Shattered and the Irritating Consequences of Access Journalism

by Jim Geraghty

Shattered and the Irritating Consequences of Access Journalism

Post-election campaign books aren’t new. But Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, the new book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, stands out because the believable portrait it paints of dysfunctional, incompetent senior leadership of the Clinton campaign is so at odds with the narrative we were told from the media during 2016.

Sure, there were a lot of logical reasons for her to be the favorite in 2016: Democrats had just come off of two big wins in the previous two presidential races; she had the backing of the incumbent president; she had run before and her husband had won twice; she had the historical excitement of being the first woman nominee of a major party; the obvious flaws of the Republican nominee…

There were also some that were assumed or told to us by the Democratic-friendly political media: Hillary Clinton had an experienced, well-organized campaign team that worked well together and focused on the big picture. She had learned from the Obama team and his victories about how to get out the vote. Her team knew how to collect and analyze data and accurately assess the state of the race and the electorate. They were raising more money and spending more money, and that was a significant advantage. They had oodles of campaign offices across all the key swing states, and would have a spectacular “ground game” where it mattered most. They were confident, and the reports from on the ground backed up the campaign’s expectations to win most or all of the contested swing states.

According to Shattered, none of those were true.

Why was the 2016 election result such a shock to so many people? Because the dominant narrative from most of the media was a delusion. Hillary was, if not exactly what the media wanted in every detail, the Democrat, and the majority of the media thinks of the Democrats as the smart good guys and the Republicans as the dumb bad guys.

The narrative of the impending Clinton landslide was combination of Democrats’ wishful thinking, Clinton campaign spin, conventional wisdom, groupthink, and dismissal of contrary indicators.

I bought into it too much myself, and I’m still kicking myself for it. Although every once in a while I expressed a little bit of doubt:

We’re about to learn just how much a candidate needs campaign offices in these swing states. When you see Hillary Clinton having 36 offices in Ohio and Trump only 16, or Hillary having 36 offices in Pennsylvania and Trump only having two, or Clinton having 34 offices in Florida and Trump having one… if the number of offices influences get-out-the-vote operations and total turnout, Trump should get blown out in those states. But right now the polls in those states look mixed-to-bad for Trump, but not abysmal. Emerson has them tied in Ohio and Clinton only up by 3 in Pennsylvania, and the last three polls in Florida have them within the margin of error.

Perhaps Trump doesn’t need to open many offices if the RNC ground game efforts will make up the slack.

In a year with such an unorthodox nominee, the lack of Trump campaign offices seems like a giant gamble. Maybe he’ll win by sheer force of personality, dominating the news coverage while conceding the commercial breaks. Maybe Trump’s instinct that data-driven get-out-the-vote efforts are “overrated” will be proven correct. But if Trump flops, and Republican turnout is below 2012, it will prove to be a painful lesson to the GOP and all future candidates that a campaign infrastructure really matters.

And as I wrote yesterday, this leaves me wondering if Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes kept their word to their sources… but ended up somewhat complicit in this inaccurate narrative that dominated the nation’s perception of the race. They agreed to hold all of the quotes, information, and anecdotes from their on-background conversations for the book, to be published long after Election Day. Clinton campaign staffers could vent and speak frankly about all of their serious problems hidden from the public eye, knowing that Allen and Parnes wouldn’t report it and the public wouldn’t know until after their decision had been made.

Except… this means a reporter for The Hill and a columnist for Roll Call knew that the media narrative was wrong, and didn’t tell anyone. Hillary Clinton’s campaign wasn’t a well-oiled machine, and in the closing weeks there were a lot of warnings and grim indicators in those key swing states. If you’re a Republican, you’re probably thankful that the Clintons and their inner circle were ignoring and dismissing these troubling data and anecdotes from key states, and that the Democrats were oblivious to the real state of the race. But as a citizen and consumer of news… wouldn’t you have liked to know then?

Killing The O’Reilly Factor

Mike Allen, who writes probably the second- or third-best morning newsletter out there, making a point about the dismissal of Bill O’Reilly:

Life is more fair than unfair. If you do the right things for the right reasons, the arc of life bends toward goodness — with good results. But if you do the wrong thing for the wrong reason, the arc of life bends toward justice — almost always with bad results. Who cares if you make millions, and earn fame and power, if you end in public or private humiliation?

You’ll recall Mary Katharine Ham used to appear on O’Reilly’s program regularly, and in 2014, the pair had some particularly eye-opening heated exchanges about marijuana. To me, what was most important was not the issue or the positions — I’m wary about the long-term consequences of marijuana legalization, which puts me a little closer to O’Reilly’s position — but how each figure treated the other. For some reason, O’Reilly fixated on then-new mother Ham’s daughter, and kept hounding her about why she would be comfortable with her daughter — then less than a year old, if I recall correctly — smoking marijuana. His side of the “debate” quickly devolved into sneering insults:

O’REILLY: Answer my question!

HAM: No, I’m answering the question by saying it doesn’t have to be illegal because I can step in and handle things! And the fact is that freedom is far less likely to be damaging than paternalism and a nanny state!

O’REILLY: Mary Katharine, you’re babbling, you don’t want to engage in a conversation!

HAM: No, I’m saying clear words and making an argument to you.

They debated the issue again a week later, and once again, O’Reilly went straight to the “what kind of a mother are you?”

O’REILLY: You have a child.

HAM: Yes, who, by the way, did not sign up to be brought up on national TV in a drug discussion, but let’s go ahead.

O’REILLY: Sorry, but if you’re going to advocate the legalization about marijuana, you’re going to have to answer questions about children and your child, who I’m sure you love more than anything else in the world. You don’t want that child, at age 13 to 17, to be using marijuana. I know you. And I know you don’t want that.

HAM: Yes, and I answered that specifically that week.

O’Reilly concluded, “by the time your daughter gets to the teenage years, pot will be like chewing gum, smoking a cigarette.” (In O’Reilly’s mind, support for marijuana legalization always automatically includes support for use by teenagers, which is an assignment of bad faith where it is undeserved.)

If you bring up somebody else’s kids in a debate — several times — you’re a bunch of words that the editors don’t want me to use in this newsletter. (Maybe I’ll turn it into an explicit-lyrics rap. “Call your guests a bunch of pinheads and dimwits, but what the f***’s wrong with you? Kids are off limits!”)

We don’t know if Bill O’Reilly really did treat his employees and coworkers as badly as those five women who settled lawsuits or accepted payouts alleged. But we do know that he had no problem being shamelessly obnoxious, insulting, gratuitously personal, and unfair to his regular guests on camera.

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to appear on CNN International at 2:30 p.m. Eastern today.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty