Why Terry Gross Was a Mistake for Hillary Clinton

An interviewer best known for making her subjects cry on air is dangerous territory for a carefully stage-managed politico.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton(C) greets patrons at a Barnes & Noble Bookseller store, for the signing of her new book, 'Hard Choices' on June 10, 2014, in New York. Hillary Clinton launched her much-anticipated book tour Tuesday and tried to smooth over a flap over her earlier remark that she and her husband Bill were 'dead broke' when they left the White House. 
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
Alex Seitz-Wald
June 12, 2014, 12:02 p.m.

As Hil­lary Clin­ton has toured the coun­try ac­cept­ing awards and, more re­cently, pro­mot­ing her book, she’s be­come ac­cus­tomed to field­ing ques­tions from ad­mirers and al­lies, wheth­er it’s Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel on Tues­day night, or a mem­ber of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, who star­ted a ques­tion with a pre­face that he said Clin­ton was sure to like (she did).

Which is why it was bound to be in­ter­est­ing when Clin­ton agreed to sit down with Terry Gross, the pub­lic-ra­dio in­ter­view­er per­haps best known for mak­ing her sub­jects cry on air.

Emo­tion­al, re­veal­ing, and deeply per­son­al mo­ments may be OK or even be­ne­fi­cial for the act­ors and writers who reg­u­larly ap­pear on her WHYY talk show Fresh Air — in­tense mo­ments with Maurice Sendak and Tracy Mor­gan come to mind — but are ob­vi­ously more dan­ger­ous ter­rit­ory for a politi­cian care­fully man­aging her im­age.

On Wed­nes­day, dur­ing a tense ex­change last­ing more than sev­en minutes, Gross asked Clin­ton 10 dif­fer­ent ways about the evol­u­tion of her stance on gay mar­riage. But, un­like some re­cent TV in­ter­views Clin­ton has giv­en, the takeaway was not Gross’s poin­ted in­quir­ies, but the fact that they seemed to get un­der Clin­ton’s skin, who snapped back at her in­ter­locutor.

“You know, I really, I have to say, I think you’re be­ing very per­sist­ent, but you are play­ing with my words and play­ing with what is such an im­port­ant is­sue,” Clin­ton said after try­ing to put the is­sue to rest sev­er­al times.

Gross, at­tempt­ing to smooth ten­sion with a chuckle, replied, “I’m just try­ing to cla­ri­fy so I can un­der­stand … “

But Clin­ton fired back, “No, I don’t think you are try­ing to cla­ri­fy. I think you’re try­ing to say that I used to be op­posed, and now I’m in fa­vor, and I did it for polit­ic­al reas­ons, and that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are im­ply­ing and re­pu­di­ate it.”

The mo­ment was over soon after that, and the in­ter­view moved onto friend­li­er ter­rit­ory for an­oth­er 30 minutes, but Amer­ica Rising, the GOP op­pos­i­tion re­search group, had already clipped the au­dio and blas­ted it out on­line, ec­lipsing any­thing else Clin­ton had to say.

Gross, fam­ous for her la­bor­i­ous re­search that of­ten in­volves lug­ging boxes of books home, reg­u­larly puts her sub­jects’ en­tire lives on the table, mov­ing far bey­ond whatever they hap­pen to be there to pro­mote. Lynn Cheney learned that in 2005, when Gross pressed her on her les­bi­an daugh­ter, and Sandra Day O’Con­nor en­countered it more re­cently on gender is­sues.

Tele­vi­sion in­ter­views, by con­trast, are more likely to fo­cus on the big news or top-line is­sues of Clin­ton’s re­cord,such as the Benghazi at­tacks, which Clin­ton is likely well pre­pared to talk about.

Gross, out­side the belt­way in Phil­adelphia and free from the con­straints of daily polit­ic­al cov­er­age, is more likely to open a line of ques­tion­ing her sub­jects are not ex­pect­ing and then push them with im­pun­ity, since she doesn’t have to be too con­cerned about ali­en­at­ing those close to her sub­jects.

And from her perch on NPR, a net­work be­loved by up­scale lib­er­als every­where, and on an is­sue deeply im­port­ant to the pro­gress­ive base (LGBT rights), it will be dif­fi­cult for Clin­ton al­lies to go after Gross or present the line of ques­tion­ing as un­fair.

Of course, this kind of ex­change is crit­ic­al to in­form­ing the demo­crat­ic de­bate about a likely pres­id­en­tial front-run­ner, but more ques­tion­able as polit­ic­al strategy.

What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER NUCLEAR OPTION?
Byrd Rule Could Trip Up Health Legislation
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Even if House Republicans manage to get enough members of their party on board with the latest version of their health care bill, they will face another battle in the Senate: whether the bill complies with the chamber’s arcane ... Byrd rule, which stipulates all provisions in a reconciliation bill must affect federal spending and revenues in a way that is not merely incidental." Democrats should have the advantage in that fight, "unless the Senate pulls another 'nuclear option.'”

Source:
ONE WEEK
Senate Votes To Fund Government
13 hours ago
BREAKING
ON TO SENATE
House Passes Spending Bill
14 hours ago
BREAKING

The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.

PRESIDENT CALLS MEDICAID FUNDS A “BAILOUT”
Puerto Rico Another Sticking Point in Budget Talks
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."

Source:
POTENTIAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?
Democrats Threaten Spending Bill Over Obamacare
1 days ago
BREAKING

Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login