[UPDATED] Hillary Decoder: The Master Guide to Anti-Clinton Memes


The national media have never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton (and, by the same token, elevate a Republican candidate)Politico

The Clinton rules are driven by reporters’ and editors’ desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire. – Vox

My intention here is simple: detail the various narratives and frames (“calculating,” “secretive,” “polarizing,” etc.) that paint Hillary Clinton’s actions in the most negative possible light. These are carefully crafted and patently false scripts, many of which were concocted years ago in GOP oppo shops to demean and dehumanize her. Distinct from legitimate policy critiques, these lazy shortcuts have seeped so deeply into traditional media coverage that it is virtually impossible to read anything about Hillary Clinton without encountering them.

Every public figure is subject to criticism. What is unique in Clinton’s case is that personal attacks which would normally be the province of political opponents and critics are promulgated by the mainstream news media.

To illustrate the convergence, I’ve put together two word mashups. The first is a list of adjectives describing Hillary Clinton drawn from two articles in the conservative publications Townhall and National Review. The second is a compilation of terms from just two weeks of Clinton coverage in (supposedly) non-partisan media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and NBC News. Both yield a grotesque caricature of the actual person, but it is hard to say which is more egregious.

National Review & Townhall: “Lovecraftian monster, the Cthulhu of American politics, short of clever, too old and out of touch, edifice to deceit, slithered out of Washington, Faustian, passion-quelling pantsuit.”

Mainstream media: “Machiavellian, musty-smelling, stale, secretive, calculating, imperious, paranoid, petulant, defiant, devious, scrambles in the dirt.”

Each journalist or media source will justify their particular choice of terms, but the net effect is that mainstream media coverage of Hillary Clinton is soaked in veiled (and sometimes explicit) sexism, politically-charged framing and character assassination. When a New York Times or Washington Post article is indistinguishable from a rightwing publication, something is amiss.

None of this is meant to place Hillary Clinton above reproach, simply to illustrate the complex process by which these memes are fabricated, repeated and reinforced.

For example, a reporter may attribute a negative frame to a political opponent, then subtly echo the same attack line.

Example from the New York Times:

And for someone who has so long been lampooned, and demonized on the right, as overly calculating, playing up her gender as a strength would also allow her to demonstrate her nurturing, maternal — and newly grandmotherly — side to voters whom she may have left cold in the past.

The reader is first primed with the narrative that Hillary Clinton is “overly calculating” then told she is “playing up her gender,” which echoes the theme of calculation. [For a more detailed explanation of how this process works, read about Inoculation Theory.]

National Journal reverses the order, going with the attack first and the priming second:

The media and the American public are familiar with the stale Clinton tricks, which now only play into the GOP caricature that Hillary Clinton is calculating, paranoid, and wholly political.

Memes spread through repetition. In the examples above, the repeated word is “calculating.” Another favorite is “secretive.”

USA Today alludes to Hillary Clinton’s “reputation for secrecy.”

Mirrored by the Washington Post: “her penchant for secrecy.”

NBC News: “Folks, this is the Clinton Way. Secretive.”

TIME: “penchant for secrecy.”

The Hill: “a paranoid, secretive politician.”

New York Times: “[T]he imbroglio could grow into a problem if Mrs. Clinton comes to be seen as unduly secretive or imperious in the months ahead.”

Remember, these instances are from two weeks of coverage in major news outlets. The recursive effect is obvious: the more the word “secrecy” is associated with Hillary Clinton, the more reporters and critics will use it, the more it will be associated with her, the more… you get the point.

A common feature of these memes is that other people’s criticisms are ascribed to Clinton as a negative personal trait. The term “polarizing” is typically peddled by people who are attacking her, thus creating the very polarization they are lamenting. Case in point, from The Hill: Clinton fails to calm email storm. The entire article is about the fact that her opponents intend to keep attacking her. How is that Hillary Clinton’s failure?

Politico uses the same technique, opening an article by calling her “devious” then concluding it by asserting that “it’s hard to win if you’re constantly on the defensive.” See the trap? Attack her, then claim she’s on the defensive.

Similarly, the ‘inevitability’ frame is an artificial perch that others place her on and then try to knock her off. And when her behavior doesn’t conform to the media’s expectations, she is “defiant.”

From The Hill:

While Clinton kept a calm demeanor throughout the press conference, she appeared defiant on one point.

