The Great American Brainwash: Half a Billion Dollars to Turn the Public against Hillary

By Peter Daou

The New York Times looks behind the curtain of the shadowy conservative effort to demolish Hillary Clinton’s favorable public image:

An expensive and sophisticated effort is underway to test and refine the most potent lines of attack against Mrs. Clinton, and, ultimately, to persuade Americans that she does not deserve their votes. While the general election is 16 months away, Republican groups are eager to begin building a powerful case against the woman they believe will be the Democratic nominee, and to infuse the public consciousness with those messages

The effort to vilify Mrs. Clinton could ultimately cost several hundred million dollars, given the variety and volume of political organizations involved.

Crossroads, the group behind this effort, is led by none other than Karl Rove, the strategist who brought us George W Bush.  

Crossroads plans to use a kaleidoscopic approach for its anti-Clinton campaign. In order to target particular voters with tailored messages, the campaign will feature tools including television and radio spots, digital ads on mobile devices, and pre-roll, the commercials that play before videos online.

The goal is to indoctrinate the public with anti-Hillary narratives, to insert carefully tested negative memes into the public debate. It is a form of mental manipulation, intended to discourage critical thinking and create predetermined biases in the minds of voters.

So far, Hillary has withstood decades of such coordinated attacks, emerging stronger than ever for this presidential run. That doesn’t mean these GOP brainwashing tactics aren’t a serious threat.

I’ve written at length about the cornucopia of fabricated anti-Hillary themes permeating mainstream media coverage and commentary:

Various narratives and frames (“calculating,” “secretive,” “polarizing,” etc.) paint Hillary Clinton’s actions in the most negative possible light. They 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. 

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 regurgitated, repeated and reinforced.

As a point of reference, the top anti-Hillary frames I've identified are:

• 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)

When reporters, pundits and critics across the political spectrum repeat these terms, they are unwittingly (and sometimes wittingly) doing the work of groups like Rove’s Crossroads. And in certain instances, they are also reinforcing the gender-based “wall of words” confronting Hillary:

The dizzying array of dehumanizing and demeaning terms targeting Hillary in recent weeks (Machiavellian, Lovecraftian, slithering, monstrous, imperious, musty, petulant, paranoid, stale, scornful, regal, devious, deceitful, robotic, abnormal, etc.) is a concrete manifestation of the gender barrier in American politics. It constitutes a “wall of words” blocking her path to the presidency. 

It is not an accident or coincidence that the woman with the best chance to cross the White House finish line faces a constant stream of invective, a near-manic desire to take her down. That is the gender barrier in action. It is the use of words as weapons, with the objective of preventing a woman from attaining the top rung of the political power ladder.

As the 2016 campaign heats up, it is crucial for voters to understand the process by which a false image of Hillary is created. What people think they know about Hillary is often the result of sophisticated, focus-grouped memes methodically injected into the political bloodstream.

The mission of #HillaryMen is to bring this nefarious process to light and to tear down the wall of words barring Hillary from the presidential finish line.


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.