Covering Hillary Clinton, A Candidate 'Forged In The Crucible' Of Conflict
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're going to talk about what it's like to cover Hillary Clinton, who last night became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party. My guest, Amy Chozick, is a national political reporter for The New York Times. She's written extensively about the Clintons since 2007 when she started reporting on the presidential campaign for The Wall Street Journal. She covered Hillary Clinton's primary run against Barack Obama. And when Obama became the Democratic nominee, Chozick covered him. I spoke with Chozick this morning in Philadelphia, where she's reporting on the Democratic National Convention.
Amy Chozick, welcome to FRESH AIR. So last night, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to get the nomination from a major party. So what is her historic significance?
AMY CHOZICK: I think the significance is enormous. I also think that you felt last night sort of a - both an acknowledging the significance, but also not sort of overdoing it. I mean, there was a lot of talk among her advisers about how much we play up the first woman president. And Obama didn't have to say he was breaking this great civil rights barrier.
But at the same time, I think when you saw her close the convention, saying, if there are any little girls out there up at night watching, I might be the first woman president, but you could be next. You know, I heard from people with daughters who were really moved by that - frankly, even people who don't like Hillary Clinton. And so I think that the country, even though it has very complicated and not-all-that-positive views of Hillary Clinton, did feel like that was a moment.
GROSS: You've been following her a long time. What's your impression of what it means to her to be the first woman nominated for president?
CHOZICK: It's interesting, Terry, because I watched in her 2008 campaign when gender was very much not mentioned. She was running as the strong commander in chief. She didn't talk about being a mother. Frankly, she didn't talk very much about her own mother who was alive then and campaigned with her. This campaign, she has very much talked about her mother who passed away and her impoverished childhood. And I think, you know, it has not been lost in Hillary Clinton the significance of this moment.
And I think she's been reflecting a lot about her own mother's journey. Her mother was born on the day that Congress gave women the right to vote and into poverty and neglect. And, you know, some a hundred years later, her daughter could be the first woman in the White House. I think it's something that, frankly, Hillary told me she's still processing.
GROSS: You know, when I hear a politician speak biographically, I never know what's part of the campaign biography narrative that's been carefully crafted...
GROSS: ...And put out there to make the campaign more appealing...
CHOZICK: The creation myth, yes.
GROSS: Yes, exactly. And what is just kind of, like, genuine emotion...
CHOZICK: Yes, right.
GROSS: ...About, like, somebody's mother or father, or, you know, child.
GROSS: So what's your impressions about Hillary and her mother and how that story is being used now?
CHOZICK: Well, I think that's a really good point because in every convention, you see this creation myth. You know, President Obama had his biracial upbringing with his distant father and his single mother. And that very much kind of wove into the message of his campaign. As did Bill Clinton - he came into the convention, the Man from Hope, pulled himself up by his bootstraps from a working class family and wanted to help every American do the same.
With Hillary Clinton, it's been very difficult to find, frankly, that poetry in her personal narrative, partly because you have a candidate who's unlike most in that she's very private. She didn't want to talk about her mother's story when her mother was still alive. You know, she - it's interesting. Focus groups don't like it when she talks about her grandchildren. They feel like it's inauthentic.
So she is coming at a place where being so well known, having been the first lady, which is sort of a, you know, entitled roll. People see it as an almost royal sort of role. People approach her narrative with a lot of cynicism. And so, you know, to find that authentic place has been very hard.
I think that when she talks about her mother, it is authentic, and it feels that way. In her speech in Brooklyn, when she finally reached the number of delegates, she almost choked up talking about her mom. She said she had a hard time not crying. And I think that that is almost the only poetry that she has. It's very hard to craft the sort of Wellesley activist wife of a president into something that average Americans can relate to and latch onto.
GROSS: It seems that's where Bill Clinton came in last night because he told this long story about how they met, how he courted her, how he bought a house to convince her, I think after the third proposal, to actually marry him. And he talked about her activism and her commitment and everything. And it was as if he could tell the narrative in a way that she couldn't. Like, what's your understanding of how his role was conceived last night, whose idea it was for him to do the speech that he gave, and what function it was supposed to play?
CHOZICK: Absolutely. You know, Bill Clinton, if you think about 2012, is the explainer in chief for the economy. You know, that was what Barack Obama had to accomplish in that election. That he was the best steward of the economy, people are still hurting after the recession. And Bill Clinton did a masterful job of explaining why he was the best case.
This convention is interesting in that what they need to do is help the country like Hillary Clinton. A majority of Americans say they don't like her. Nearly 70 percent say they don't trust her. Even those who say they'll vote for her don't trust her. And so I think trust, likability, what are her real motivations - those are the main goals of the campaign going into this convention.
