Mark Penn’s Press Strategies

Media mentions from the HRC memos

Here are some media-related snippets from the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign’s strategy memos and e-mails, recently released by The Atlantic.

In a Dec. 21, 2006 memo, Mark Penn characterizes the national and local press’s opinions of HRC:

The national press is relatively hostile and only grudgingly willing to see any of the Senator’s great strengths. They want to be king makers and Hillary is already the king, so they are typically looking to find that someone “new” who can be their own. They have done this with Dean last time, with first Warner and now Obama this time. They focus on every Hillary Clinton weakness while ignore the weaknesses of opponents in a vast media festival that has now become an ingrained part of the process. The NY press in contrast is becoming kind of cheerleaders, especially the Post and News…Newsweek is gone, Time may be salvageable. NY and DC press a day to day reality but their influence is waning unless they have a scoop. Blog effort is definitely worthwhile.

Penn, on Mar. 19, 2007, on the lack of national columns dedicated to Hillary (How about MoDowd?):

We can either leave things as they are, or start our response operation going, calling every reporter every time they write nonsense, commenting on wrong info… Right now we are just taking all this with limited defense. [David] Brooks wrote a critical column in our favor, but we are not generating more such columns. We may have plenty going on behind the scenes, but it is not yet bearing fruit.

Tucked into a Harold Ickes memo on the delegate system, sent around Dec. 22, 2007, is a footnote that illuminates a polling source for the campaign: “Projections for the 4 early states were calculated using the average of available public polls conducted for each state as of 12.20.” (Ickes went on to cite the Web site Real Clear Politics.)

Just prior to the Iowa caucus, a strategy memo from Penn discusses “a press that likes to cover the process and not the substance of what Hillary Clinton says and does.” He also states: “The press is becoming emotionally ready for a tie.” And then here’s his take on Edwards’s image in the media:

Edwards may pick up some momentum from Iowa, but he is not seriously regarded by the press as a real alternative; they see him as a phony, with a case that is tailored to win, but that is not real.

A letter of complaint from Washington Post editor Philip Bennett to HRC campaign manager Maggie Williams calls out the campaign on spreading the false rumor that Anne Kornblut, a New York Times political reporter who was recruited by the Post in 2007, had initially been fired from the Times. From Feb. 11, 2008: “It was not the first time that a colleague had told Anne of a Clinton campaign official claiming that Anne had left The Times under a cloud.”

From a March 5, 2008 Penn strategy memo, a tidbit on the 3 a.m. scare spot that the HRC campaign ran, addressing presidential preparedness:

Shift at least 50% if not more of all media to negative or implied negative like 3 am that make big arguments on why you can’t trust just words with your future.

Penn got excited about a NYT Long Run article that ran on March 9, which looked into Obama’s senatorial role:

We will take on his Iraq vote. The NY Times today provided a clear roadmap… The NY Times today—one year into this race—finally admitted that Barack Obama was no leader on Iraq in the Senate. It was an amazing story. It provides a roadmap for undoing Sen. Obama…They said: ‘He was running for president even as he was still getting lost in the Capitol’s corridors.’

Further down in the memo, Penn reiterates: “‘He was running for president even as he was still getting lost in the Capitol’s corridors’ is a devastating quote from the article.”

(A correction has since been appended to the article that Penn cites, saying that it referred incorrectly “to [Obama’s] position on a drawdown of troops from Iraq.”)

Robert Barnett e-mails HRC and her senior staff on March 6, 2008, frustrated by the press’s coverage (by Anne Kornblut, for one) of back-biting among members of the Clinton campaign. Referencing the WaPo story:

After this campaign is over, there will be plenty of time to access blame or claim credit… Right now, we have a real chance to win this nomination. That is where our focus should be—not on each other.

Finally, there’s an interesting portion of a Penn memo from March 30, 2008, with the somewhat amusing meta-label “The campaign about the campaign,” which states:

Here we are not winning as they paint us as negative, and have a chorus of people calling for us to pull out…we can try to strike back on the negativity with an ad that exposes all his hypocrisy once and for all—that shows all the words of him and his advisers and surrogates that have constituted negative personal attacks. This could be a good free press play.

Because, Mr. Penn, the press is always ready to jump.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.