In 1992, Andrew Rosenthal made a major contribution to media failure when he reported on President George H.W. Bush’s trip to a grocers’ convention where new technology that enabled scanners to weigh groceries and read mangled bar codes. This wasn’t a typical scanner but one making dramatic technological advances. The pool reporter there to witness the technology and the president’s reaction to it said he was impressed.
Here’s how Rosenthal, who in good journalisming! style didn’t witness the event, wrote this up:
I mention this because it became a major, if completely false, story. Out-of-touch President Bush tries to connect with common man but doesn’t even understand scanner technology! Why, it’s as if he’s never been in a grocery store! The late-night jokes were many, and he went on to defeat. It was so false that even Snopes had to admit it was a complete hit job. President Bush was a wealthy man who couldn’t pull off the common man schtick, even if this wasn’t part of his particular effort to seem relatable. The media did what they do and crushed him.
Cut to April 7. A woman who, according to the safest of bets, has not driven a car or purchased a carton of milk in 30-odd years is running for president. She faces a problem. People find her difficult to relate to. She and her husband used their access to government to go from dirt broke, they say, to becoming some of the wealthiest people in the entire country. She’s distant, kind of crotchety with critics, and disdainful of the common man. Her handlers decide to try to make her appear normal. They had her order a burrito a few months ago while on the road. It was painful, fooling only Mark Halperin.
I can’t make you watch the above clip, but you should. Can I make you watch it? Skip halfway through it to 45 seconds or so. It’s really fun to watch it in comparison with the Rosenthal hit above. Mark Halperin says that it’s “fun and new!” to watch Hillary Clinton order a burrito. He literally says, “We have never seen her get a burrito before. Fun and new.” The shot at 1:09 looks like a hostage film, with Clinton and her Girl Friday Huma Abedin failing to be convincing as Chipotle customers before they sit alone in the restaurant.
Today she rode a New York City subway for a total distance of nine blocks, or the equivalent of a few-minute walk. And the air was ripe for many jokes, of the kind that the media make if you are a Republican. But instead journalists tweeted and published stories that took it totally seriously and legitimate. The effort to make Clinton seem like, you know, just a typical subway rider, y’all? It works when you have a friendly media:
Here’s CBS News’ reporter who covers Democratic presidential candidates:
Dan Merica was the pool reporter who had this difficult task of covering the historic ride:
Mission accomplished, m’lady!
Clinton had a ton of trouble swiping “her” subway card through the turnstile. But reporters had her back. It wasn’t that she was unfamiliar with the trip, that had literally nothing to do with it, and don’t you dare say it! I might cry! It’s just that it’s tough, ok? It’s tough!
It was five swipes, and it could be a visual that Rosenthal and all of the rest of political journalism would run wild with, if Clinton’s politics were different from those who inhabit most newsrooms. But they don’t! So she gets the full helpful treatment.
Here’s how Merica reports the brave story of the five, actually, swipes:
Yes, it took Hillary Clinton three or four swipes to get through the turnstile. Also, it takes everyone three or four swipes.
Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) April 7, 2016
BuzzFeed valiantly wrote, “Hillary Clinton couldn’t get through the subway turnstile, suffered like every New Yorker.” NBC Nightly News went with, “In scene many New Yorkers know well, Hillary Clinton runs into trouble getting through the subway turnstile.” CNN: “Politicians, just like us. The struggle is real when your NYC subway card doesn’t work.” Twitter turned it into a courageous moment for their poorly designed iMoment tab, where they push political stories on the Left.
How did this
crass political stunt brave and historic event happen?
How Clinton's subway trip came together: Clinton's NY campaign has wanted to do it since they launched and pitched it hard last week.
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) April 7, 2016
See, last week a local rag made a big hullaballoo about how Bernie Sanders doesn’t ride the New York subway or something. He thought they still used tokens when they actually use little magnetic cards. So Clinton assumed she could get media to carry her water by highlighting that she does know how to ride a subway, theoretically, and is a real person who would. (Fact check: Nope and nope.) But as for the carrying water? Safe bet.
See, when George H.W. Bush is pleased with new technology that no one has yet seen, Rosenthal and his ilk — Rachel Maddow repeated the lie just months ago — will twist the story into how he is out of touch. When Clinton struggles to ride a New York City subway, it’s a normal trip yet also a visionquest the likes of which we have never seen.
Simmer down, y’all. Don’t get taken for rides so easily.