Hillary and the Press

Ask any woman over 35, Clinton supporter or not: the media hate Hillary. After all, reliable voices of the left—Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd—have launched scathing critiques of her campaign, her ethics or her motives. Samantha Power, a Time contributing editor and hero of the human-rights crowd, was forced to resign from the Obama campaign last week after calling Clinton a "monster." Rolling Stone endorsed the Illinois senator with an almost beatific painting on its cover. And then there's Chris Matthews. If just half the people who have bashed Matthews for anti-Clinton rhetoric had ever actually tuned in to his program, he'd have ratings to reckon with.

Even to some conservatives, the prejudice is unmistakable. Fox News's Bill O'Reilly charges that a biased media are trying to engineer the election in Obama's favor. According to the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, O'Reilly might actually be right: from December to mid-February, 83 percent of network-news coverage of Obama was positive. For Clinton, the number was 53 percent. After Super Tuesday, the study says, even as Clinton supporters demanded more-balanced coverage, Obama's proportion of good press dropped only to 67 percent, while Clinton's remained at about 50 percent.

So is the press really ganging up on her?

If Hillary Clinton hopes to be president, the answer had better be yes. Voters young and old—particularly women—have rallied to her side when what they see as the drumbeat of anti-Clinton rhetoric beats loudest. After her humiliating loss in Iowa, female voters in New Hampshire rushed in to save Clinton's candidacy. Hillary's support among women jumped from 30 percent in the caucuses to 46 percent in the Granite State.

The pattern repeated itself in Ohio and Texas. After a losing streak in 11 states, much of the press had given her up for dead. On Monday, editors around the nation began querying their Clinton embeds: where and when will the withdrawal speech take place? Then women rallied again, with 67 percent of Ohio's white females and 63 percent of Latina women in Texas casting a ballot for Clinton.

These voters were energized by relentless campaigning by Clinton and a cycle of bad news for Obama—not just what they saw as the negative coverage. But it was a bit by "Saturday Night Live" guest host Tina Fey and Clinton impersonator Amy Poehler that helped send the sisterhood to the polls, armed and outraged.

Fey: Maybe what bothers me the most is that people say that Hillary is a bitch. Let me say something about that: yeah, she is. So am I, and so is this one. [Points to Amy Poehler]

Poehler: Yeah, deal with it.

Fey: You know what, bitches get stuff done. That's why Catholic schools use nuns as teachers and not priests. Those nuns are mean old clams and they sleep on cots and they're allowed to hit you. And at the end of the school year you hated those bitches but you knew the capital of Vermont. So, I'm saying it's not too late, Texas and Ohio, bitch is the new black!

The task now for Hillary Clinton and her unreliable campaign organization is clear: stay on the sidelines while the women of America fight the battle. Clinton's debate reference to the "Saturday Night Live" skits about Obama bias and her good-humored, self-deprecating appearance on the show on the eve of the Texas and Ohio votes were enough. Any more, and she looks churlish—even paranoid.

Bill Clinton in South Carolina proved it's possible to overdo outrage. Hillary Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson hammered that point home last week by comparing Obama to Ken Starr.

Unless the press actually wants Clinton to win the White House, it had better stow the sarcastic Hillary one-liners and kill the caustic sound bites. Because nothing makes an American woman as crazy-mad as watching another American woman get pushed around.