And Bill Clinton was cast as the explainer in chief for some of those personal moments. How do you connect with her? It was interesting, you know, you saw Melania Trump talk about her husband in very unspecific ways. He's loving, he's a, you know, he cares about his family. Bill Clinton was incredibly granular and specific, going back right when he met eyes with her in the law library in Yale in the '70s, going through her whole life with specific examples of how she made people's lives better.
Now, there is a lot of cynicism - this is a house of cards marriage of political convenience. I think you saw a husband who was proud of his wife who talked about her lovingly. And I think that can only help with her likability. And also I think people don't really know some of those parts of her biography, the work that she did with children, the work she did in Arkansas, and so to remind them of that.
GROSS: I thought it was interesting when he said, I married my best friend, because people are always asking, what is the nature of their marriage?
GROSS: What does that marriage actually mean? If he casts it in the role of best friend, do you think those words were intentionally chosen for a reason?
CHOZICK: Well, you know, as soon as he came up and he said, it was 1972, I met a girl, you know, it's a fraught place for him to be, to be, obviously, be talking about love and courting a girl because of his, you know, the sort of elephant in the room. I mean, that said, I think best friends is something that a lot of, you know, marriages of equal partners can relate to.
I think that they, you know, are deeply intellectual equals. And I think that that came through. I think it was, I mean, in terms of best friends, you immediately see her as an equal to a former president who, you know, as the video that introduced him said, created 22 million new jobs. So I think that that sort of put her on equal playing field.
It also showed how he had been sort of driven by her in urging - I thought it was interesting how he said he had urged her into politics. And she said, no one will ever vote for me, are you kidding? And how they kind of thrive together in public service, that can go a lot - that can go a long way, especially towards working-class white voters who still have affection for Bill Clinton but maybe don't for his wife.
GROSS: You've made the comparison between how much Donald Trump likes the spotlight and how much Hillary does not like to be in the spotlight, personally, which surprised me because she's in the spotlight so much...
CHOZICK: She's running for president. Yeah, exactly.
GROSS: ...And she really wants to be president. She wanted to be president in '08. She's hardly left the spotlight. So make that comparison for us.
CHOZICK: She's interesting in that I think she's a sort of reluctant participant in all of this. She absolutely wants to be president...
GROSS: All of this meaning the spectacle part...
CHOZICK: Meaning the pomp, the spectacle, the kind of greasy pole of politics. I think that she is doing it certainly because she wants to be the first woman president. But also she's driven by - and this sounds earnest, but I do think she's driven by, you know, do all the good - the Methodist credo of do all the good you can for all the people you can. And in a way, she's sort of tolerating all of the things that go - she seems to be just tolerating all of the things that go with it, sort of forcing herself. And you can see that on the campaign trail, frankly. In a way, she's sort of tolerating all of the things that go - she seems to be just tolerating all of the things that go with it, sort of forcing herself. And you can see that on the campaign trail frankly.
I mean, she is not a person like Bill Clinton who just, you know, pours himself out on the rope line. She's not a politician like President Obama who can give a soaring oratory. I mean, her best setting is a tiny policy roundtable with six people where she's hearing about their problems and prescribing policy solutions. And so I think that this is all - yes, she's been in the public eye forever. But at the same time, her friends over and over describe her as a deeply private person. I mean, it's stunning that she's now running against a reality TV star because she is a person who has tried desperately to keep parts of her life private.
GROSS: I don't know if you know the answer to this because you're not Hillary, but do you think that that's because she's a private person or because she's been so attacked by so many people for so many years that she's become private and self-protective?
CHOZICK: That's - I think it's very hard to extrapolate the two. I mean, I think that when you see her as being a cautious candidate, it is largely because she has been scarred in the past - I mean, so scarred. I think of some of the speeches that she gave early as first lady, and she was just absolutely ridiculed by both sides. And she's become much more cautious.
And so it's hard to kind of extrapolate how much of it is her old wound. She certainly has a lot of scar tissue that's made her a deeply private person. I mean, in a way, you know, I wanted her to explain the email, the private server, by just saying of course I didn't want you people reading through my emails. Look at what you've put us through. You know, of course she never (laughter) she never explained it that way. But I think that there is something to that certainly.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Chozick. She covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. And she covered Hillary's primary campaign in 2008, and that was for The Wall Street Journal. And when Barack Obama won the nomination, she covered Obama's campaign. We're going to take a short break here and then we'll talk more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Chozick. She covers Hillary Rodham Clinton for The New York Times. So I read that there was a video, a Hillary video, that was pulled, I think, last night. So what was the video and why was it pulled?
CHOZICK: So this is - was video from the same people who made the famous "Man From Hope" video that introduced - reintroduced Bill Clinton to the country. And it was very biographical, very much rooted in Hillary's mother's story, tracing that through kind of Hillary's life but also putting it into the women's movement from, you know, Maya Angelou to Harriet Tubman, just powerful women that have come before her.