NBC News:

A Defiant Clinton Brushes Off Email Controversy

It goes on and on. Coverage of Hillary Clinton is littered with references to her hair, fashion, health and family – innuendo and insinuation that have no direct relevance to her policies. The terminology used to describe her would be unacceptable for any other respected public figure.

A Washington Post reporter appearing on MSNBC made reference to “Clinton, Inc.” (the implication is obvious). Politico uses the term “Machiavellian” to describe her team’s strategy. Not to be outdone, TIME waxes poetic, describing her response to an attack as a “scramble in the dirt on the crabbed limbs of legal compliance.” The Washington Post compares her to a “stale, musty” old car. The New Yorker prefers the blatantly sexist “petulant.”

Below are the top anti-Clinton memes. See if you can spot them the next time you read about her. Better yet, see if you can find any Hillary Clinton coverage that doesn’t use some version of the following:

• CALCULATING (Scheming, crafty, manipulative)
• SECRETIVE (Suspicious, paranoid, uncommunicative)
• POLARIZING (Divisive, alienating)
• UNTRUSTWORTHY (Corrupt, deceitful, dishonest, unethical)
• OVER-AMBITIOUS (Will do or say anything to win)
• INAUTHENTIC (Disingenuous, fake, unlikable, insincere)
• INHUMAN (Machine-like, robotic, abnormal, cold)
• OVER-CONFIDENT (Inevitable, defiant, imperious, regal)
• OLD (Out of touch, represents the past)


UPDATE 1:  A classic lede from Patrick Healy:

On one side is a crowd of Republicans trying to look presidential. On the other side is a lone Democrat trying to look normal.

Translation: Hillary Clinton is abnormal but trying to manipulate perceptions to appear normal.

UPDATE 2:  From US News:

Clinton is trying to keep the media at bay but at the same time avoid public bursts of anger at them or displays of petulance, which would lessen her likability.

UPDATE 3:  Under the guise of the demeaning question, “Can you be a bad person but a strong leader?” David Brooks uses convoluted logic and fake interrogatories to spread a cornucopia of anti-Clinton tropes:

They tend to have sleazy friends … Their pride is bloated and sensitive … They keep an enemies list and life becomes a matter of settling scores and imagining conspiracies … Maybe once upon a time there was an environment in which ruthless Machiavellians had room to work their dark arts, but we don’t live in Renaissance Italy … They don’t have to think through the dangers of tit-for-tat favor-exchanges with billionaires.

UPDATE 4:  Patrick Healy strikes again, with a tutorial in anti-Clinton memes titled (believe it or not) Hillary Clinton Shows New Willingness to Run a Divisive Campaign. In an illustration of the power of framing, Maggie Haberman, another NYT reporter, tweeted a link to Healy’s piece saying, “a more confident Clinton this time around.” Contrast her choice of words and Healy’s and ask why he avoided her more positive framing. [An hour after I posted this update and tweeted at Healy and Haberman, the headline was changed to: “Hillary Clinton Shows New Willingness to Tackle Risky Issues”]

If the headline isn’t bad enough, consider the terms that appear in this article: “get under her skin, cold, cautious, scandals-be-damned attitude, barreling ahead, not every day that a lawyer like Mrs. Clinton discovers a new constitutional protection, Hillary unbound, twisted herself into knots.”

It’s important to understand the process here: the overall article may make valid political points, but it is delivered in a way that leaves the reader with a negative impression of the subject of the story. This is a quintessential example of how the mainstream media engage in character destruction with Hillary Clinton.

UPDATE 5:  Sexist insinuations and gratuitous editorializing from a NY Times article:

Unlike in 2008, when Mrs. Clinton’s regal bearing was brought low by Barack Obama’s insurgent campaign …

Magically animated from a wax museum to claim what is rightfully hers.

And here’s the tweet the reporter posted as a link to his story: “Queen Hillary and the Everyday Americans of the Round Table”

So much for just reporting the facts.

UPDATE 6:  Here are the words used by a Daily Beast writer in a piece about an innocuous Clinton interview:

Guarded, quibbling, pokerfaced, cagey, defensive, stingy, cautious, self-justifying, pugnacious, inauthentic, desperate, creakily baroque, a bobblehead doll, insincere.

That’s anger speaking, not rational analysis.

