Did the Media Just Fall Hook, Line, and Sinker for a Clinton Campaign Stunt?


hillary-clinton-3It was a moment that put a human face to the arguments the Hillary Clinton campaign had been forwarding for months. At a Clinton rally in Pennsylvania, a 15-year-old girl spoke from the heart about how Donald Trump‘s bullying made her concerned about her peers. “At my school, body image is a really big issue for girls my age,” Brennan Leach said. “I see with my own eyes the damage Donald Trump does when he talks about women and how they look.” It was a concern that had been amplified days earlier by Trump’s renewed attacks on model Alicia Machado, who Trump allegedly called “Miss Piggy” after she gained weight.

Clinton couldn’t have asked for a better question, and she even said as much (“Thank you!” she shouted at Leach). With such a perfect moment came of course a flood of media coverage. But was it perhaps a little too perfect?

Buried deep in The New York Times story on the moment are a few tidbits that sound the faintest of alarms. Leach’s father, we learn over a dozen paragraphs in, “helped her form the question that had so excited Mrs. Clinton.” Her father is also vaguely referred to as a “local politician.” His full name, office, and political affiliation are left to the reader’s imagination.

Luckily, we live in the age of Google. A simple search reveals that Leach’s father is Democratic State Senator Daylin Leach, and also the Chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. Leach endorsed Clinton over her rival Bernie Sanders during the primaries, saying, “At a time when the Republican Presidential candidates seem to be stoking the flames of fear and anger, I have never been more proud to support Hillary Clinton for President.”

I find it hard to believe that The Times found out Leach was a politician but somehow failed to follow up on these very basic facts. It sounds more like they ended up being cut from the final piece because they dulled the impact of the story. An everyday girl spooked by Donald Trump’s rhetoric fits a narrative. A teen being raised and directed by their Democratic politician parent to dislike the Republican presidential candidate… doesn’t.

But in doing so, The Times also avoided giving a full accounting of the facts that would have raised a nagging little voice in the back of the minds of many readers. To summarize:

  1. The daughter of a major state Democratic leader and Clinton endorser crafts a question to ask Clinton…
  2. …with the help and oversight of her career politician father.
  3. Clinton calls on her in a crowded audience and receives the perfect question to keep an embarrassing Trump story alive. A question, incidentally, that also plays perfectly into Clinton’s ads emphasizing Trump’s rhetoric’s effect on children and his rhetoric’s effect on self-conscious young women.

Is it just me, or does that sound a lot like the media fell hook, line, and sinker for a campaign stunt?

I’m not saying that’s definitely what happened, of course, and the campaign for its part denies having vetted the question. But Clinton also has a history of using planted questions that makes her denials to the contrary less than persuasive.

In 2007, her campaign was forced to apologize after it was revealed that staffers were feeding question to Iowa college students to ask during a rally. In 1999, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported she used “a prearranged question from a friendly union leader” to kick off her New York Senate run. Heck, the Associated Press reported earlier this year that Clinton was pre-arranging questions on college campuses:

[Emails] obtained by The Associated Press reveal a careful, behind-the-scenes effort to review introductory remarks for college presidents and students presenting the Democratic front-runner as a speaker, as well as suggesting questions that happened to be aligned with her campaign platform. While it’s not unusual for campaigns to plan detailed appearances, the exchanges preview the kind of image-control apparatus that could be deployed in a Clinton White House, including attempts to steer conversations with her audiences. They also run counter to her campaign’s efforts to make Clinton look less wooden and scripted than she did when running eight years ago…

“They offered to write your introduction. I told them no,” Becky Mann, the head of public relations for South Carolina’s Greenville Technical College, wrote in an email to the college’s president, Keith Miller. Clinton’s campaign also suggested questions that Miller could pose such as, “We have a number of students who have a financial need — what do we need to do to make college affordable?” College affordability is one of Clinton’s campaign issues.

And then of course we have the recent revelation that Clinton was tipped off to questions before a Steve Harvey appearance, including a “spontaneous” audience question. There’s a greater point to be made at a later date about Clinton’s lack of authenticity and her campaign’s feverish attempts to control her every movement. But for now my point is simply that when accused of scripting “spontenous” moments, Clinton hasn’t given us any reason to give her the benefit of the doubt.

But the media has given her the benefit of the doubt, or at has at least been derelict in reporting the full story. The Chicago Tribune identifies Leach only as the “daughter of a Pennsylvania state senator.” The Huffington Post gives Daylin Leach’s name, but not his political affiliation. Politico, Yahoo News , NY Daily News, and NY Mag leave her father out of their narratives entirely.

Give CNN credit; they name Daylin, give his political affiliation and title, and note that he’s a Clinton supporter. But all seemed to have ignored the father’s role in helping his daughter craft the perfect question. The Times reported on it, but they also went to great lengths to avoid identifying Mr. Leach. As best as I can tell, the only outlet to give the full story was The Daily Mail… something perhaps the other outlets should take a second to fully reflect upon.

You can believe this is all an unfortunate coincidence or believe that Clinton and/or Leach worked to craft the question for her benefit. But either way, the public deserved all the facts to make that judgment themselves, and the media failed to deliver.

[Image via screengrab]

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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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