Follow the Money

There's only one way to interpret Hillary's spending habits

While everyone is still busy poring over the other day’s New York Times pseudo-kinda-exposé of John McCain, I was fascinated this morning by another multi-bylined piece in my hometown paper. This one was about Hillary Clinton’s campaign-spending habits. And it was fairly damning. Highlights included the $25,000 for luxury hotel rooms at the Bellagio hotel during the Nevada caucus and the five million doled out to a handful of consultants in January alone.

The closest the story comes to any kind of explanation for the excess is this quote from the reliably perceptive Joe Trippi: “The problem is she ran a campaign like they were staying at the Ritz-Carlton. Everything was the best. The most expensive draping at events. The biggest charter. It was like, ‘We’re going to show you how presidential we are by making our events look presidential.’ ”

Clinton also thought the whole thing would be wrapped up two months ago, so she didn’t exactly pace herself. And her campaign relied on the big donors who quickly maxed out at their allotted $4,600. Meanwhile, Barack Obama built a more sustainable cash cow, relying on smaller donors who could keep giving, in smaller amounts, throughout the primary season.

Anyway, it’s pretty plain to see that Clinton wasn’t running a tight ship (and an accompanying graphic provides even clearer evidence). But then why is the piece full of strange little equivocations? As if the reporters are not comfortable saying what they’re saying, they end with Jim Jordon, a Democratic consultant who ran John Kerry’s presidential campaign, admitting:

…these budgetary post-mortems tend to follow a familiar pattern; winners are by definition smart, and losers are dumb and wasteful. In truth, campaign budgeting is hard and complicated and three-dimensional and just impossible to understand without the full time-and-place context of the whole race.

So it’s all a matter of interpretation, huh? Then why did I just read this two thousand-word piece?

And Jordon isn’t the only one expressing this relativistic view of things. Earlier on in the piece, Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant and a one-time Clintonite, suggests:

It’s easy to be critical, but had she won Iowa, none of this would have mattered. It wouldn’t have mattered what she spent because money would have come pouring in. But the fact that she did not has made everyone focus on where the dollars went — and where they think the money should’ve gone.

Why is the Times letting such dissenting voices into its piece. Either they have a legitimate point to make about Hillary’s spending—as winner or loser—or they haven’t. I think we have an open-and-shut case here of objectivitis. Numbers can provide hard facts, and they do here. We could have done without throwing in the postmodernist lesson in interpretation.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.