[NOTE: Further updates will appear at #HillaryMen]

Pwning Hillary: Inside the Innerati’s Clinton Obsession

hillary-clintonHillary Clinton is indomitable. Famous. Funny. Fearless. The Euclidean center of political gravity. Because of who she is and what she is, because she is a woman in a world where women aren’t supposed to be Hillary Clinton, because she is the yardstick against which the innerati measure their own accomplishments, the slightest whiff of vulnerability triggers a feeding frenzy.

The “innerati” are a motley group of high achievers scattered along the Acela corridor — reporters, pundits, bloggers, politicians, strategists, opinion makers, operatives and insiders who frame the national debate. By luck, effort or circumstance, they are in a position to determine what America thinks and talks about. And more than anything, they want to talk about Hillary Clinton.

Their obsession with her is not just about political rivalry, clickbait, or journalism. It is rooted in their need to belong.

The innerati speak about Hillary Clinton in tones that betray ambition, frustration, admiration, insecurity, envy, and competitiveness. Will she run or won’t she? Is she the frontrunner or isn’t she? How much money does she make? Does she use a private email account or doesn’t she? Who gets to be on the inside with her? Who’s out? Who has access? Who doesn’t?

The innerati want to be ‘in’ for existential validation. To them, Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of ‘in.’ They gravitate to her like moths to light, yearning to be part of her orbit. Falling short, they try to cut her down.

Schoolyard antics shaping our public discourse.

Forget her unparalleled record on women’s rights, the astonishing scope of global good done by the foundation that bears her family’s name, the example of self-discipline and achievement she sets for girls around the world.

No. For the innerati, it’s all about process. Not the what but the how. Not the substance of emails, but the servers. Not the facts but the optics.

For decades, the innerati have indulged in one Hillary Clinton feeding frenzy after another, methodically constructing mountains, only to see them crumble like molehills. With each episode, there’s the breathless hope that she’s finally been taken down, cut down to size, put in “her place.” A “woman’s place.”

But something funny keeps happening. Hillary Clinton only becomes stronger, more respected, more significant, and more popular.

The public sees beyond the negative frames. The chasm between the real Hillary Clinton and the caricature, between the person and the portrait, has become clear. The pervasive and predictable anti-Hillary themes have failed. “Too ambitious.” “Represents the past.” “Will do anything to win.” “Calculating.” “Secretive.” “Polarizing.” These tropes have served the innerati for so long that they instinctively return to them. They’re doing it now. To no avail.

I have a personal take on why Hillary Clinton’s reputation is so resilient. Early on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2006, a week after she had hired me as an advisor and after an outbreak of violence in the Middle East, my home phone rang. “Peter, it’s Hillary, I was just calling to make sure your friends and family in Lebanon are OK.” It immediately struck me: the reason Hillary Clinton has so many fiercely loyal friends and advisors, so many fans and supporters, is because of her character, her friendship, her loyalty.

It sounds tautological but she is who she is because of who she is. A singular human being, a unique combination of inner fortitude, intelligence and vision.

During a particularly vicious sexist attack in 2008, Hillary Clinton used the phrase “tip of the spear” to describe her role as a woman aiming at the ultimate glass ceiling.

That glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered in a quarter millennium for a reason. The innerati’s obsessive quest to dull the spear, to pwn Hillary Clinton, may not be gender-biased on an individual level, but the collective effect is to try to set up insurmountable obstacles, to block her path.

That’s what the institutional sexism that has kept that glass ceiling intact will look like if Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016. Not a direct attack on her gender, not cheap shots about her hair or clothes, not vaguely misogynistic insinuations, but a gleeful mob effect at the slightest suggestion of weakness.

If she runs, for the sake of my young daughter, I hope she powers through it. I hope the spear finally hits its mark.

Children subjected to horrific punishments in American schools and detention centers

The New York Times writes:

Solitary confinement can be psychologically damaging for any inmate, but it is especially perverse when it is used to discipline children and teenagers. At juvenile detention centers and adult prisons and jails across the country, minors are locked in isolated cells for 22 hours or more a day. A recent Justice Department review of suicides in juvenile facilities found that more than half of the minors who had killed themselves had done so in isolation.

The problem isn’t isolated to detention centers. This story is bone-chilling, describing what is essentially the torture of a child:

Rose had speech and language delays. At school, her mother and I found Rose standing alone on the cement floor of a basement mop closet, illuminated by a single light bulb. There was nothing in the closet for a child — no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.

