Welcome to the 2016 garbage fire: A guide to the insane first three days of Hillary Clinton campaign reporting

It's only been half a week, and media coverage of Hillary Clinton's campaign is already beyond hysterical

Published April 15, 2015 5:34PM (EDT)

  (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Today is only the fourth day of the official Hillary Clinton campaign. It's hard to believe that's all, because the first three days have already brought the world enough extraordinary feats of campaign journalism to feed a small village, with radon-marinated rat poison, for a year.

Day 1: Sunday, April 12

On this historic Sunday, a bunch of reporters sat around their laptops waiting for a YouTube video to appear on YouTube. The YouTube video would feature Hillary Clinton announcing her candidacy for president. We knew this because her campaign aides -- she has been hiring many campaign aides for months, but it was still technically unclear whether she would run! -- told reporters that there would be a YouTube announcement of her candidacy on Sunday around noon.

Shortly before the YouTube clip announcing exactly what everyone was told it would announce was released, campaign chairman John Podesta sent around an email making it Official. And then!

The video depicted various smiling representatives of Democratic constituencies. Hillary Clinton popped in near the end to say she's running for president. What this video says about Hillary Clinton's campaign and her policy platform is... nothing. This video will have no effect on her chances of winning either the Democratic presidential nomination or the general election. If the video had featured Hillary Clinton murdering a bunch of farmers in Iowa or blowing up an "everyday diner" in Manchester, New Hampshire, that may have had a negative effect on her electoral hopes. Since it didn't, it won't. It is just a campaign web video, the first of dozens.

These two minutes of stock footage prompted plenty of analysis, though. Even the New York Times let its hair down and allowed two of its reporters, Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman, to publish an interminable instant message conversation that was somehow more vapid than the video itself.

Pat: It’s definitely a hopeful, optimistic video — talking about spring, new jobs, new homes, a gay couple getting married. Very forward-looking — and no references to her own past, and certainly not to the Clinton era of the 1990s.

Maggie: Yes, absolutely. This video is very much about the Democratic coalition of today — as you say, a gay couple getting married as a campaign centerpiece would have been unimaginable even in the President Obama re-elect in 2012.

I’m still not clear what her campaign message is from this video, however.

Her message last time was “I’m in it to win it.”

This time, she’s in it, and people are suffering.

The video seems to be trying to strike the right tone between “things are getting better” and “things are great.”

But I agree with how forward-looking it is.

Pat: She’s definitely trying to strike a balance. Let’s look at the first substantive point she herself makes in the video: “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”

It’s a populist message, a message that Elizabeth Warren might make.

Maggie: Absolutely.

Pat: She is portraying herself as a fighter — not against a Democratic rival or a Republican opponent.

Maggie: Yes, and a fighter for other people.

Pat: But against greater forces that a lot of Americans feel are keeping them down.

Yes. Yes. No? Trenchant. Hmm.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, for her part, felt insulted by the video. Tragic.

Day 2: Monday, April 13

Hillary Clinton and her campaign team had decided to drive to their first Iowa events in a van. What an interesting move that merits countless man-hours of political analysis. Is driving in a van authentic? Is it phony? Will it "give off the impression" of authenticity? What sort of van is it? Is it a fancy van? Is this a van that an everyday Iowan might drive? Is Hillary herself driving it or is she a fraud? What does it mean to be a driver-candidate in the age of mechanical reproduction? How many miles does the van have? What sort of engine does it have? Is Hillary Clinton road-tripping to avoid the media, as opposed to taking a private plane to avoid the media? Will Hillary Clinton's van appeal to key demographics like Asian-Americans and Sam's Club soccer mom winos? Is the van a populist van, the sort of van that Elizabeth Warren might enjoy?

After nearly a full day of careful consideration about Hillary Clinton traveling to Iowa by land, some news: Hillary Clinton had stopped for lunch at a Chipotle. Once again it was the Times' Maggie Haberman providing the critical details and security camera footage in a series of chilling tweets.

[embedtweet id=587722452496691203]

[embedtweet id=587722730277052418]

[embedtweet id=587724401354919937]

Let's just say this: the New York Times wanted a Politico campaign reporter, and it got itself a Politico campaign reporter.

The reactions to Hillary Clinton having lunch at Chipotle were strong and polarized, as Salon's own Heather Digby Parton has chronicled. Many chastised Clinton as a fraud who hates America and its people, because she tried to order lunch incognito. Bloomberg's Mark Halperin had an equally hollow commentary supporting the politics of Clinton eating lunch at Chipotle. "The two words she needs are fun and new," Halperin, who makes a salary of $1 million per year, opined. "And part of why yesterday was so successful is, she looks like she’s having fun and she’s doing, for her, new stuff. We’ve never seen her get a burrito before." The New York Times' data journalism blog, the Upshot, speculated about the calorie count of Clinton's order.

From the Wall Street Journal: "Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle."

Day 3: Tuesday, April 14

Hillary Clinton's van arrived in Monticello, Iowa for a small event at Kirkwood Community College. The arrival of the "Scooby Van" was captured in an instant classic cable news moment. As the van pulls in, a HERD of reporters sprints to the back entrance to shout questions at Hillary Clinton's van, or take photos of Hillary Clinton getting out of her van. It was a pure slapstick moment narrated by MSNBC Clinton reporter (and former Salon writer!) Alex Seitz-Wald, who somehow doesn't crack up. Alex is a pro!

Once Clinton got into the event, a funny thing happened: Clinton discussed, however vaguely, some policy positions she'll be introducing, and some news outlets even reported on them. She said she supports a constitutional amendment to tighten campaign finance restrictions, as well as expanding access to community colleges and providing student debt relief.

The optimistic reading of this is that once Clinton starts talking more about policies she supports, Clinton campaign coverage will come down to Planet Earth and we'll see fewer stories about, and security camera footage of, her lunch orders. Obviously, this optimistic reading is incorrect. The coverage will get worse and worse, because nothing ever gets better.

Happy Day 4! Who knows what great stuff we'll get today? Perhaps Hillary Clinton will wear blue pants or use the restroom.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell