Man of the Year

by Henry on September 27, 2007

Interesting and creepy…

Early this summer, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign for president learned that the men’s magazine GQ was working on a story the campaign was sure to hate: an account of infighting in Hillaryland. So Clinton’s aides pulled a page from the book of Hollywood publicists and offered GQ a stark choice: Kill the piece, or lose access to planned celebrity coverboy Bill Clinton. Despite internal protests, GQ editor Jim Nelson met the Clinton campaign’s demands, which had been delivered by Bill Clinton’s spokesman, Jay Carson, several sources familiar with the conversations said. GQ writer George Saunders traveled with Clinton to Africa in July, and Clinton is slated to appear on the cover of GQ’s December issue, in which it traditionally names a “Man of the Year,” according magazine industry sources.

The journalist who wrote this up describes it as a story about access, but it also speaks to the strange mix of features you get in magazines like GQ - fashion and triviality leavened with the odd ‘serious’ story to burnish the magazine’s image. “Vanity Fair” – the magazine about celebrities who wish they were intellectuals, and intellectuals who wish they were celebrities – is the classic practitioner of this weird mix-and-match. It’s unsurprising that when GQ’s editors have to choose, they would decide to keep the coverboy stuff that sells copies – but I hope they end up publicly embarrassed over this (and the Clinton campaign too; it doesn’t say nice things about their modus operandi).

{ 36 comments }

1

nick s 09.27.07 at 8:01 pm

Worth remembering: the Esquire Clinton cover from December 2000. The staff at GQ certainly do.

2

Steve LaBonne 09.27.07 at 8:04 pm

That GQ works this way is not the alarming thing. That our entire Washington “news” media apparat works this way (i.e. “access” is everyhting), THAT’S the alarming thing. And has a lot to do with the condition into which this country has sunk.

3

SomeCallMeTim 09.27.07 at 8:07 pm

and the Clinton campaign too; it doesn’t say nice things about their modus operandi

What, that they’re devoted to winning? Be a damn shame if more Democrats felt that way.

4

Steve LaBonne 09.27.07 at 8:12 pm

Yeah, that’s one of the few things I like about Hillary- at least she knows how to play hardball. (Just ask Rick Lazio.)

5

KCinDC 09.27.07 at 8:41 pm

I’m not sure “an account of infighting in Hillaryland” is such a loss. Sounds like they traded a gossip story for a celebrity cover.

6

Adam 09.27.07 at 8:41 pm

Ditto. This is hardball, but it’s perfectly fair and legal hardball.

7

American Citizen 09.27.07 at 8:48 pm

This doesn’t make Hillary look too bad. Campaign infighting should be irrelevant, what matters is what’s being said by the candidate. Granted, infighting is one indication a campaign is crashing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

8

Rich B. 09.27.07 at 9:10 pm

So Clinton’s aides pulled a page from the book of Hollywood publicists and offered GQ a stark choice: . . . GQ editor Jim Nelson met the Clinton campaign’s demands, which had been delivered by Bill Clinton’s spokesman, Jay Carson, several sources familiar with the conversations said.

Am I missing something? Where is the actual connection to the Hillary Clinton campaign? As I read this, Bill Clinton’s spokesman said to kill the story of lose access to Bill Clinton. There are no actual “[Hillary] Clinton’s aides” mentioned as in any way involved.

Now, granted, Bill is certainly a Hillary supporterThis reads as one step away from: “Hillary Clinton’s aides violently put down a protest in Burma today. The Burmese monks met Clinton’s demands for military dictatorship, which were delivered by bullet fired by the Burmese military, several sources familiar with the situation said.”

9

KCinDC 09.27.07 at 9:23 pm

Rich, you consider Bill merely “a Hillary supporter”?

10

Bloix 09.27.07 at 10:11 pm

So Bill Clinton has an obligation to lend his image to a publication that was going to print a gossipy article savaging his wife? I don’t see it. If you think journalistic ethics apply to gossip, then GQ had an ethical obligation to print the article and let the cover pic go; but Bill Clinton had no ethical obligation to relieve GQ of the quandary. (PS can you imagine what a piece of lying shit the article must have been?)

11

lemuel pitkin 09.27.07 at 11:27 pm

As otehrs have noted, this story makes GQ look bad, but it makes Hillary Clinton look good. It’s amazing that after all these years and thousands and thousands of blog posts about the treatment Democctrats get from the media, people still aren’t comfortable with doing anything about it except complaining.

12

djw 09.27.07 at 11:55 pm

I’m with the commenters here; the press has treated the Clinton’s in a jawdroppingly inane and petty treatment from the press for the last 15 years. Seeing them fight back a little doesn’t bother me in the slightest; if anything it makes me a bit optimistic.