And it was very moving, and and it was a bit long, and I think that there was some concern about that. But also there's a lot of wrestling among Hillary's circle of how much to play up the women's movement, the historic moment. This very much inspires her base of older women, college-educated women. Interestingly, in this campaign, it has not at all inspired young women.
GROSS: What - why do you think that is?
CHOZICK: I think this is one of, Terry, one of the biggest surprises of this campaign is that young women have shown no reflective gender allegiance. And I think that the Clinton campaign really thought that they would. And not only have they - not only have they gotten behind Bernie Sanders, but they seem to be - and of course some of them have come around after the primary, but during the primary, they weren't just for Bernie Sanders. They were in revolt against Hillary Clinton. They thought that she shouldn't, you know, think she's going to - she'd get it just because she's a woman.
I think they've, you know, a lot of young women have grown up seeing Barack Obama in the White House, so they think of course we're going to have a woman. Why does it have to be that woman? And so that's been very interesting, and I think some of her advisers looked at kind of the women's movement video as is this going to bring more men in? Is this going to bring young women in? Maybe we need something a little less, you know, rooted in that.
GROSS: Well, Hillary has a problem with white male voters, right?
CHOZICK: Yes, yes.
GROSS: What's the problem?
CHOZICK: Well, that they don't like her (laughter). But obviously white working-class men have been abandoning the Democratic Party for years. But it was one of Bill Clinton's proudest accomplishments to bring some of them back into the party. And that has just changed dramatically her - I think Donald Trump is beating her by nearly 30 percentage points among white men. She's having real problems there.
And it's an interesting - I think she thinks that her choice of vice president, Tim Kaine, can maybe help with that somewhat. But there's also a big question of whether these voters are going to come back to the Democratic Party at all. I think that they, you know, some of them are drawn to Donald Trump's message. And it's just an instinctive vote kind of against the Obama years.
GROSS: Do you know who's actually producing the convention? And actually, what I'm really interested in, who's booked the guests, who's decided to have Lena Dunham and to have the mothers of sons who were shot - sons and daughters who were shot by the police and, you know, the other performers, Paul Simon and Alicia Keys?
CHOZICK: Well, I've seen these - a lot of these players have...
GROSS: Elizabeth Banks in a hosting role.
CHOZICK: (Laughter) Yes. Well, a lot of these speakers I have seen on the campaign trail and who have campaigned for Hillary Clinton throughout the past year.
GROSS: Oh, Sarah Silverman, sorry, yeah.
CHOZICK: Sarah Silverman, yes.
GROSS: (Laughter) OK.
CHOZICK: Certainly Lena Dunham and the mothers of the movement that you mentioned. I mean, I think what gave Hillary Clinton's primary campaign sort of its emotional core were these - the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown who she really interestingly courted. She had dinner - she assembled all of them at a private dinner in Chicago over Southern food, and she listened. She just went around the table. The meeting was supposed to last half an hour. I think it stretched three hours as they told their stories, and they have campaigned for her ever since.
And so some of the speakers lined up are sort of the people who have campaigned for her in the primary. But she has an aide who also did President Obama's conventions in 2008 and 2012, Jim Margolis, who's kind of assembling all of the speakers. But I think there's been a lot put - of thought put into the theme.
If yesterday was all about Hillary Clinton's work with women and girls and you heard from the woman who'd been enslaved in a human trafficking ring and the child Hillary Clinton held as a baby, tonight is all about national security. You're going to hear from Mayor Bloomberg, who's endorsed her. You're going to hear from Tim Kaine, who's on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And so there's going to be kind of bolstering her national security credentials.
GROSS: I want to ask you about the DNC hack, which led to Debbie Wasserman Schultz's downfall, and there's a lot of embarrassing things coming out, not to mention private information about donors that's been leaked. What private information has been leaked?
CHOZICK: Yes, absolutely, not only has there been sort of embarrassing information, but there's been a lot about the donor relationship, private information about how the sort of wheels are greased. And, frankly, all of that has given fuel to the Bernie Sanders movement, not just that it showed that the Democratic National Committee was helping get Hillary Clinton elected, but it just showed the influence of money in politics and I think a way, a very crass way, that people are already uncomfortable with and sort of assumed existed.
But now we know it does in black and white in these emails. And you're seeing that collide. You know, you go to the Ritz and there's all these big donors hanging out, and outside there are protesters trying to get money out of politics.
GROSS: So what have you read in the leaks so far that surprised you?
CHOZICK: I think what's the most surprising was, you know, some of the things that we've already heard about, the kind of efforts to potentially use Bernie Sanders' religion against him. And I think that now that Hillary Clinton has, you know, won the nomination, there's - people forget how incredibly tense and afraid they were of Bernie Sanders at one point. And I think that these emails just kind of underscored that they're willing to do anything. And of course the party's supposed to be neutral in the primary.