Rose got dressed and we removed her from the school. We later learned that Rose had been locked in the closet five times that morning. She said that during the last confinement, she needed to use the restroom but didn’t want to wet her outfit. So she disrobed. Rather than help her, the school called us and then covered the narrow door’s small window with a file folder, on which someone had written “Don’t touch!”

We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.

Continue Reading..

Why violence is worse than other existential threats

“No more hurting people” - Martin Richard, 8, killed in Boston Marathon attack.

Violence: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health states that violence is “among the leading causes of death among people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females.”

Millions of people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year. What is infinitely disturbing is the myriad forms this violence takes and how pervasive and borderless it is. Across the globe and across the centuries, humans have committed the most barbaric acts, limited only by their imaginations, and the march of civilization has done little to change the grim reality that on any given day, in every corner of our planet, gruesome and ungodly things are done to women, children and men.

Growing up in Beirut during the 70s and early 80s, I witnessed terrible acts of violence, car bombs at markets and artillery strikes on residential neighborhoods, bloody bodies and corpses in the street, the carnage of urban warfare. I saw the darker aspects of human nature, the willingness of people to brutalize one another. After four decades on this planet, I still cannot fathom how a man can rape a baby, how people can gas, hack, strangle, shoot, bomb, smother, burn, and torture their fellow humans. Rather than become dulled and inured, I am ever more appalled and horrified by violence.

Preventing violence should be our highest priority. Tragically and deplorably, it is not. For every paroxysm of grief and shock over a mass killing, there is apathy in the face of events like this:

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore. Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair. “We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Something like this should stop the world in its tracks, but it doesn’t:

Jessica Marie Lunsford was a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in Homosassa, Florida in the early morning of February 24, 2005. … Couey entered Lunsford’s house through an unlocked door at about three o’clock in the morning, awakened Lunsford, told her “Don’t yell or nothing,” and told her to follow him out of the house. He admitted in a videotaped and recorded deposition to raping Lunsford in his bedroom. Lunsford was kept in Couey’s bed that evening, where he raped her again in the morning. Couey put her in his closet and ordered her to remain there, which she did as he reported for work at “Billy’s Truck Lot”. Three days after he abducted her, Couey tricked Jessica into getting into two garbage bags by saying he was going to ‘take her home’. He instead buried her alive as he decided he could do nothing else with the girl. According to the publicly released autopsy reports Lunsford had poked two fingers through the bags before suffocating to death.

Or this:

Turkish police have recovered the body of a 16-year-old girl they say was buried alive by relatives in an “honor” killing carried out as punishment for talking to boys. The girl, who has been identified only by the initials MM, was found in a sitting position with her hands tied, in a two-meter hole dug under a chicken pen outside her home in Kahta, in the south-eastern province of Adiyaman. … Media reports said the father had told relatives he was unhappy that his daughter – one of nine children – had male friends. The grandfather is said to have beaten her for having relations with the opposite sex. A postmortem examination revealed large amounts of soil in her lungs and stomach, indicating that she had been alive and conscious while being buried.

No fate seems more ghastly or any act more abhorrent than the kind of evil deeds described above. That these things occur every day, every hour, across the planet is horrific beyond words. That the world is largely apathetic about it is loathsome.

There is something qualitatively different, something worse about violence than other existential threats. It may be impossible to distinguish between the mortal terror of being trapped under a building in an earthquake and being trapped under a building after a car bomb, between the agony of death from cancer and being beaten to death. But there is a difference. We all die in some manner or another, but an act of human will, of intentionality, a choice by one person to harm another, is not the same as an act or accident of nature or a cruel vagary of fate. The immediacy, intentionality, and physicality of a violent act sets it apart, precisely because free will is involved, because it is a choice in the moment, because it is avoidable by virtue of being the will of a person.

Although the relative scale is disproportionate (vastly more people are at risk from hunger and disease) violence touches virtually everyone, directly or indirectly. Is there a single person reading this who hasn’t been affected by it in some way or who isn’t concerned about being harmed or having their loved ones harmed? In many ways, violence – the fear of it, the reality of it, its history, and its many representations/permutations in art, film, music, media and modern culture – defines our modern life.

I believe that the decision by an individual or group of individuals to destroy or inflict damage on others, to rob them of their freedom, to strip them of their dignity, to dehumanize them, is fundamentally worse than any other mortal threat we face. Violence is an affront to our souls, a stain on our humanity.

Should it be our top order of business to eradicate violence? Yes. Is it possible to do so? The report I referenced at the top of this piece is a good place to start.