13

P O'Neill 09.28.07 at 12:42 am

It’s weird that the Politico is acting haughty about this one. None of them have ever pulled punches in exchange for access in their lives?

14

jim 09.28.07 at 2:30 am

I don’t see the surprise. This is absolutely standard in the celebrity mag business. You don’t get access to my celebrity if you publish something my other celebrity doesn’t like. GQ is a celebrity mag. The only mildly surprising thing is that the Clintons are celebrities. They don’t even have tattoos.

15

Neil 09.28.07 at 2:33 am

I doubt this even counts as hardball.

16

KCinDC 09.28.07 at 2:33 am

To be clear, if the lost GQ story had been about some wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton or her campaign or about something else significant in deciding about her fitness to be a candidate or to be president, then my reaction would be quite different. But “an account of infighting in Hillaryland” sounds like the usual moronic gossipy inside-the-Beltway drivel that we have more than enough of as it is.

17

john m. 09.28.07 at 12:20 pm

Personally I find it just unbelieveable that any politician would try and influence the free media in the land of the free and greatest democracy in the world ever. What is the world coming to? I mean, imagine if this was happening all the time and the free, independent, objective media was actually pandering to politicians whims all the time? Where woudl we get the truth from? Poland? France?

I love sarcasm. There is a touch of irony to all this too given the cacophony of voices yakking on about the MSM’s obvious bias…

18

Katherine 09.28.07 at 12:20 pm

Nope sorry, I’m going to come out on the side of the complainers on this one. I have a lot of time for Hillary Rodham-Clinton, but this is bad behaviour in my book. It’s the kind of crap that leads to the attitude that if a paper/media outlet isn’t nice to a politician then they don’t get access to a politician, and that is dangerous for democracy.

And saying that this was Bill Clinton’s doing rather than Hillary’s is daft hair-splitting.

19

Henry 09.28.07 at 1:02 pm

what katherine said – if we’ve spent a fair chunk of the past few years complaining about the supineness of the press and its unwillingness to report stories that might upset sources with whom reporters have long term relationships, how this is screwed up, undemocratic etc etc etc it’s a bit rich to say that when our folks do the same thing it’s acceptable hardball, ‘not even hardball’ etc etc etc.

20

Barry 09.28.07 at 4:30 pm

No, Henry, it’s figuring that that’s the way that the game is played. That the press *won’t* change, or will only change if they realize that they can’t just serve the GOP, and f*ck the Democrats.

They play the refs, we gotta play the refs, or get played.

21

Katherine 09.28.07 at 4:37 pm

Barry, that just sounds like that piss-poor excuse “don’t blame the player, blame the game”. The more you play a game you think is wrong, the less likely it is that the game will ever change. Refusing to play a game that you think is wrong is called principles.

22

djw 09.28.07 at 4:44 pm

But letting the media do hit pieces with lots of access isn’t not playing the game, it’s playing to lose.

23

lemuel pitkin 09.28.07 at 4:51 pm

The principle that candidates should do nothing to prevent gossipy press attacks on their campaigns — if there’s such a principle at all — surely pales in comparison to the damage another Republican administration would do.

“OK, President Giuliani bombed Iran, killing hundreds of thousands, but at least Hillary Clinton didn’t twist any arms to get better coverage. My conscience is clear.”

I’d far, far rather have an asshole like LBJ who is willing to play fast and loose to pass the Civil Rights Act and Medicare, than a squeaky-clean Hubert Humphrey.

Do the ends justify the means? sure, sometimes they do.

24

lemuel pitkin 09.28.07 at 4:55 pm

Also, Henry, you haven’t addressed the distinction between the ethics of GQ’s conduct, and the HRC campaign’s. Why shouldn’t the campaign use Bill’s celebrity status as effectively as possible on behalf of their candidate? If Bill was invited to appear at a Republican fundraiser and refused to go, would you find that “creepy” too?

25

SomeCallMeTim 09.28.07 at 5:03 pm

Refusing to play a game that you think is wrong is called principles.

Some people would call it “quitting.” The responsibility here belongs to the media. HRC’s responsibility is to win. She’s at least taking actions consistent with her job.

26

tekel 09.28.07 at 5:30 pm

Like many other commenters, I see nothing wrong with Billary working together on PR. It’s much better to do this BEFORE the hit piece comes out and pre-empt any resulting negative publicity, than have Bill reacting to a negative treatment after the fact, and have a SECOND wave of negative publicity as a result.

If you have the power to make change, but you decline to exercise it, do you really have it at all? It’s good to see that Hillary has some power, and the will to use it.

27

Katherine 09.28.07 at 8:44 pm

Well Lordy, I didn’t realise it would be such a controversial position that HRC should try to win honourably, rather than just try to win. If you think that a politicians only responsibility is to win, I presume you had no problem with the schenanigans of the Republicans in 2000 then? I mean, they were just trying to win, right?