GROSS: So are you mortified by what you're reading about, the behind-the-scenes dealings between donors and the campaign, or do you think that that's business as usual being uncovered?
CHOZICK: I think it's business as usual. I think that, you know, certainly readers who don't know a lot of donors or cover these things regularly, it's very - it's a very jarring thing to see.
GROSS: It's been reported - in fact, The New York Times has reported that intelligence agencies have told the White House that they now have, quote, "high confidence" that the Russian government was behind the hack. But intelligence officials are uncertain if the break in was intended as a fairly routine cyberespionage or if it's part of an effort to actually manipulate the presidential election. What are you hearing? Do you - hearing anything that we don't know?
CHOZICK: (Laughter) Well, this is one of the most intriguing subplots of the convention I think. And I - and certainly they're - the Clinton campaign would like, and Democrats would like, to sort of push the narrative that this is Putin interfering in a U.S. election. I mean, Hillary Clinton clashed with Putin when she was secretary of state. They have a history there. And Donald Trump has praised him. And so there's almost this kind of whispers of is Donald Trump some "Manchurian Candidate" for, you know, the Russians? But certainly there is - you know, there are reports that Russia was behind the hack.
And then, at the same time, I think there's a lot of concern that the hack is more widespread than the DNC. If they could get to the DNC, could they get to the campaign? Could they get to the Clinton Foundation? I mean, I think that there are concerns that there is more coming. Julian Assange has said that there is something very incriminating.
GROSS: He said he has information that could indict her.
CHOZICK: Yes. And Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign manager, said, you know, we don't exactly take Julian Assange - what he says seriously. But at the same time, people I talked to, there is this sort of sense of anxiety, and they're not sure. I mean, Terry, if there's one thing that they didn't want hanging over this convention it's emails, and here we are again.
GROSS: My guest is Amy Chozick. She covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. After we take a short break, we'll discuss gender-related criticism she's dealt with covering Clinton about the use of gender-coded language and accusations that, because Chozick is a woman, her coverage of Clinton is biased. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Amy Chozick. She covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. Chozick is in Philadelphia this week reporting from the Democratic National Convention where last night Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party.
You covered Hillary Clinton's primary campaign against Obama. Do you think she's changed between then and now? I know you're very interested in her as a person and you try to get to that in your reporting.
CHOZICK: Absolutely. It's interesting, I think she is running a better campaign now. But I think she is a worse candidate in a way. I think that when she was running in 2008, she had been a senator. She was a senator, and she was constantly checking in with her constituents. And she was, you know, famously sort of accessible and going to dairy farms and checking in on - you know, in New York City whether it was, you know, first responders at ground zero or anyone else that she represented. You know, you flash forward, she's been secretary of state for four years, traveling the world. She comes back, she goes to Chappaqua. She lives in New York.
I feel like when she reemerged as a candidate in 2016, she was a little bit more detached. I've seen her kind of overcome that a little bit. But she almost seems more distant, more detached than she did in her 2008 campaign. That said, she has hired people who understand the delegate process, who understood the caucus process, who have an excellent sort of data grassroots operation that, of course, the Obama campaign had in 2008 and she - and her campaign did not.
GROSS: How has your access to Hillary Clinton changed between the primary against Obama and her campaign now?
CHOZICK: Well, I think the best symbol of that is that, you know, in 2008, we all rode on the same plane as you do covering a candidate. We rode on the same plane, and she would come back with a glass of wine or she would come back to talk to us. I'm not saying the access was ever as good as we wanted, but we saw her regularly, especially when she started to lose. She sort of let it go a little bit more, talked to reporters, especially the reporters who covered her, who she knew. At one point, on Valentine's Day, she called our significant others to apologize for keeping us away from them. This time she flies in her own plane. The press is in a separate plane with no aides, and she is in a private plane with her aides, you know, somewhere in the clouds in front of us. And so to me, that is sort of a symbol of how the access has changed. She hasn't done a real press conference in months. And I'm not sure she's going to, frankly. She doesn't like that format. She doesn't feel like it, you know, is fair to her. And so she's been very - she's been very inaccessible. She does - of course, her aides say she does interviews all the time, which she does. But I think going on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" for the third time is very different from sitting down for an in-depth interview with a print news outlet.
GROSS: How many interviews has she given you during the campaign?
CHOZICK: I had one interview.
GROSS: And so what do you cover when you're covering her if she's on a separate plane and she's not giving you interviews and she's not doing press conferences?
CHOZICK: Well, I've never approached this beat from a place of access because if you do, then you're, you know, inevitably either going to get cut off or if you say something - if you write something they don't write - they don't like. And so I haven't covered this campaign in any way depending - dependent on access. And I often feel like getting to know Hillary, you can talk to her circle.
