The #HillaryMen Media Manual: How to Talk to the Press About Hillary Clinton

By Peter Daou and Tom Watson

A central component of our role as #HillaryMen is to identify and rebut media coverage of Hillary Clinton that we believe is unfair, inappropriate or that reflects implicit or explicit gender bias. We approach that task with sensitivity to the journalists and publications who are accustomed to receiving criticism from all sides in political reporting.

Our backgrounds inform that sensitivity. Tom was a print journalist early in his career, an investigative reporter who covered politics, and has written for many outlets over the past three decades, including The New York Times, Forbes, and The Daily Beast. Peter has a long history of dealing directly with the media for national campaigns, has been cited in many publications, was a Salon columnist, and remains a prolific writer.

We understand the daily pressures of the beat, the huge online content monster that needs feeding, and the task of advancing the story and adding value for readers. Covering a presidential campaign is a tough job - it demands stamina, both physical and intellectual. 

Being respectful and mindful of the media’s challenges does not prevent us from conducting a robust defense of Hillary and firmly rejecting what we’ve labeled the “wall of words” blocking her path to the White House:

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.

Over the past two decades, the mainstream media have been prime purveyors of anti-Clinton narratives. Indeed, most of the adjectives in the paragraph above are drawn from major news publications, not fringe conservative sites. The impact on Hillary’s public image is not insignificant. Although she is widely admired and out-polls her 2016 rivals, she is not immune to the constant barrage of negative framing from news outlets who are perceived as opinion leaders. Left unchecked, that negativity will have a dampening effect on her candidacy.

The rise of social media and democratization of opinion has not eliminated the role of the mainstream media as leading participants in the public debate. Their reach, history, resources and perceived legitimacy give them the capacity to shape the national conversation by injecting storylines and frames that are disseminated through social channels.

How often do we hear that Hillary will “do anything to win,” that she is polarizing, over-ambitious, defiant, secretive, regal, robotic? Those terms do not just materialize out of thin air. They have a long history, as we’ve explained in our Hillary Decoder:

These are carefully crafted and patently false scripts, many of which were concocted in GOP oppo shops to demean and dehumanize her.

The adversarial relationship between Hillary and the media was a key factor in her 2008 bid for the presidency. Coverage of Hillary was replete with negative memes and the wall of words proved to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Our objective as #HillaryMen is to prevent that from happening a second time. We want to show the media that there is a network of thinking, reading, watching supporters who will speak up on Hillary’s behalf anytime they resort to the usual anti-Clinton tropes. And respectful interaction with journalists helps them to understand how Hillary supporters really think, why they support her, and how important her candidacy is to them.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a set of ground rules for #HillaryMen who want to engage with the press in defense of Hillary.

1. BE ACTIVE

Journalists and pundits have never been more accessible. Many political reporters use Twitter as part of their beat reporting and to directly interact with readers. We urge you to follow them, get to know their writing, politely engage, and let them know #HillaryMen are out there.

2. CONNECT

You won’t get a response from everyone - reporters are busy and media schedules can be taxing. But some will engage and you should make the most of that connection, getting your point(s) across directly and thoughtfully. Don’t over-communicate; a brief conversation can be sufficient to make your case.

3. BE YOURSELF

As you engage with journalists on social media, follow this rule of thumb: if the reporter was sitting next to you at your favorite neighborhood cafe, how would you address her? Maintain that face-to-face voice and be yourself. Let the media know why you support Hillary.

4. BE POSITIVE

Reporters take pride in their work, whether or not we agree with what they’re saying. Don’t just criticize the pieces you disagree with but let the writer know when you enjoy a fair and enlightening story or segment. And share those good stories with your network.

5. BE FACTUAL

Our ironclad rule of media criticism is to avoid personal attacks and insults. No matter how egregious the anti-Hillary framing, how sexist the terminology, stick to the facts and the written words. Cite statistics or polls, and provide links and direct quotes. Be firm and concise and let the reporter know you’re reading, checking, sharing, commenting and questioning.

And did we mention … always use the #HillaryMen hashtag!

+++++

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.