With the debut of Hillary Clinton's best-new-image-money-can-buy video Sunday, it felt for the first time to me last week like the 2016 presidential campaign was seriously underway.
And already I am distressed by one major media aspect of it.
As soon as Jon Stewart ripped cable and network news on his Tuesday night show for giving what he saw as ridiculously over-the-top coverage to Clinton and her "road trip" stop in a Chipotle at the expense of GOP Senator Marco Rubio's announcement of his candidacy, it seemed to instantly become the conventional social media wisdom.
And, as a result, you could see coverage getting less intense by the next day, with cable correspondents looking almost apologetic for doing their job in staying all over Clinton and her so-called "road trip" to meet "everyday people" in Iowa.
But Stewart was wrong about the Clinton coverage, and the press should not be insecure about chasing her Scooby Doo van down the road or showing overhead security-cam shots of her and an aide in Chipotle.
The coverage might seem excessive as Stewart shows video and leads the audience toward laughter at the press. But she is the front runner's front runner, and the press needs to scrutinize her as hard as it can – if for no other reason than to see if she can handle the heat.
There are many good reasons to stay on top of Clinton. The press gave her some zone of operational privacy as secretary of state, and she secretly set up her own email system beyond government reach and unilaterally decided which emails should be lost to history. How did the press not know about that off-the-books operation with all the emails she sent to other government officials?
But, most of call, as Kate McKinnon of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and Larry Wilmore of Comedy Central's "The Nightly Show" skillfully showed in their satiric commentary of Clinton's video and road trip last week, they are acts of P.R. artifice – part of an image re-make that seems kind of preposterous for someone who has been in public life as long as her. (Read my analysis of the good work of McKinnon and Wilmore here.)
The van, the Chipotle stop, the new talk of "everyday people" and "earning" the nomination are so at odds with who Hillary Clinton has been the last 20 years that every nook and cranny of her campaign needs to be put under the microscope with an eye toward deconstructing all that is false about it.
It's not going to be enough to get a non-fiction book written in 2017 that says, "Boy, were we once again duped by the image-makers and the P.R. gang in the 2016 election."
This is one of the highest callings of the press: giving citizens the best information it can about decisions that will affect citizens' lives. And deciding who will run this country is one of the biggies, is it not?
I hope CNN stays on her campaign like it's a lost Malaysian airliner. Really.
As for Stewart, he's brilliant. He's changed the culture. He so much smarter than the press, he now finds watching the news channels "depressing," blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
But he's also been wrong – usually when it involves friends and/or liberal politicians.
Remember how wrong he was in criticizing CNN in 2011 for its aggressive coverage of then-U.S.-Rep Anthony Weiner (a.k.a. Carlos Danger) and his sexting scandal. But CNN was right. Weiner, who ultimately resigned in disgrace, deserved the intense coverage he got from CNN.
And how about Stewart's misdirection in finally dealing with the lies of another friend, suspended NBC anchor Brian Williams? Stewart's strategy there was to rip the press for allegedly being more tenacious in covering the Williams scandal than it was in covering the government manipulation of public opinion that led up to the invasion of Iraq.
OK, so because most of the press, led by the New York Times, did an awful job in covering the Bush administration's lies about weapons of mass destruction, does that mean we can never cover anything else aggressively again?
I'm serious, do you know what an intellectual contortion it took for Stewart to find a way that he could comment on the Williams story and hammer the press harder than his friend?
I hope the press will not intimidated by anyone in its Clinton coverage.
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In fact, given her history of behaving one way onstage and another behind the scenes, I don't think it went far enough last week. I wish a reporter could have gotten inside the Scooby van with her to see if she actually ate the "everyday people" food from Chipotle.