learned from her experience in Iowa back then.
I figured you might have seen or heard chatter from people who still have those shovels. I also was trying to figure out how I might put out a call for those folks on the Blog for Iowa, to ask if anybody had a shovel and wanted to talk with me about it. I’m going to be in Iowa next week, and would love to meet folks in person if they’re interested. I’m at 202.—.—-, if you’d rather talk by phone than over email.”
I replied to his query this way:
“Seriously? This is what you are using your position at the Washington Post to write about? You want to talk about shovels? How depressing. And you call yourself a journalist? We’re not in the Hillary camp yet, but we’re still not going to help you write your pathetic little “let’s make fun of Hillary” piece. We will talk to reporters that are covering the issues. Thanks for contacting us. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of idiots who will love to help you out but it’s not going to be us.”
Disclaimer: I admit that my reply was a little terse. Also, I had no idea at the time who if anyone spoke with this reporter, and I am not calling any specific person who talked to him an idiot. Iowans are just nice people. I did not hear from him again.
Last week, the story appeared on Washingtonpost.com, and it was as I expected. At the top a gigantic headline, “In 2008, Clinton Couldn’t buy Iowans’ love. So she bought them snow shovels” topped by a cute, folksy photo of some typical Iowans with one of the “infamous” shovels. The snow shovels were mentioned no fewer than 24 times throughout the article. There was not one but four photos of Iowans with shovels, evenly distributed throughout the text so that no matter where you were on the page, you could see one. The reporter extracted quotes from Hillary supporters who said of course, living in Iowa, they didn’t need a shovel because they already had one.
This is a close-to-home example of what is wrong with media today – wasted newspaper space that could have been used to inform. This guy spent two weeks of his life putting together this silly hatchet piece. He came out to Iowa for the purpose of getting photos of supporters with shovels! And we accept this as normal political reporting. The reporter could have asked open questions about what issues Clinton supporters think are going to be important this time around. Instead, he used what he thought was a clever hook (or click-bait) and in my view, very transparently tried to build a negative story around it with the intention of making her look bad.
To be fair, the shovel story would have been worth a mention, if the article had had a more authentic goal. But it wasn’t worth the singular focus of the article.
I’m almost ready for Hillary now. And articles like this one, are helping me get there.
Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2015 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!! Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.