In the absence of actual news about whether Hillary Rodham Clinton will run for president in 2016 (BREAKING: She hasn't made up her mind!!!!), the media's focus has turned inward, with two recent magazine covers setting off a massive discussion on how the former secretary of state is -- and will be -- covered by, yes, the media.
The cover that started this most recent bit of meta-analysis on Hillary was this one -- portraying Clinton as, basically a single high heel -- in Time magazine.
Then, on Thursday, came the New York Times magazine cover, which portrays Clinton as a planet. Yes, you read that right. A planet. (For more on how that happened, read this.)
Taken together, what do the two covers tell us about how Clinton is being covered?
First, that the bar for getting people to read/click on stories about Clinton is very high. She is the single best-known politician this side of Barack Obama and, in all likelihood, has been profiled (and picked apart) more in her time in the national spotlight -- basically from 1991 to the present -- than even the current occupant of the White House. Simply slapping a picture of Clinton on your cover isn't doing it or, at least, is perceived as not doing it by magazine editors. And, if the bar is high now -- with roughly two years remaining before a single vote is cast in the 2016 contest -- you can imagine where it will be in, say, a year's time.
Second, beyond the cover art -- and that's a tough thing to get beyond -- the focus of both of the stories is entirely process-oriented. The Time piece, written by the incomparable David Von Drehle, asks the question of whether anyone can stop Clinton's march to the presidency. And, while the actual text of the Times magazine piece is not yet online, it seems from the cover that the focus will be the various universes -- see what we did there? -- of people that are part of the Clinton orbit. (All right, all right -- we'll stop now.) Both are process stories -- meaning they focus not on what Clinton will run on in terms of a policy agenda or how she would govern, but rather on what the politics of the campaign (and the staff) will look like.
As a general rule, the media loves process stories (The Fix really loves them). Politicians hate them. And you can bet Clinton-world or, maybe more accurately, Clinton-universe, grits its collective teeth every time another magazine/newspaper/blog writes stories like these two. But, such is the nature of being Hillary Clinton. As we have written before, Clinton benefits greatly from her universal name identification, her demonstrated fundraising ability, her deep resume and so on and so forth. No one in the field -- on either side -- can match those traits. But, Clinton will also be covered in a way that none of the other candidates will be. Clinton is likely to be the focus of far more process-y stories (Who is really close to her? Is Chelsea the gate-keeper? Is she going to skip Iowa? Etc.) than anyone else in the field.
How Clinton is covered matters. And, early indications suggest that the coverage is likely to spend most of its time in places the not-yet-Clinton-campaign can't be too happy about.