The great thing about the Clintons is they do have friends since kindergarten who know them in all parts of their lives. I've talked to, you know, friends that she was on the debate team with in Park Ridge in the suburbs of Chicago. I have - I dove into her life in Little Rock, in Arkansas, been there dozens of times. This whole orbit, I think, is very important to get to know different aspects of her life - the Senate years, the State Department years. And I try to do that as much as possible. You're not necessarily getting the candidate to describe her innermost feelings, but you can talk to those who know her.
GROSS: So I want to ask you about some of the things that Hillary Clinton is now most often attacked for. On the list includes her emails, her private email server, Benghazi, connections to banks, speaking fees from places like Goldman Sachs - and there's more. On the list of things that she's most often attacked for by Republicans and by Democrats who oppose her, do you get a sense of which the Clinton team is most concerned about?
CHOZICK: Well, I think they were very excited to not be indicted. You know it's an interesting campaign when a good week is not being indicted, when the FBI director Comey said that he would not indict her over the emails. But at the same time - it's interesting, I don't think that there is one thing that they are so worried about because I don't think the average voter, you know, working as a waitress in Ohio, like, knows or cares that she skirted federal records requests with her emails.
The point is that all of these situations have filtered into the American conscious, and there is something about Hillary Clinton people do not trust. And so whether you can - and I talk to voters all the time about this - whether you can put your finger on exactly what it is or, you know, the details of the emails, there's something that - they'll say, I don't trust her. The emails, the - Goldman Sachs - they just kind of throw out these words. And so I don't even think that they're sort of real issues you can combat except a general sense that she is not trustworthy. And frankly, it probably goes beyond the list that you mentioned to Whitewater and cattle futures and all of the things that they think of when they think of the Clintons and that, frankly, you know, Donald Trump has reminded - has drudged up again.
GROSS: One of the things Donald Trump has criticized Hillary for is discrediting women who said they'd had affairs or been sexually harassed by her husband. And I'm wondering if you think the Roger Ailes scandal in which more than 20 women have come forward accusing him of sexual harassment is going to affect that narrative that's directed against Hillary and her husband pertaining to his infidelities.
CHOZICK: Well, it's interesting looking back at the '90s and the way - particularly think about the Monica Lewinsky scandal but also Gennifer Flowers and some of the other women is that Democratic women, liberal women really took the side of Bill Clinton. I think that we have such a different attitude about sexual harassment or accusations of sexual assault today than we did then. And so when you look back on some of the things, some of the ways they describe some of these women - you know, Gennifer Flowers is trailer park trash, Monica Lewinsky - you know, Hillary Clinton called her a narcissistic loony toon. And of course, she's not going to praise the the woman that her husband had relations with.
But at the same time, I think that we have a very - as the Roger Ailes Fox News drama shows, we have a very different tolerance - level of tolerance when it comes to sexual assault and sexual harassment. And frankly, it's - you know, disgusts some people, but Donald Trump has smartly tapped into the way women feel about that now. I mean, women are his biggest weakness. And he knows that, you know, society has changed, and it's not acceptable.
GROSS: You have written that the Clinton team is studying how Trump attacked Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio to see why was Trump so successful in undermining them and what can the Hillary campaign learn from that. So what are they learning?
CHOZICK: Well, one thing that they learn, I think, is that the takedowns that were so effective against Jeb Bush, against Ted Cruz, against Rubio, calling Jeb low-energy, calling Rubio little Marco, those were very effective. What was less effective that Donald Trump tried to do in the debates was attack Carly Fiorina or attack Megyn Kelly.
And so they're saying, you know, at first glimpse, as the Clinton campaign analyzed how Trump took down his rivals, they said, well, this doesn't work as well on women, you know, as it did on men. And so I think they saw that. But one of the interesting kind of surprising things that emerged is the best person to take on Donald Trump has been Elizabeth Warren. She seems to really get under his skin.
I think it sort of surprised the Clinton camp that she has become this Trump slayer. You saw her speak the other night. She calls him a small, insecure money grubber. It seems to really get under Donald Trump's skin. He's been calling her Pocahontas on Twitter as often as he can.
And so in some aspect, the strategy of countering Trump has been surprising in that Elizabeth Warren, this sort of professorial champion of bankruptcy protection for working families, has emerged as the Rottweiler charged with attacking Donald Trump.
GROSS: You know, you mention Twitter. Is it important to you, covering Hillary's campaign, to follow a lot of people on Twitter and see what they're saying, including Donald Trump?
CHOZICK: Oh, absolutely. Twitter is, you know, a great news aggregator and one that we have to watch. She announced her vice presidential choice via Twitter. And also, increasingly, it's how candidates - you know, when you talk about access, they have all these new mediums for avoiding us. You know, why talk to the press when I can put a statement out on Twitter?
