Clinton, McCain And That 'b-word'

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- This season, the best thriller on TV isn't "Lost." The hippest comedy isn't "Entourage." The most ludicrous primetime soap opera isn't "Desperate Housewives." The most melodramatic reality show isn't "Survivor," either.

One show can top each of those offerings and still cover all of those categories: It's called "Hillary and the Media."

Sen. Hillary Clinton's inexorable march to secure the Democratic Party's presidential nomination is the most riveting show on TV. Her life has become a real-life version of "The Truman Show" and "Edtv."

And that's how it should be. Clinton shouldn't be a cause celebre because she is a woman or even because of her marriage to the former president. What matters is that she is the front-runner to win the Democratic Party's nomination next year. Assuming that happens, who'd want to bet against her to defeat Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney or John McCain?

Not this columnist.

The media are simply doing with Clinton what we've done with celebrities throughout history: First, we build them up, and then we try to knock them down.

The McCain example

If you're wondering why McCain's once-promising campaign has fallen apart, you only have to look to his performance under the media's watchful eye. He has been hedging his bets and trying to please everyone, which is impossible and a sure-fire losing bet.

Two years ago, I saw McCain at his finest at the American Magazine Conference in Puerto Rico. He stood at the craps table and had the time of his life with each toss. He was charismatic, funny, down to earth and engaging. What the heck happened to that guy?

For the answer, merely check out the video of the woman who asked him in a public forum, "How do we beat the bitch?" (Presumably, she was referring to Hillary Clinton.) At that moment, you could almost see him visualizing all of the analysis and criticism that would follow whatever answer he gave.

McCain should have acted decisively and spoken just as bluntly. He would've been smart to say that such language about a woman -- much less someone McCain considers a friend and worthy adversary -- is out of line and shouldn't be uttered in his presence again.

Instead, he kind of floundered and waffled and didn't really have a point, much like his aimless No-Straight-Talk Express lately. He blew it.

Misguided

What is wrong with misguided media critics who blather that Clinton is getting picked on because she is a woman? Or because she is a former First Lady? Or because she has a highly publicized marriage? They're not exactly Ma and Pa Kettle.

Get over it, America. The media are indeed ganging up on Clinton for the best reason of all: She is No. 1! Clinton is in the process of sewing up the Democratic nomination. (Calling Barack Obama, the John McCain of the Democrats. Has anyone seen him around?)

Clinton has had it much tougher than her Republican counterpart, Giuliani, who is beginning to display a look of invincibility, too. Neither Clinton nor Giuliani is likely to let anyone or anything get in the way of securing the nominations.

If those two square off for the presidency, it'll be like King Kong and Godzilla slugging it out. Speaking strictly as a member of the media, I can't wait!

Under the radar screen

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who made his fame in the aftermath of 9/11, adeptly stayed under the radar screen for much of his campaign. Only recently has his friendship with the disgraced Bernie Kerik, New York's former police commissioner, been closely examined as a political issue.

Because McCain took an early lead, Giuliani had the luxury of working the donors and waiting for what seemed inevitable: a McCain collapse. Once McCain fizzled, Giuliani was there to pick up the pieces for the Republican Party.

By contrast, Clinton is attempting the rarest feat in horse races, basball pennant races and presidential politics: a wire-to-wire victory.

It makes me laugh to watch the media alternately kvell and crush Clinton for basically doing her job. Her job is to run for the presidency, get the nomination -- and win the election. She's doing it very well.

Clinton has successfully worked the media ever since a Sunday evening in early 1992. That was the night when she gritted her teeth, put on her Ms. Pragmatist hat and did her best Tammy Wynette while her presidential-candidate husband was grilled on "60 Minutes." That was the night she became a TV star.

Media moguls and advertising executives must secretly be salivating for a Clinton-Giuliani smackdown. The race would be hotly contested, and every day would likely bring some new drama or melodrama. All of that adds up to great TV ratings and higher numbers in circulation and on the Internet.

The specter of New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, an independent these days, just adds to the suspense and the promise for terrific TV ratings for those otherwise interminable Sunday-morning yakfests.

I could assume that Giuliani and Bloomberg would have better answers than McCain did the next time a concerned citizen asks how to beat Clinton.

MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Did the media overreact when someone said a rude word about Hillary Clinton in public?

READERS RESPOND to : "Like Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs is a new breed of American broadcasters who somehow have convinced their bosses to let them speak for the common man, rather than the New York interests who have ruled since the days of Paley." Tom Hughes

MONDAY REPORT CARD: Thanksgiving always gets in the media's way and interrupts the normal news flow. But the one business-culture story that has become as widely covered as the Super Bowl ads is the annual "Black Friday" frenzy. The day, which kicks off the holiday shopping season, is viewed as a barometer of the nation's retail prospects -- as well as everything from our collective confidence in the economy to our feelings about the president. I'd prefer to see more thoughtful coverage that goes beyond the TV gimmick of sending some hapless soul in a parka to the local Wal-Mart or Best Buy at dawn to watch the marauders attack the store. Yawn.

(Media Web appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Feel free to send an email to .)


By Jon Friedman
  • CBSNews

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