Last week, I wrote about how the press, in its various post-mortems on the Clinton campaign, all but ignored Hillary’s vote for war in Iraq as a factor in her defeat.
Yesterday, The New York Times weighed in more fully on the question—and demonstrated the same strange blind spot.
In a lengthy front-page retrospective on the Clinton campaign, the Times dwelled on the acrimony between top advisers, but did not once mention the word “Iraq.”
True, the piece seemed designed to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the missteps of the campaign itself, especially over the last crucial few months, rather than offering a comprehensive explanation of why Clinton lost. But as I argued last week, such editorial choices speak for themselves. By informing readers in minute detail about personal rivalries between aides, while avoiding any mention of the key substantive issue that led to Clinton’s loss, the Times left little doubt about what lessons from the saga it sees as most worthy of attention.
Perhaps even more revealingly, the paper’s Op-Ed page asked thirteen “political experts”—mostly journalists and politicians—to explain “what went wrong” in Clinton’s quest for the presidency. Factors like her alienation of many African-American voters, and even her decision to run for the Senate from New York rather than Illinois, were cited. But only one participant, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, mentioned Clinton’s vote for Iraq. And even Jamieson argued that it was unfair that Clinton paid a political price for her vote, because she wasn’t, technically, voting for war.
In other words, not one out of the thirteen took what, in a sensible media universe, might be something like conventional wisdom: that Clinton lost because she made the wrong decision on the most important issue of her tenure in the Senate.
When the press ignores the key substantive issue in favor of strategic or tactical missteps, it prevents us from meaningfully linking political outcomes to the candidates’ decisions in office—which is supposed to be what elections are about.