Bill Clinton's Impenetrable Press Strategy

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.—Former President Bill Clinton, the only class-A champion worker of the media here in South Carolina, is up to something. And no one, particularly the press, is exactly sure what he’s doing, or why he’s doing it.

In Kingstree, around 6 p.m., Bill Clinton was taking questions and doing his Great Explainer thing for an almost entirely African-American audience in a municipal center. In the back of the room, the New York Times’ Kit Seelye was typing away at her story that ran today. "Bill Clinton Accuses Obama Camp of Stirring Race Issue" was the headline, with contributions from two other reporters in other cities and scripts of new campaign ads provided by her editors. The story was largely about Clinton’s unexpected (by the media, at least) remarks that took place a bit after 1 p.m. down in Charleston.

(A long aside here: Also in the back of the room in Kingstree: the local police department’s Sgt. Huckabee, standing guard. According to research by one of his family members, he said, he is something like a fifth cousin to the Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Sgt. Huckabee is neither a Republican or a Democrat, and said that the relationship did not influence his vote but did get his phone calls returned a lot faster these days. He also noted that presidential candidates talked a lot about salaries for teachers and, since 9/11, for firefighters, but not at all about salaries for cops, and that he believed the starting salary for police officers in South Carolina was somewhere just north of $24,000 a year.)

Anyway! Most of the reporters present earlier in Charleston couldn’t actually get close enough to Clinton to hear these allegedly impromptu remarks; the Daily News and the Observer were provided with a transcript by Glenn Thrush of Newsday, and a handler tried valiantly to keep the press away from Clinton throughout the event. One wire service reporter was scolded by his editors for not being able to get into the scrum, and was told to never leave Clinton’s side again.

At 4:57, CNN emailed out their transcript of Clinton’s remarks; they ran video of the "event" in their 4 p.m. Wolf Blitzer-cast.

According to someone who watched Chris Matthews on MSNBC at 7 p.m., "they played it like 100,000 times."

And around 11 p.m. last night in Myrtle Beach, at President Clinton’s final appearance of the day (before a nearly all-white audience and with nearly no press in attendance, besides that nice redheaded boy from the AP), a woman in the audience stood up to complain about the media.

"I’m very frustrated with the media," she said. "They just bash her and bash her"–meaning Hillary Clinton.

"I’m glad you noticed," Clinton said.

"Chris Matthews drives me crazy," the woman said.

Then Clinton cited a Howard Kurtz story— presumably this one, from mid-December— in which the media "admitted they had a double standard" in covering Hillary Clinton. Then he went on to praise the importance of Thomas Friedman’s "synthetic" work; he defined what he meant by "synthetic" for the audience.

So he’s working a very complicated tactic, encouraging public sentiment against the press, but also wrapping us around his finger for reasons that remain fairly opaque.

Because Bill Clinton likes the press, he wanted the people of Myrtle Beach to know. "I like most of them a whole lot better than they like me," he said. Bill Clinton's Impenetrable Press Strategy