Hillary is talking! She’s finally talking!
The Hillary campaign has finally announced that she will make her first major stump speech on June 13 and some members of the press are jumping up and down like school children. A traditional campaign event! Big speech to adoring crowd, applause, cameras, pompous words. It’s a red-letter day for reporters because covering a campaign speech is billable.
Hillary is on a listening tour and those don’t involve the journalists. For the press, they are unbillable. If you haven’t heard of Hillary’s listening tour then either you don’t have cable news (like me) or you don’t read the news on the internet (unlike me). They are hard for traditional media to grasp and to cover. Where is the press release, where do I place the camera, why isn’t she taking my questions? This lack of tradition has made some members of the press angry and perplexed. They can’t write the copy. The traditional soundbites and campaign themes that are easy to cover are nonexistent — “Morning in America,” “A Thousand Points of Light,” “Hope and Change.” They can’t hear her respond to the voters in a listening tour.
That leaves reporters huddling on cable news shows and chewing the fat. Especially the journalists who overeat at the campaign trough of presidential races.
Microsoft and General Electric once founded a cable news station called MSNBC that promotes political punditry. Sometimes the talking heads there make their way over to the NBC show I sometimes refer to as “Meet the Stress.” Recently, anchor Chuck Todd and former Obama adviser David Axelrod bonded over Hillary’s reluctance to answer questions from the press. They said it worried them. Todd listened to campaign seer Axelrod as he expounded on the few times Hillary took questions from the press corps. He was disappointed. Todd offered a subtle tell about the importance of responding to journalists covering your campaign, “It makes the press conference seem relevant.”
Hey Chuck Todd: The people on a listening tour are far more relevant than the D.C. media cocktail crowd. They are the voters.
A listening tour defenestrates campaign tradition. Campaigns in America are run like baseball – there are rules and there are crowds. Axelrod is a Red Sox man. Todd is so wedded to sports he can’t discuss politics without it. “If you don’t have sports analogies, what are you supposed to use?”
How can you hit a home run when you just listen?
Even GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina tried to draw Clinton out recently by staging a campaign event at the same South Carolina hotel where Hillary was speaking. Fiorina tried to sharpen the differences between her and Clinton by lauding traditional press conferences, claiming “…we’ll actually take questions!”
But she, too, misses the point. Elections are about the voters, not the press.
Listening tours change campaigns. Cable news pundits are accustomed to being courted so they can shape narratives; without being wooed they are on shaky ground.
Now that Hillary is giving them a belated traditional first month campaign gift of the “stump speech,” Axelrod must be gnashing his teeth because he surely thought he would have at least until September to comment on how bad a campaigner Hillary is, while gleefully shoveling talking points to anyone on the left side of the Democratic party to challenge her.
I gave up my cable access in 2008 and my last memories of it are painful. When I hear the word ‘cable’ I sometimes have nightmarish images of pundits such as Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann spewing Hillary hate with their neck veins bulging and I feel a migraine forming. I don’t need it.
In her campaign speech, Hillary will get out the points she wants to make in her own words, carefully chosen so snippets cannot be removed and reworked by various pundits so they can declare, “She’s a corporatist!” “A war monger!” “Old!”
The D.C. media cocktail crowd (the top earners) are nervous and are hoping for the soundbites they need in order to spin the narrative and pick the nominee. They want to say something about bases and wins and hits.
Deep down they are getting the message that they are now on Hillary’s pathway and Hillary is on the people’s road. Hilary is doing what she does best – working.
Campaign speeches are easy to cover. Listening tours require work.
Jennifer Hall Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films, including Ghostbusters 2 in visual effects, and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being distributed nationally and more public screenings are upcoming! Jennifer was recently named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project. To schedule an interview with Jennifer or book her as a speaker, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Wikimedia Commons/in the public domain/Michael Gross