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The Return of Hillary Rodham

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First, some media news. Then, in the wake of all the media praise I’ve been bestowing, some media criticism.

In January, with former Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon installed as White House chief strategist, and with its own ambitious plans for international expansion, Breitbart seemed on the path to becoming a frightening, major, media power. Then, as of May 26, Alexa.com—the same web-ranking analytics company from which Breitbart drew its numbers in January—reported some interesting new figures. The Washington Post, of late churning out scoops hourly, is now the 41st most trafficked site in the country—and Breitbart has plummeted to 281st place. Breitbart bureaus had been planned for France and Germany in time for their elections, with the aim of electing far-right-wing, anti-immigrant politicians; this had worked well in the U.K., where Breitbart London had successfully propagated misinformation in the build-up to Brexit. Now their expansion dreams are in the tank. Other extreme-right-wing media sites have also experienced traffic declines in recent months, including Infowars, The Daily Caller, and the Drudge Report. Fox News’s viewership dropped to third place behind CNN and MSNBC for the very first time in 17 years.

Feeling better?

OK, then here’s a bit of activism for you. The Women’s Media Center has established a campaign to urge CBS News to install a woman in the evening news anchor chair, to replace Scott Pelley, who is leaving. The WMC’s Status Report found that 68 percent of CBS News is delivered by men. For most of TV history, the weekday evening network anchors—on ABC, CBS, NBC—have been men. Only two women, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer, have been solo anchors. The Women’s Media Center is urging CBS to hire one of many superb, experienced women journalists to be the next full-time anchor of CBS Evening News. Currently, only 32 percent of CBS Nightly News’ anchors, field reporters, and correspondents are women. The Women’s Media Center found that female-anchored news shows hire more women for these positions than their male-led counterparts. Judy Woodruff’s “NewsHour” on PBS, which she co-anchored with Gwen Ifill prior to Ifill’s death last year, leads evening news broadcasts in producing the work of female news correspondents.

There are many female journalists with the qualifications to excel in the anchor chair. Norah O’Donnell and Elaine Quijano, for instance, already have a proven track record at CBS, and others, like Soledad O’Brien, Kelly O’Donnell, Dana Bash, Christiane Amanpour, or Andrea Mitchell, might be persuaded to move from another network to fill the role. That’s to name only a few: The WMC is using the hashtag #HireHer on social media to showcase the many women candidates from which CBS could choose. Please check the hashtag, sign the petition, join the campaign. Thanks!

Now. Some press criticism—following on what have been my repeated blog posts defending the press lately.

The McClatchy News Syndicate broke a story that female Forest Service workers in California reported enduring sexual assault, harassment, mistreatment, and if they complained, retaliation, according to a previously unreleased study obtained by McClatchy under the Freedom of Information Act (good for McClatchy). The women’s grievances spanned a wide range, from misdeeds to mismanagement, and they echoed complaints lodged by women in the military and other federal agencies.

To feminists, this comes as no shocker–just another occasion for teeth grinding and fight-back. But what caught my eye this time was the retaliation-if-you-complain part, which is increasing in sexual harassment cases, too. It’s a crazy-making catch 22 that deflects justice and manipulates reality to let you know you’ll be in even worse misery if you dare protest about the misery under which you’re already suffering. It’s vicious, as bad as or even worse than the original causes for your complaint. Which finally brings me to my subject.

In the midst of last week’s floor-littered chipped alliances (NATO and the G7), treaties (the Paris Climate Accord), and hearts, Hillary Clinton went large as life visible and breathed warming fire. Three times.

No, let me correct myself. It was Hillary Rodham, the razor-sharp-smart, idealistic yet pragmatic, funny, pissed off, back at ’em woman who had been named one of the 100 most brilliant young lawyers in the country before she married . . . well, him. She was more open, more defiantly feminist than ever before, and you couldn’t help but be reminded of her fierce intellect and her real passion for the work of progressive change. Three times she rose to the occasion and then some. In her 2017 commencement address at Wellesley, her alma mater; in Rebecca Traister’s New York Magazine interview and analysis; and in a lengthy televised public conversation at the CODECON Tech Conference in California.

These were not rehashes. Each, in a different way, revealed new information, as well as fresh insights by her and about her. For instance, that her campaign had been stunned to find the Democratic National Committee in more than serious disarray, basically bankrupt, with outmoded equipment and data that was old and mostly wrong. It was common knowledge that the Obama folks, once his second term was secured, hadn’t devoted much energy or money to party building; that part was no surprise. But the extent of that inattention was a shocker. She had to fund raise for the DNC, instead of the usual other way round. Also, the revelation that her campaign tried to convince the press all last summer that there was a story afloat out there that might warrant investigation—about Russian connections with the Trump campaign—but they were ignored, while the non-stories of Benghazi and her emails ran over and over instead.

