“Here’s what I think is going on, and I think we’ll have to do more research and understand it better. I think you’re really on to something. There is a sense of disappointment among young people about politics, and there are a lot of different reasons for it. You know, some take the position that they were for president Obama and he didn’t revolutionize our country. You know, the poor man faced implacable hostility and got a lot done and deserves an enormous amount of credit, but the idea that somehow the Affordable Care Act or saving the economy were not big enough accomplishments is just bewildering to me. Because I know how hard it was, and what a touch and go deal it was.
Some are new to politics completely. They’re children of the Great Recession, and they are living in their parents’ basement. They feel that they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don’t see much of a future. I met with a group of young black Millennials today and you know, one of the young women said, ‘You know, none of us feel like we have the job that we should’ve gotten out of college, and we don’t believe that the job market is going to give us much of a chance.’
So, that is a mindset that is really affecting their politics. And so, if you’re feeling that you’re consigned to being a barista, or some other job that doesn’t pay a lot and doesn’t have much of a ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing.
So, I think we should all be really understanding of that, and we should try to do the best we can not to be a wet blanket on idealism. You want people to be idealistic, you want them to set big goals, but to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals.”
That was Hillary Clinton speaking at a fundraiser back in February shortly after losing the New Hampshire primary to Bernie Sanders by 20 points. An audience member asked Clinton what she thought about the politics of young people in 2016.
This is her untouched response.
I want you to take it in, because what follows is a lesson in media manipulation.
Read it again if you have to.
The quote is from newly leaked audio first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. It’s the latest in a long series of hacked email revelations that are sure to continue until Election Day.
It’s fair to point out that the original reporting of the audio from the Washington Free Beacon focused on Clinton’s response to the Obama administration’s nuclear arms policy. In fact, during the forty-nine minute audio clip, Clinton broaches a number of topics from intelligence to her economic policy, to the battles ahead of her in the primary.
But what’s important isn’t so much the content of the audio.
It’s the presentation.
You likely read Clinton’s answer in your own tone as you reacted in real-time to the words on the page. As you were reading, you began forming an opinion based on the way she framed her response, her choice of words, and a multitude of factors relative to you: your age and experience; your political beliefs and ideology; where you live and work; other articles you read during the primary; and maybe your feelings about Monday’s debate at Hofstra.
Generally speaking, this is how people react to what they read.
What I’ve given you is a sterilized version of Clinton’s remarks, unspun and pure. All too often, this is not the case, and what readers are given to consume is a narrative. A mood the media wants to create. Quotes are lifted out of context. Authors add subtext using the power of suggestion.
Nowhere was this more clear than on Friday night when Politico launched a series of Facebook posts linked to an article by Cristiano Lima presenting Clinton’s words in the tenor he chose. The posts speak for themselves.
The key words here are, “mocked” and “bewildered.” Two words Clinton never used and are presumably meant to characterize her as dismissive and out of touch with young people.
As of today, the corrected headline remains the same, but the lede has changed a third time to directly quote Clinton saying, “Half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel.” It’s practically a non-sequitur to the article at this point. An Editor’s note appears at the bottom alerting readers of the changes made to, “better reflect Clinton’s tone.”
Does it matter?
By Saturday morning a number of news outlets had picked up the story, and were running with it.
Not to be outdone, Fox news seized on the two sentences forming the day’s narrative, and later that night the Trump campaign was releasing prepared remarks painting Clinton as an elitist that refers to Millennials as “basement-dwellers.”
A term she never used.
On Meet the Press Sunday morning, Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook was asked again about the one line in Clinton’s statement forming the unfounded narrative. Jake Tapper dedicated more than half his interview with Bernie Sanders to the clip. Again, taking the comments out of context and hyper-focusing on the pejorative “basement-dwellers.”
I think this bears repeating: A term she never used.
Our purpose here isn’t to single out Mr. Lima or Politico for orchestrating an attack on Hillary Clinton, or to suggest a massive media conspiracy against her. This is the kind of storytelling the media does a thousand times a day, and it is certainly true that every candidate and candidacy deals with some level of media bias. I’ll leave it to history to determine whether or not Hillary Clinton’s treatment has been disproportionate by comparison. Unfortunately, neither Politico nor Mr. Lima responded to my requests for comment, so why they chose to present Clinton’s words as they did is a mystery.
It’d be interesting to know if they considered other headlines, such as:
Hacked audio from Clinton fundraiser reveals her sympathy for struggling Millennials
In illegally obtained audio Clinton urges “understanding” for Millennials frustrated with politics
Clinton believes in idealism and wants people to set big goals
But they didn’t, and apparently it never crossed anyone’s mind in the media that they were using a non-contextual statement to paint Clinton negatively. Or worse . . .
. . . they didn’t care.
What’s also apparent is that other media sources are running with the, “living in their parents’ basement,” narrative, and creating misleading trends on social media.
This is how easily the populace can be manipulated into making assumptions based on click-bait headlines and overtly biased reporting. As citizens we need to understand this, and we need to do a better job of looking deeper into the headlines delivered rapid fire to our newsfeed scrolling sites. We need to read the article and follow its sources to the origin. We need to seek out the context of sound bites and judge the candidates’ words for ourselves.
We need to take caution when we consume media in the same way we read labels when we do our grocery shopping. Because at the end of the day, if all we’ve consumed is garbage, then that’s exactly how we’re going to feel about our politics, our government, and our country.
Is the media shaping our opinions?
Yes it is, but it’s up to us to cut through the noise and draw our own conclusions.