Clinton Media Relations Strained

Among the difficulties surrounding the Clinton campaign in recent weeks has been a deteriorating relationship with the news media. While never warm, these relations have become strained to the point of active warfare in some cases, and they are becoming a factor in the campaign.

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In addition to taking on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton finds herself battling the media, especially cable news channel MSNBC.

NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: I'm not saying MSNBC's Chris Matthews is taking sides in this year's Democratic race. But here's what he said after Barack Obama won Tuesday's primaries.

(Soundbite of MSNBC's Primary Coverage)

Mr. CHRIS MATTHEWS (Host, "Hardball"): The feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often.

Mr. KEITH OLBERMANN (Host, "Countdown"): Steady.

FOLKENFLIK: This morning, Matthews was talking about how Hillary Clinton was giving him a far more painful feeling in his leg.

(Soundbite of show "Morning Joe")

Mr. MATTHEWS: Look, I just don't think kneecapping has worked. I think her press relations are lousy. I think if all you do is intimidate and punish, and claim you'll get even - human reaction to intimidation is, screw you.

FOLKENFLIK: If you hear the difference in tone so has the Clinton campaign. It's denounced some of Matthews' previous comments as sexist. And Senator Clinton threatened to withdraw from an MSNBC debate after substitute anchor David Shuster said she had pimped out Chelsea Clinton by having her call superdelegates.

Hillary Clinton responded last Saturday at the University of Maine.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): You know, I can take whatever comes my way, that's part of what I signed up for as a candidate, as an officeholder. But I think that there's been a troubling pattern of comments and behavior that has to be held accountable.

FOLKENFLIK: Matthews apologized for some of his earlier remarks, and MSNBC suspended Shuster. But judging from this morning's comments, it ain't over yet. Many reporters admit privately that they feel differently toward the two candidates, and there's a phrase that's surfaced to describe the phenomenon afflicting MSNBC's Matthews - the Obama Swoon.

Martha Moore has covered Obama for USA Today. While she says she doesn't have strong sentiments about any of the candidates, she says…

Ms. MARTHA MOORE (Political Reporter, USA Today): Some of the other reporters who I have talked to do express that in their sort of limited reporter-like way, you know, by saying: You know, I think he might be the real thing.

FOLKENFLIK: Over on the Clinton trail, Anne Kornbluth from The Washington Post says Clinton is treated differently because her appeal is so intertwined with that of her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

Ms. ANNE KORNBLUTH (National Political Reporter, The Washington Post): You're constantly having to look back at what they did, what she did and he did, through the prism of, sort of, time in a way that I haven't ever had to do with another candidate.

FOLKENFLIK: TV commentators invoke a lot shorthand for flaps that evolved into scandals during the Clinton administration, and the Clintons would say very unfairly.

But newspapers have angered her, too, such as the New York Times piece on the state of the Clinton's marriage. Kornbluth says the press largely treats Senator Clinton seriously, but also says there's not a lot of love on either side.

Ms. KORNBLUTH: It's pretty honest. She doesn't spend a whole lot of time schmoozing us, and I think that that is a reflection of, you know, where we rank in the pecking order.

FOLKENFLIK: But those modest tensions have flared into the open with MSNBC, which might be uncomfortablem but promises to generate more attention for the currently second place candidate and more viewers for the currently third place cable channel.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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