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Campaigns in Waiting: The Press Loved Bush's But Dumps On Clinton

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Source: Media Matters For America

For a candidate who enjoys historically strong polling support for her possible White House push, Hillary Clinton is sure getting heaps of bad press as supporters await her decision on whether to run for president in 2016.

According to endless Beltway commentary regarding her non-candidacy, Clinton's overseeing an ominous "shadow campaign" that features a "political hit list" to keep track of "treacherous" foes. She's linked "to a culture of payback and bare-knuckles politics." Her non-candidacy is peaking too soon and it lacks "transparency"; it's a "predestined" "train wreck." "Indecision" is becoming a trademark. She's taking a "wrong turn" and repeating her mistakes from 2008. Her presence "unsettles" Democrats, she doesn't stand for anything, and her campaign needs a better manager!

Keep in mind Clinton isn't even a candidate yet. And the general election won't be held for more than 1,000 days. But that hasn't stopped the Beltway press from obsessing over her on a daily basis and routinely detailing all the things wrong with Clinton's would-be run. Because being the dominant would-be Democratic frontrunner and leading all GOP contenders in the polls is suddenly a bad thing?

Well, it's certainly not a good thing:

PoliticoHillary's No Slam Dunk in 2016

The AtlanticCan Anyone Stop Hillary? Absolutely

National Journal: Why You Shouldn't Pay Attention to Hillary Clinton's Massive 2016 Lead

Can you spot the trend? And can you imagine the negative tone of the press coverage if Clinton's poll numbers were soft?

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Obviously, candidates ought to face media skepticism. And over the last 20 years, few have faced more doubts in the press than Hillary Clinton. But isn't it odd that right now it seems the widely agreed-upon Beltway narrative regarding Clinton is that her possible campaign is already in deep trouble. That's the spin despite the fact that poll after poll puts her in one of the most enviable positions of any potential candidate in modern American history.

Talk about a vast disconnect between the people and the press.

Here's what's curious: Look at the sour assessments that surround the chattering class's Clinton appraisal and then compare that to the last time the Republican Party had a presidential campaign-in-waiting. As is the case with Clinton today, that featured a candidate with global name recognition, a big lead in the primary polls and a seemingly bottomless well of generous donors. That was George W. Bush prior to 2000, and the press had very few doubts about his mission.   

"The national news media have built up George W. Bush like a rock star," observed one Florida newspaper columnist in 1999. And that media worship started long before Bush formally declared his candidacy in June of that year. It began in earnest when Bush won a re-election landslide as the governor of Texas in 1998.

Back then, while Bush lurked on the sidelines and gobbled up endorsement and campaign cash prior to his official candidacy, the press was amazed by his good fortune. There was no chronic hand-wringing. Instead, reporters and pundits marveled at Bush's standing and the unmatched infrastructure his team had built.

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For instance, I've gone back and read dozens of New York Times articles about Bush from that period and trust me, the doom-and-gloom that often permeates today's Clinton coverage simply did not exist.

A brief sampling, from March 8, 1999:

"In a grand pageant of political might, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas introduced the 10 members of his Presidential exploratory committee today, an ethnically and ideologically diverse tableau of some of the Republican Party's biggest names and most promising stars."

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a (more...)

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