Get ready for the (Bill) Clinton bashing

Network coverage is already trending against the former president, but the pundits may not really have the exit poll data to back their attacks on him.

By Alex Koppelman
January 27, 2008 7:00AM (UTC)
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By now, it's hardly a secret that there are some pundits out there who take pleasure in jumping up and down on the Clintons every time either Bill or Hillary is going through tough times. And from the moment tonight's coverage began in earnest, it was clear that this night would be no different from any other. But the pundits may not have as much evidence for their claims about the supposedly detrimental effect Bill Clinton played in his wife's loss in South Carolina as they suggest.

MSNBC has, predictably, been focusing on the former president, hammering him especially for comments he made today comparing Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson, who was twice the victor in South Carolina caucuses in the 1980s. Their focus was so intense, in fact, that at one point anchor Keith Olbermann joked, in segueing from one segment discussing Clinton to another, "Not to make it look like we're piling on, but it is such a relevant issue."


On CNN, the story was no different. Carl Bernstein, who's written unflattering portraits of the Clintons before, said tonight, "Bill Clinton is a huge loser in this, because it looks, I think, to many people in the party that he has squandered his post-presidency the same way he squandered part of his presidency." Similarly, a post on CNN's Political Ticker blog leads, "Bill Clinton's aggressive campaigning in South Carolina in the days leading up to the state's primary may have had a net negative effect among South Carolina's Democratic primary voters."

And while the networks do have some evidence to fall back on -- that same CNN blog post notes "Roughly 6 in 10 South Carolina Democratic primary voters said Bill Clinton's campaigning was important in how they ultimately decided to vote, and of those voters, 48 percent went for Barack Obama while only 37 percent went for Hillary Clinton" -- a look at the exit poll data in context shows that Bill Clinton may not have been the weight around the neck of his wife's campaign that he's being made out to be.

What's not being noted is that Obama actually won bigger among the 40 percent of voters who said Bill Clinton's campaigning wasn't important to their decision; he took 62 percent of that vote, and John Edwards actually came in second among that group with 25 percent while Hillary Clinton had just 13 percent. And when the exit poll results are broken into more categories on that question -- "very important," "somewhat important," "not too important," "not important at all" -- Clinton has a narrow win in the "very important" category, while Obama takes the rest.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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