Conservative media outlets have made a cash crop out of less-than-fond Clinton nostalgia, and the national media seems close to announcing a news start-up focused solely on reporting on the former secretary of state's future presidential ambitions. Hillary Clinton has responded by removing herself from the conversation, concludes Ken Auletta, in an article in the New Yorker this week.
That's not entirely true. It's just that Clinton prefers media outlets that, as much as possible, refrain from talking politics.
In 1993, the first lady posed in Vogue Magazine for the first time. The nation, no, the world, gossiped accordingly. People debated whether the fashion magazine photographs reveal "Hillary the sex goddess," the first lady's confidence, shattered stereotypes about what powerful women need to look like, or whether the spread objectified Clinton. Some even wondered if the photos meant nothing at all.
The Vogue interview was analyzed as thoroughly as any other Clinton story, but discussions of policy and scandal were scant.
In December 1998 -- the same month that Monica Lewinsky appeared in Vanity Fair -- Clinton did another interview with Vogue, and became the first first lady to appear on the cover. It was the middle of the Monica Lewinsky trial, which was definitely discussed, but the first lady came off glowingly in the piece.
Clinton is happy to get good press in other fashion magazines, too. In 2011, Glamour accompanied Secretary of State Clinton to Africa. In 2013, they followed Chelsea Clinton there, too. (The year before, Chelsea appeared in Vogue, and in 2014, she appeared in Teen Vogue. As far as we know, there may have been a Clinton mentioned in every issue of Vogue and its offshoots.). Marie Claire published a profile of Clinton in 2012, also set in Africa. Elle published a profile of Clinton in 2012 about her recent popularity -- no doubt true, but she hadn't held elected office in four years either.
Even when Clinton isn't giving an interview, fashion magazines love to talk about her. Search for "Hillary Clinton" on the Cosmopolitan Web site, or any fashion magazine Web site, and watch as Hillary's longterm investment results in years of free and gushing PR.
The fact that Vogue was her first foray into fashion photography can perhaps be traced back to her friendship with Anna Wintour, the famed editor of the magazine, who said last year, "All of us at Vogue look forward to putting on the cover the first female president of the United States.” Wintour donated to Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign, and gave money to her campaign committee after the 2008 election to help pay off debts. Another fashionable friend, Oscar de la Renta, takes credit for convincing Clinton to appear on the cover of Vogue in the first place.
Fashion magazines also give her access to a far different audience than she'll get on television news programs or in national newspapers. The Clinton profiles may be breezy, but they are inspiring for the women reading them -- something that Clinton is very aware of, as are the women politicians who have followed her to the fashion front: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (the profile headline was, I kid you not, "In Hillary's Footsteps: Kirsten Gillibrand"), Condoleeza Rice, Susan Rice, Katharine Sebelius, Sarah Palin, Huma Abedin (Headline: Hillary's Secret Weapon), Nikki Haley, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Nancy Pelosi.
The often easy questions and sympathetic portrayals found in fashion magazines -- the stories are aiming for different goals than trying to explain someone's political beliefs and past decisions -- can be attractive for a political candidate, especially one who has accumulated as much criticism as Clinton has.
After the 1993 Vogue story, Michael Deaver, who worked in the Reagan White House, said, "It just seems kind of odd. Now that she's proven herself as an individual and been tough, why then get back to an image strictly based on femininity?"
These types of comments have sometimes made Clinton wary of appearing in fashion magazines. During the 2008 presidential primaries, Clinton was scheduled to appear in Vogue once again. She backed out. A Vogue spokesperson said, "We were told by Ms. Clinton's camp that they were concerned if Clinton appeared in Vogue that she would appear too feminine." Wintour was not pleased. She wrote in her February editor's letter, "Imagine my amazement, then, when I learned that Hillary Clinton, our only female president hopeful, had decided to steer clear of our pages at this point in her campaign for fear of looking too feminine. The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying."
Sometimes the Clinton team has quibbled with the coverage they've received in fashion magazines, too. After the Marie Claire piece, her spokesperson Philippe Reines called some of the reporting "outlandish and misleading," which made the reporter quite upset, since she wrote a "very laudatory" piece.
Clinton isn't the only person that prefers puff pieces, and this isn't the first time Auletta has written about the aloofness of a prominent political leader. In 2004, Auletta wrote "Fortress Bush," which captured the Bush administration's prickly relationship with its press corps. However, Bush's antipathy for the media didn't extend to Field & Stream or Ladies' Home Journal. President Obama has also been criticized for his distance from the media. Like Bush, he picks favorites -- preferably online news sources with viewerships that trend young or niche. He has spoken with Reddit, Zach Galifianakis, WebMD and Bill Simmons.
To Obama his Google Hangout and Grantland, and to Clinton her Vogue.