December 10, 2012

Got a non-story about Hillary Clinton? Publish it! (Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)

New York Times, please tell: What was this article doing at the very front of my Sunday bundle of NYT joy yesterday?

It’s a spot that’s usually reserved for killer news stories, features of great majesty, yarns whose perusal tend to postpone other activities.

Yet we get a musty analysis piece by reporter Jodi Kantor on the likelihood of Hillary Clinton as a 2016 presidential candidate. Sure, there’s 1.5 newsy nuggets on her leisure plans for the medium term. Elsewhere, the piece poses a bunch of questions and volunteers lame answers. The self-posed interrogatories — “Should she team up with her husband again?” for example; or “Should she do what she wants or what makes the most political sense?” — are either dumb or don’t have clear answers just yet.

The decision by the New York Times to 1) commission the story; 2) assign three individuals to its writing and reporting; and 3) place it on page A1 despite its bony frame, signals that there shall be no recognizable editorial/news standards when it comes to reporting on Hillary Clinton until she makes official her plans/non-plans for 2016. Check that — the standardless coverage will extend beyond that point, without regard to what she decides.

Linking to the New York Times piece, a pair of my colleagues wrote: “Does she have that desire lurking somewhere in her? We probably won’t find out for another year (or so). In the meantime, we’ll write — and wait.”

Please don’t keep that promise.
To its credit, the Kantor piece does address the benefit of all the speculation surrounding a Clinton run: “If Mrs. Clinton is not running, she is a widely respected figure whose chief accomplishments are mostly behind her; if she may be running, she glows with White House and historic potential.”
The piece could have added a self-disclosure of sorts: “And as long as there’s a sliver of a chance she’ll go for it, media outlets like the New York Times and The Washington Post will publish large speculative stories, which tend to glorify her as the country’s greatest-ever president in abeyance.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.