Why give an interview when I can write something on Medium? And I think the Obama White House sort of started this trend of using new technology to go around the press. But certainly, Twitter is another aspect. I'll constantly be asking, do you have a statement to this? Do you have a statement to the shooting in Dallas or whatever news event it is?
And they say, oh, look at - we just tweeted this or look at Twitter.
GROSS: (Laughter) That's changed a lot - hasn't it? - since you started covering Hillary and Obama in '07?
CHOZICK: Absolutely. I mean, it's amazing how much technology can - I feel, you know, old saying this. It's amazing how much technology changed. Twitter didn't really exist.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Chozick, and she covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. We're going to take a short break, then we'll be back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Chozick, and she covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. Since Hillary Clinton is so often at the center of controversy, writing about her, you're probably at the center of controversy, too. So of the articles that you've written about Hillary, which are some of the ones that you've gotten the strongest response to?
CHOZICK: Well, the articles when I know I've done it right is when somebody - when I get attacked from both sides. You hate Hillary or you love Hillary. I mean, I wrote - one of my first stories when I came back to covering Hillary Clinton was on the Clinton Foundation and dysfunction within the foundation. I mean, that was just - the backlash was intense, including Bill Clinton publishing an open letter about, you know, defending his foundation.
It was just intense. You know, Fox News and some of the Conservative media kind of ran with it. You know, these things take on a life of their own. And so you can write and think, this is a balanced story and then not really know where it goes from there. But, I mean, even, you know, even stories that are positive can spark a backlash.
I wrote a story that Bill Clinton actually mentioned the other night about Hillary Clinton going undercover in Alabama to investigate these private academies that were segregated. And I heard from so many Bernie people saying what about Bernie's civil rights (laughter) civil rights record? And actually, the Bernie people are incredibly vocal.
You almost expect to hear from Conservatives bashing The New York Times. But the Bernie Bros was a real thing, and they had often very misogynist undertones attacking every time you wrote something perceived as positive about Hillary Clinton. Even in a debate, if you kind of framed it as her having an edge in a debate, just a swarm of emails, Twitter messages. Some people would call my phone.
Actually, the night that the AP called it for Hillary Clinton, said she had the delegates needed to capture the nomination, obviously Bernie hadn't come close to conceding. And I got just a swarm of, frankly, threatening phone calls for The Times calling the race for Hillary Clinton.
GROSS: So the AP had polled superdelegates. And based on the number that they found, The New York Times reported that Hillary had basically clinched the primary 'cause you added the superdelegates to the number of delegates you'd already gotten. But this was on the eve of the California and New Jersey primary.
And the Sanders campaign said you might be suppressing the vote by doing this 'cause people in those states might decide to stay home, that their vote doesn't count. And that would be unfair to the Sanders campaign. And they said, you don't know who a superdelegate is going to vote for until they've voted.
So how did you answer those criticisms, which were probably not made as nicely as I just said?
CHOZICK: No, you know, The Times usually follows - when the AP calls something, that is kind of our cue also to call it. It has been, you know, in the past. And so, you know, we try to explain that. But sometimes you can't. Sometimes people - that's the interesting thing about covering politics is it's so emotional. You know, people are coming from an emotional place.
And it's hard to kind of explain that with the rationalities of counting superdelegates. You know, it doesn't matter. If your candidate and you're so invested in this candidate and you so feel like the country is going to be, you know, go to hell if this candidate isn't elected, that it's hard to approach that from a sensible place. I mean, I try to, you know, respond to the more sensible inquiries.
But sometimes when you get, you know, phone calls saying we're going to hunt you down in the streets, (laughter) you just start screening.
GROSS: Did you get phone calls that said we're going to hunt you down in the streets?
CHOZICK: Yes, and I'm not the only one (laughter).
GROSS: So what do you do when you get a call like that? Do you feel threatened? Do you report it to the police or the FBI?
CHOZICK: No, I mean, I didn't feel, like, seriously threatened. I just think that there are, you know, a lot of - I mean, to his credit, Bernie Sanders harnessed an amazing army of social media, you know, fans and supporters in a way that, frankly, Hillary Clinton has been unable to, I think, because her supporters in the primary were older. But, you know, and so they are very active - were very active.
GROSS: Did the pushback that you got take on a misogynist tone, too?
CHOZICK: Absolutely. It all - I mean, frankly, it's been...
GROSS: I ask that because it is the internet...
GROSS: ...And it is social media (laughter).
CHOZICK: Yes, and it has, and it - and what's interesting is how often the criticism is tinged with - not even tinged, just, you know, full on deluged (laughter) with misogyny. And I'm not, like, a reporter who thinks about gender a lot. I mean, even though I cover Hillary Clinton, it's not something I think about a lot, but you're sort of forced to when someone calls you, you know, the C-word or (laughter) implies that you're somehow, you know, in the tank because you're both women. It's remarkable to me.
