Just a few days into 2019, some Democrats and media critics are seeing ghosts of the type of 2016 campaign coverage they say sunk Hillary Clinton. And now it’s haunting Elizabeth Warren.
Shortly after the 2016 election, a Harvard study on the media’s campaign coverage found that policy — what Clinton and Donald Trump would actually do as president — accounted for just 10 percent of their overall news coverage. In the case of both candidates, their policies were by far overshadowed by coverage about the “horse race” and their “alleged scandals.”
Follow-up research concurred that the coverage disproportionately focused on Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, even compared to Trump’s numerous controversies. Another analysis last year found that in “in just six days, The New York Times ran as many [front-page] stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.”
In the first few days of Warren’s own presidential candidacy, some observers see a few familiar tendencies, with coverage centering around her handling of past Native American heritage claims and so-called “likability.”
“The media should reflect on what it got wrong last time: principally, its tendency to skew the balance between perceived scandal and substantive policy talk,” wrote the Columbia Journalism Review. “Warren’s candidacy, in particular, recalls some familiar pitfalls for the press: for ‘Hillary’s emails’ see ‘DNA test,’ for ‘crooked Hillary’ see ‘Pocahontas,’ for ‘cold and unlikable’ see ‘cold and unlikable.’”
Before Warren even announced the formation of her exploratory committee, some political and media figures complained that the coverage of the Massachusetts senator’s potential presidential campaign was unfairly focusing on the DNA test she took in an attempt to settle the Native American ancestry controversy, as opposed to the actual policy proposals she was putting forward.
“There’s something very (Hillary) Clinton-esque about the Warren DNA test story and the way the press is handling it,” FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver tweeted last month in response to a New York Times story about the political implications of the test, which Warren released in October, and that asserted that the “lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened.”
Silver said that while Warren “showed poor judgement,” the press was treating a “minor story” like a “major crisis.”
There’s something very (Hillary) Clinton-esque about the Warren DNA test story and the way the press is handling it.
—Yeah she showed poor judgement.
—But it’s a minor story treated like a major crisis.
—Probably a proxy for other concerns (and/or biases).https://t.co/9uRhvnWgET
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) December 6, 2018
Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal think tank American Progress and a prominent Clinton supporter in 2016, wrote that she had “pangs of [post-traumatic stress disorder] already.”
I can just see the relentless fixation start now.
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) December 6, 2018
Like Clinton’s email controversy, Warren’s DNA test quickly became a plum target for conservative media. But The New York Times isn’t the only mainstream outlet treating it like a central 2020 issue. The Washington…