Media critic

This time next year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will likely be trading sharp critiques with a huge field of fellow Democratic contenders to challenge President Trump in November 2020. For now, she’s trading sharp critiques with . . . Politico.

What has irked the Warren people is this Politico story from Monday, under the headline “Warren battles the ghosts of Hillary.” It is a poorly constructed piece of journalism, beginning with its very premise — “How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?” Warren bears little in common with Hillary Clinton other than that both are women and both are Democrats. In any case, the argument against Warren is summarized in the Politico piece as follows: “She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton.”

Trouble is, the story doesn’t quote anyone articulating that critique. Politico gives Warren’s detractors a sweet deal: Their arguments get a full airing in a widely circulated media outlet, and they have to deal with precisely zero unpleasantness in their Twitter notifications. Take a look at this formulation, with emphasis added, for example:

But like Clinton, gendered terms like “shrill” or “scoldy,” are already ascribed to Warren, as people dismiss her as a viable 2020 contender, said Adam Jentleson, a progressive strategist and former staffer to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). What’s been lost in recent coverage of Warren, he said, are her talents as a public speaker who can connect with the average person.

Who’s doing all of this ascribing? Is this just a matter of perceptions? According to the secondary headline on the piece, it may just be. Here it is: “In interviews with [Politico], advisers and allies project confidence that perceptions of her as cold or aloof will fade once people see her campaign.” To its partial credit, the piece — by reporter Natasha Korecki — quotes various people on the record as acknowledging the critiques. For example:

“They say that about women — anybody who runs for president. As you go up the political ladder and go up in the polls, you will get that criticism,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist. “First it was Hillary Clinton. Then it was Nancy Pelosi. Now it’s Elizabeth Warren. Who knows who is behind her.”

The effect is akin to shadow boxing, in that Marsh and others are denouncing critics who aren’t even named in Politico’s story. The Politico story serves as the launching pad for a satire under this headline: I Don’t Hate Women Candidates — I Just Hated Hillary and Coincidentally I’m Starting to Hate Elizabeth Warren." And don’t miss an exacting look at the piece in this thread from Heidi Moore.

Politico publicist Cindy Andrade emailed this statement: “The story, which we encourage people to read in its entirety, quotes multiple operatives and people close to Senator Warren acknowledging that this is the case that some make against her. The story also directly acknowledges that this criticism is viewed by many within the Democratic party as unfair, if not sexist. We stand by the reporting, which, as noted above, included talking to many close to Senator Warren and supportive of her candidacy.”

The implications of this backlash are by no means limited to this inter-holiday Politico story. It signals that the other media critique in American politics — the one not articulated by President Trump — is stirring again. It is a critique backed by data, too: After the 2016 presidential election, a Harvard study issued this conclusion, among many others, about the media’s coverage of Clinton’s failed campaign: "Trump wallowed in a cascade of separate controversies. Clinton’s badgering had a laser-like focus. She was alleged to be scandal-prone. Clinton’s alleged scandals accounted for 16 percent of her coverage — four times the amount of press attention paid to Trump’s treatment of women and sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to Clinton’s most heavily covered policy position.”

The cold-or-aloof framing of Warren looks like a direct descendant of the coverage highlighted in the Harvard report. More “controversy" crowding out discussion of what a Warren presidency would mean for the United States.