GROSS: Oh, that's happened to you, that you're in the tank 'cause you're both women?
CHOZICK: Oh, obviously the woman reporter is trying to get the - the woman elected, which is, you know, I don't know if that conspiracy was made for all the decades of men covering male candidates.
GROSS: You've also been warned about gendered language and coded language. And I think this has come from different sides, too. So tell us how language has figured into your reporting with, like, what - who have you heard from in terms of criticizing you for using coded language in describing Hillary Clinton?
CHOZICK: Well, I'm glad you mentioned that because it's not just that people think I'm in the tank 'cause I'm a woman. People also think I'm out to get Hillary 'cause I'm a woman. I hear from her supporters saying you're jealous. You want to take down another woman. You're a mean girl. I hear that all the time.
And it was her - a group of very eager Hillary supporters called the Super Volunteers who emailed me early on and said this is a list of language we're going to be watching for in your stories, and these are sexist terms. And, frankly, they were not at all sexist terms. They were, like, ambitious or will do anything to win. I mean, it was, like, 25 adjectives that you couldn't write a political story without using (laughter).
GROSS: So are you talking about the pro-Hillary group that contacted you?
CHOZICK: Yes, yes.
GROSS: This was the HRC Super Volunteers.
CHOZICK: God bless them, yep (laughter).
GROSS: You wrote about this, and I have a list of some of the words that you mentioned.
CHOZICK: OK, great.
GROSS: So polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, overconfident, secretive, will do anything to win - so those are some of the words and phrases that you were warned not to use because that they were sexist. It was gendered language.
GROSS: So do you think it's fair to call those words coded, gender language.
CHOZICK: No. I don't think secretive means - has anything to do with gender. I really don't. And I also think you can't approach every story thinking is this word going to be interpreted as sexist, you know? I mean, she's running for president. If she's being secretive by keeping a private server in her basement in Chappaqua, I don't think that has to do with gender. And I think that you can't walk on eggshells, you know, afraid of that. I mean, that said, you know, we have to be conscious when we describe her hair, her clothes, but we do that for men as well. You know, we describe men's clothes all the time.
GROSS: Donald Trump's hair.
CHOZICK: Donald Trump's hair frankly. And so, at this - you know - you know - sometimes you know you're going to get criticism, but you just have to take it because, you know, if her - you know, if her clothing is of note, we would note it about any candidate.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Chozick, and she covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. We're going to take a short break. Then, we'll be back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Chozick, and she covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. Hillary has been very guarded with the press. And you can say that's really understandable because there's been so many conspiracy theories about her, and she's just been the target of so much criticism over so many years and, you know, some of it really legitimate and some of it, you know, just, like, wild conspiracy theories.
So my guess is that you understand the reasons why she's guarded, but you also need her to talk with you. You need her to be real with you. So what are your - some of your frustrations trying - and I know you're interested in Hillary Clinton the person in addition to Hillary Clinton the candidate. So what are some of the issues you face trying to understand who the person is in trying to reach Hillary Clinton the person?
CHOZICK: That's a really good question. I was looking through some of her old letters when she was in Wellesley, and she describes in a letter to a friend the opaque reality of her own self (laughter). I think about that all the time, how opaque she is. I mean...
GROSS: She thought of herself as being opaque when she was in college.
CHOZICK: When she was in college. She also described herself as a compassionate misanthrope. She said, is it possible to be a misanthrope but still love and appreciate some people, which is fascinating to think about today. And of course we all wrote crazy things in college. But I think it does, in some ways, apply to her still.
It is a very big frustration because one of the things you hear from her aides and friends all the time - and you even heard it from Bill Clinton last night - is that the country doesn't know the real Hillary. They have this sort of cartoon caricature and they don't know the real Hillary. She's a good friend. She's a warm, funny person. She's a loving mother.
And sometimes I'll say to her aides, well, if you want the country to understand the real Hillary, the press is the conduit to explain her. And if we don't see that, how do you expect us to kind of explain that to readers and voters? And so there's a frustration, and I think there's a recognition that we don't - we don't see that side of her. But at the same time, as you said, she has been so scarred. She is so kind of forged in the crucible of all of these battles and all of this coverage that she has hated, and she thinks turned her into this caricature.
I went back and read the transcript of a very famous press conference, the pretty in pink press conference she did in the heat of the cattle futures commodities scandal in the White House. She was just being barraged with criticism. She sat down in her pink St. John's suit, and she just answered questions for over an hour and a half, just - every question she had, just give it all to me.