It occurs to me that The Pulitzer Prizes now being awarded to investigative journalists would have been even more deserved a year ago—and would almost certainly have saved us from Trump. (Writ small, this is like a woman being asked, “Why are you raising that again?” And trying to reply, “Because you refused to hear me the last 242 times, Henry. Also because it’s true.”)

I found all three of Hillary’s appearances fascinating, and not only because I voted for her. I urge anyone interested in behind-the-scenes politics, democracy, women, or the future of our country to read the Traister piece—Rebecca is such a good writer!—and to watch the CODECON Tech conversation and the Wellesley speech. The links for all three are above. It’s well worth it.

Ah, but then there was the coverage afterward. Which, were I not sure of my own sanity and voice, would have convinced me I was insane.

The CODECON conference was sponsored by the technology site Recode, and it aired on CNBC, which shut off Hillary’s sound once questions from the audience began, merely showing a window of her mouthing words silently, while CNBC people commented on her. Though the coverage was anchored by a white woman, both commentators were white men—reporters, though, not pundits. Reporters, forgodsake. One of them tsk-tsked that Hillary was still talking about the campaign—when she had been asked about it and was answering. The other reporter found it deplorable that she “still didn’t take responsibility for her loss, and blamed everyone else”–although I had actually clocked the full 7 minutes she spent talking about mistakes made by herself and her campaign. He then went on to muse, however, that “at least she sure still showed spunk.”

Honest to God. Spunk. The patronizing bastard.

I surfed C-SPAN 1, 2, and 3 but they weren’t covering her speech. So I dashed to the computer, managed to find a live stream of the conference, and was finally able to hear what remained of the intelligent, challenging questions from the audience, as well as her intelligent, challenging answers.

Look, I try to be reasonable, you know? Day after day, I try. All around me, I see women trying to be reasonable. So, in a fit of what may yet prove terminal naïveté on my part, I chalked up the offensive spunk comment and the biased reporting to the fact that after all CNBC is a business channel, usually covering politics only from the vantage point of the bottom-line.

When will I learn? Subsequent coverage, even on the supposedly liberal MSNBC, ranged from “she’s still blaming everybody but herself,” to “why rehash the campaign” to “why doesn’t she let it go and enjoy her grandchildren.” This, to a lifelong public servant, a woman whose latest motto is resist, insist, persist, enlist.

Time certainly has borne out both of the abovementioned samples of what she said. Time has validated her stories of the DNC’s vulnerability. Moreover, journalists have publicly flagellated themselves post-election for not having done their job during the campaign. But since the press is now trying hard to make up for that with solid journalism, you’d think that the prescience she and her campaign showed might be understood, if not appreciated, at least in retrospect. Wrong.

At the risk of seeming yet again a crazy feminist, I must tell you that the people making these comments were all men. You really did hear a different line from the women—and that’s an encouraging change, since in the past many women journalists didn’t dare diverge from the pale male line for fear they’d be accused of partiality (though the guys were never accused of bias, oh no). In the CODECON discussion, a woman, Kara Swisher, and a man, Walt Mossberg, interviewed HRC together. Mossberg still seemed incredulous at the weird notion that sexism and misogyny just might have played a role in the election, though Swisher sometimes cut him off with impatience at his denseness.

But the staggering element in this was the retaliation. The staggering element was that the guys’ message really still is “How dare you complain?” “Surely you exaggerate.” In other words, shut up with your grievances—unless you’re a working-class, high-school educated, white male bigot in Wisconsin (he has the corner on grievances). The message is still “Go away.” “Enough of you.” “What’s more, you’re old now (though we’re so excited about Biden possibly running, and he’s even older).” “You’re done, finished, used up, too familiar–though wouldn’t it be great if we could get Obama back for a third term?!?” The message is: Disappear, you talkative stubborn goddamned bitch. Shut up. Go away. Die.

It hurt so much and made me so furious that I again scrapped my plans for this week’s blog post to write these words instead. Because though it’s vital to understand how far we’ve come, it’s more important not to hang the sword up on the wall as a display but to sharpen it for use. Just because I defend my brothers in the press from their brothers in power who would muzzle us all, that doesn’t mean I’m not still enraged when reporters let bias keep them from doing their jobs.

And for ourselves, as women, and those male allies we can actually count on: Check out the three appearances. And check out Onward Together, Hillary Rodham’s characteristic practical response to The Resistance—a new organization to fund it. This is a woman who knows the cost of rebellion.

So, eyes on the prize. You hear that, female Forest Service workers? Back to the barricades. Break’s over.

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