Friday, March 10, 2006

Howard Fineman: A Tale of Two Politicians

Howard Fineman has recent articles discussing the possible Presidential prospects of Rudy Guiliani and Hillary Clinton. He doesn't have any news to report in either case, but the articles make for an interesting contrast in how Fineman treats the two politicians. For one, it's the best of coverage; for the other, the worst of coverage. Can you guess which one is which?

First Guiliani. The article is called "Awaiting the Almighty: Rudy Giuliani may or may not run for president. But he's having a heavenly time thinking about it." While "lesser birds" will flock to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, "America's mayor" flies "alluringly alone." He has "near-total name ID, a 9/11 hero's aura—and, most valuable in these post-Katrina days, a reputation for administrative competence." He's "macho" and has "a hide of titanium." He dazzles audiences "with his energy and his revival-style witness to his faith in Jesus." He's got "charisma."

By the way, the Guiliani article also contains the gem that Newt Gingrich is "rapidly re-emerging and always provocative."

Now Clinton. This time it's called "Hillary's Money Politics: The Clintons take a page from the Bush playbook, but what about Bill and those ports?" Getting into a Clinton fundraiser "is no easy trick." She chooses "to keep her toughly worded anti-Bush rhetoric (the kind that excites Democratic hearts and opens their wallets) safely behind the closed, hand-rubbed doors." Her political strategy is to intimidate the rest of the possible Democratic field by raising so much money that they'll give up before the race starts. "It's an ironic but exact copy of what Bush did in 2000." She's "on the way to becoming the leading female empire-builder in the history of American elections." And "not only is she asking big donors to support her—she is, at least implicitly, asking them NOT to give to anyone else." Hillary isn't "completely secretive" because she "now has an interest in leaking—on her own terms, of course—the names of big shots . . ." Her "obsessive money focus" creates the "risk" that she will become "blind to the politics of an issue." Also it "can create conflicts—or at least the appearance of conflict—between candidate and spouse," for instance when Bill praised the "Dubai guys" and collected $600K in speaking fees from them while Hillary was denouncing the Dubai ports deal. Finally, it's lucky for Hillary that foreign citizens aren't allowed to give campaign contributions, because, says Fineman "the rules had allowed it, I'm sure they would have been asked—and Hillary would have had even more explaining to do."

Nowhere in his article does Fineman ever explain how Clinton is "implicitly" asking donor not to give to other candidates. Perhaps its just obvious that any politician would prefer that potential opponents not receive financial backing. Can Fineman explain how this is more true of Hillary than anyone else? Nor does Fineman explain how he's sure that Hillary would have gone begging to Dubai, or whether he thinks that other politicians, like say George Bush or John McCain might also have some explaining to do in this hypothetical situation. Most importantly, he doesn't explain why he chooses to end his articles about some politicians but not others with a zinger based on a hypothetical possibility. He doesn't explain whether Guiliani might occasionally have a meeting behind "closed, hand-rubbed doors," and if so, why he chooses to use this snarky language only in Clinton's case.

If this is a harbinger of the kind of coverage Clinton can expect during the 2008 election, the Democrats might as well run Al Gore.