And at the end, a reporter said this was great, Madam First Lady. Can we do this regularly? And she said, well, you know, Eleanor Roosevelt held weekly press conferences. Then again, Eleanor Roosevelt had an all-female press corps. Well, flash forward to 2016, Hillary Clinton has almost an entirely female press corps, and yet, she talks and engages us very little.
GROSS: Why do you think the majority of the reporters covering Hillary are women?
CHOZICK: It's something I've thought a lot about because, at first, when people asked me, you know, if I was put on this beat because I'm a woman, I got really offended. Like, I was put on this beat because I'm qualified, and, you know, why do you just assume? But there is a phenomenon in that I think more women have kind of come of age in political journalism and in media in general and that's corresponded with, you know, Hillary Clinton running for president. And it's turned into almost all of the major outlets have women covering her now.
GROSS: So if Hillary is elected president, it will make history in two ways. She'll be the first woman president. And Bill Clinton, he'll be the first man and the first former president to return to the White House in the capacity of spouse. She's hinted a little bit about what his role might be, but just a little bit. Do you have any sense of what his role might be if she wins?
CHOZICK: That's a fascinating question sort of hanging over her candidacy. And she has said things like, you know, when she was traveling around West Virginia in the primary, she said I'm going to put my husband in charge of the economy. He knows something about that. And then she quickly sort of backtracked off that 'cause we thought, is she farming out a major part of her administration? She has said that he will be an adviser. He will be an important sounding board, especially in job creation, the economy and sort of hard-hit pockets of the state. At the same time, you know, I don't think he'll be hosting the Christmas party or picking out china in the ways that a traditional first spouse would do.
Early on in the campaign, he said, I hope to continue to run my foundation. Well, that's not going to happen. And now his advisers say of course he's not. He's going to step away from the foundation. But it's a - it's an interesting dynamic. I mean, her advisers have said he's not going to be sitting in the Situation Room or in Cabinet meetings.
But at the end of the day, if you think of a presidential spouse as a president's closest adviser anyway, you know, of course Barack Obama turns to Michelle. She's going to be - Hillary Clinton would be potentially turning to a former president.
GROSS: And is that seen by the Hillary campaign as an asset or a problem?
CHOZICK: I think with Bill Clinton it's always a little bit of both. You know, he's been an amazing asset on the campaign trail. But at the same time, both in 2008 and this cycle, he has gotten himself and his wife into a bit of trouble.
GROSS: So do you watch "Veep," the HBO series about presidential politics?
CHOZICK: Yes, I love it.
GROSS: So tell me something from "Veep" that rings true to you as a political reporter.
CHOZICK: Well, I mean, one of the things about the Clinton campaign - they've been criticized for having no real message. You know, what are they doing? Are they continuing Obama or are they change? And so when Selina Meyer runs - remember, her slogan is continuity with change.
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.
CHOZICK: And honestly, even Clinton aides have said, yeah, that's kind of - that's kind of our message, continuity with change. But it's unbelievable how right that show gets it.
GROSS: At the risk of stating the very obvious, we have two, like, opposite candidates right now.
CHOZICK: Could not get more opposite.
GROSS: Yeah, name the - some of the ways that they're opposite.
CHOZICK: Well, when it first looked like it was going to be Hillary and Donald Trump, I'd say probably in February when it really sort of looked like they were both solidifying as their party's nominees, I thought the first woman nominee potentially running against the first nominee who's very comfortable using sort of misogynist language and sort of how is that going to to collide. But now, certainly, you're seeing even more contrasts.
You know, we've talked about Hillary Clinton recoiling from the spotlight. Donald Trump cannot get enough of it. She is all policy, almost to a fault. You know, she has never come up with a message that fits on a bumper sticker. She is a 12-point plan type of candidate. And Donald Trump is running a post-policy campaign. I mean, there's almost no one in America who you could ask, what's his slogan? Make America great again, you know? Who knows what it means. It fits on a hat. Everybody knows it.
Hillary Clinton has been unable - her campaign has been drifting between half a dozen different slogans. She's been unable to encapsulate what she believes on a bumper sticker frankly. And so the policy - my - I can't wait for the debate because you're going to have this deeply policy-minded wonkish candidate against this sort of visceral, emotional, you know, emotional Donald Trump.
GROSS: Well, Amy Chozick, thank you so much for talking with us.
CHOZICK: Thank you so much for having me. This was such an honor.
GROSS: Amy Chozick covers Hillary Clinton for The New York Times. We recorded our interview this morning in Philadelphia. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "100 DAYS, 100 NIGHTS")
SHARON JONES: (Singing) One hundred days, 100 nights to know a man's heart.
GROSS: ...I'll talk with soul singer Sharon Jones about returning to the stage after treatment for pancreatic cancer. She's the subject of a new documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "100 DAYS, 100 NIGHTS")
JONES: (Singing) Just so long, for a day comes when his true, his true self unfolds...
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