28

lemuel pitkin 09.28.07 at 9:53 pm

didn’t realise it would be such a controversial position that HRC should try to win honourably

Maybe that’s it. Or maybe you just haven’t convinced us — or even offered any arguments, really — that what the Clinton campaign did was dishonorable.

29

djw 09.28.07 at 10:13 pm

I presume you had no problem with the schenanigans of the Republicans in 2000 then? I mean, they were just trying to win, right?

I really don’t think you believe using leverage to try to to limit negative press coverage and voter suppression/cheating in an election.

Obviously, everyone here sees important legal and ethical lines that shouldn’t be crossed, even by those trying to win. What we’re puzzled about is why this ordinary PR act is thought to be on the wrong side of the line.

30

djw 09.28.07 at 10:14 pm

Er, what LP said.

and the first sentence ends with “are comparable.”

31

vivian 09.29.07 at 1:28 am

Henry (19): “what katherine said – if we’ve spent a fair chunk of the past few years complaining about the supineness of the press and its unwillingness to report stories that might upset sources with whom reporters have long term relationships, how this is screwed up, undemocratic etc etc etc”

Is that all you’ve had to complain about the conduct of mass media? Because some of us have been horrified that they take the laziest, cheapest and most superficial line at all times. That does mean refusing to risk cozy relationships with sources, but it also means slashing the budgets for actual reporting on actual stories of political import, and replacing them with the gossip reporters collect without leaving home. Like PR sheets faxed over from other campaign HQ’s about things like “frontrunner’s campaign in disarray.” Remember, Jayson Blair was praised almost to the end for being so productive, collecting so many interesting stories from afar while filing expense claims from Brooklyn coffeeshops. You know, ‘doing more with less’.

So, if you want to draw an equivalence between GQ and the NY Times, I could be persuaded that their reporting is much of a muchness. But that ain’t praising GQ. (1) it still doesn’t make the gossip into news. (2) why not complain that GQ should have chosen the story over the interview? Surely their ethics are more in question here than Hillary’s? (Sorry to pile on, but Henry and Katherine, I’m really surprised.)

32

c.l. ball 09.29.07 at 4:19 am

Wow! #3-8,10-15 seem to excuse blackmail.

HRC and WJC tell GQ: if you want Bill to appear on your cover, kill the story about Hilary’s campaign. There’s a word for that — blackmail. It doesn’t help Bill or his causes to not work with GQ unless his purpose is to punish GQ for printing unfavorable stories about his wife’s campaign. Bill is not refusing to work with GQ, he’s threatening not to work with GQ.

That said, indeed, infighting stories are not in and of themselves that interesting, but if the infighting is over policy differences, like how to approach the Iraq war or healthcare, then it is.

33

seth e 09.29.07 at 5:36 am

The most famous example historically of this sort of magazinein the us is of course the new Yorker

You can judge the strength of a public social and political culture by the strength of its middlebrow publications. The comments on celebrity and intellectual seriousness are silly. The clintons played Hardball and won. The refusal to understand, and then accept, that politics like all social life[!] is theater has cost the democrats too many elections.

There’s a reason the demoocratic renewal such as it is is not being led by academics.. .

34

tib 09.29.07 at 6:03 am

I take it no one saw “The War Room”. I hate to break it to you but this is how the press has operated since the dawn of the Republic. Sure, every once in a while a paper decides a story is too newsworthy to give in, but stories get killed all the time. It ain’t like in the movies.

Now, maybe this is “dangerous for democracy” but I think that after a couple hundred years of back and forth between papers and politicians the danger is pretty minimal. The problem with the press in the Bush years is really self censorship.

35

soullite 09.29.07 at 10:30 pm

People who have no problem with this, but rail about how the press toadies to Bush should take a look in the fucking mirror. That’s what a fucking hypocrite looks like.

Thank you. That will be all.

36

Christmas 10.01.07 at 7:17 pm

I’d be pretty damn interested to read about infighting in the Clinton camp, especially if that infighting touched on who was telling Clinton what to say on foreign policy, Iraq, Iran, Israel, etc. And of course this is shameful behavior on the part of the Clintons. Not that I expect the rah-rah Dem crowd to accept that… most of the “netroots” types are already gearing up to accept a Clinton nomination/Clinton II presidency and lowering their standards accordingly, acting as apologists for the DLCers they suspect will be back in the White House before long. After all, better to throw in one’s lot with the neolibs than run the risk of being called a Naderite.

When the Clintons are back in the White House and it turns out they’ve kept outsourcing torture to friendly dictators through the CIA, as Bush is doing now and as Bill Clinton did before him, I fully expect to hear the same excuses coming from Markos Moulitsas that we currently hear from the knuckle-draggers at Red State. At some level it’s just team jerseys with these people.

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