It was hardly the headline from Hillary Clinton's interview with Christiane Amanpour — it came near the end of a 35-minute session — but one comment from the 2016 Democratic nominee perfectly illustrated why liberals remain furious at how the campaign was covered. In a riff on how to create jobs, Clinton made the fairly ordinary point that “if you don't have access to high-speed affordable broadband, which large parts of America do not,” large employers will overlook your town. She continued:
If you drive around in some of the places that beat the heck out of me, you cannot get cell coverage for miles. And so, even in towns — so, the president was in Harrisburg. I was in Harrisburg during the campaign, and I met with people afterward. One of the things they said to me is that there are places in central Pennsylvania where we don't have access to affordable high-speed Internet.
Time magazine's Phil Elliott tweeted a quick summary of the quote.
"You cannot get cell coverage for mile," Clinton says of the places that voted against her.
— Phil Elliott (@Philip_Elliott) May 2, 2017
And the floodgates opened. From a CNN reporter, expressing some befuddlement as to why Clinton was talking about a state that broke against her.
Clinton NOW talking about Pennsylvania, rural cell service. Uhhh.
— Zach Wolf (@zbyronwolf) May 2, 2017
From a regional National Republican Senatorial Committee director, asking whether Clinton was making excuses for her loss.
— Clinton Soffer (@clintonsoffer) May 2, 2017
From a Silicon Valley start-up:
This anti-rural snootiness doesn't help Dems. I'm from deep-red, no-cell-coverage MO; Clinton fans there (my folks) wouldn't appreciate. https://t.co/AKHxywYJo9
— Jess McCuan (@jessdujour) May 2, 2017
The point: Elliott's tweet fed a quick, afternoon round of mockery for Clinton, who as ever had been out of touch. But anyone who's covered politics — certainly, anyone who's done a reporting trip to rural West Virginia or Iowa or New Hampshire — could recognize what Clinton was talking about. She campaigned on a quarter-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, which, in the unappealing campaign-speak of her news release, included “giving all American households access to world-class broadband and creating connected ‘smart cities’ with infrastructure that’s part of tomorrow’s Internet of Things.”
Now, the press corps of 2016 was under no obligation to regurgitate campaign news releases. But it's 2017, and a president who was opaque about many of his policy plans during the campaign is now being asked to fund rural broadband projects. This is exactly the sort of issue policy reporters are familiar with, and it's the sort of issue you typically see litigated during a campaign. Candidate X has this plan for wiring rural America; candidate Y, on the other hand, has that plan. This was how the eventual Trump float of a child-care plan was covered.
But narrative can overwhelm that. And the firmly established narrative of Clinton and Trump is that she couldn't connect to rural voters, whereas he was a “blue-collar billionaire” who made surprising emotional connections. Trump may be the first president whose plunge to 40 percent approval was marked by stories about the voters who still loved him. And Clinton may be the only politician who can talk about the need for rural broadband — at this point, an almost banal priority of rural politicians — and be accused of snobbery.