Media's Rush to Judge
By Brian Williams -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/13/2008 7:00:00 PM
On Monday afternoon, Jan. 7, in Manchester, N.H., I called my executive producer and said that we needed to pencil in more time than we had allotted for Andrea Mitchell's report on the Clinton campaign. It needed to be enlarged to include a 48-second sound bite of Hillary Clinton at a roundtable, answering a question about the campaign.
She was tired, and she was emotional. She did what any of us would have, and have done at times: She briefly lost control of her emotions. At that very moment, while he was miles away and unaware of it, Barack Obama started to lose control of what we had been told was a commanding lead in New Hampshire.
I am a son of New England—my father is from Framingham, Mass., my parents met in college in Maine, and I came to know the psyche well. The core of the older, native New Hampshire population is still made up of the sons and daughters of the original Puritans. They take civic responsibility seriously, they take care of those who need it and they take pride in process. In modern political terms, they generally don't like negativity, they reward the downtrodden, they earnestly deliberate over their choice of candidate and they venerate the sturdy among us. In short, they are good people to have in your corner.
Hillary Clinton was bloodied in New Hampshire. The people of New Hampshire saw it and didn't like it. Some felt they were being told what to think: the race was decided, Hillary was desperate and inauthentic. Worst of all—and this was made very clear to me by more than one person—when some in the media quietly doubted that Hillary Clinton's emotions at that roundtable were real (there was quiet snickering about an “acting job” born of an urgent need to seem normal), it was proof to them that cynicism had taken hold of the politics/media realm, and they simply refused to believe that.
There will be numerous deconstructions over the days to come. We in the media will beat ourselves (and deservedly so) for reaching conclusions before the voters have spoken. Give us a few weeks—we will promptly forget the lessons of this debacle in polling, predictions and primary politics. We will all live to screw up another day, though our performance in New Hampshire will be hard to beat.
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