ABC's McFadden to Clinton: Do the Critics Make You Cower?

Do all those attacks against Hillary Clinton reduce the candidate to cowering in bed? "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden posed this question to the former First Lady on Wednesday's program. She sympathetically asked, "There's never a night when you go back to whatever hotel room, whatever city you're in that night, and crawl in a ball and say, 'I just, this just hurts too much?"

As previously noted on NewsBusters, the ABC program also featured McFadden gushing that the presidential candidate's new campaign web site is "terribly sweet in so many ways" and yet it also shows the double standard that female politicians have to put up with. McFadden, who spent a day with Clinton in Iowa, protectively spun most of her questions. She observed that Barack Obama has been successful with "some people" at painting Clinton as an opportunist and then queried simply, "How do you fight back against that?"

At another point, McFadden helpfully recounted the senator's comment that going negative against Obama would be "the fun part." "Did you really mean that," she queried. Interpreting the '08 contender's emotions, McFadden continued, "Because it didn't look fun to me from where I sat. It didn't look like you were having much fun going negative."

Clinton seemed quite happy to have the ABC journalist along for the day. The former First Lady greeted McFadden as "my dear" and promised to see the reporter at another event, saying, "It's a date." If there's a reason for this, it could be the September 2006 exclusive with McFadden in which the two can be seen having tea together. That interview also featured these softball questions:

"Do you actually like campaigning?"

"If you could pick an adjective that you hope people would use to describe you, what would it be?" (Clinton’s answer? "Real.")

"Why would anyone want to be president? Can you help me understand that?"

And although Wednesday's interview did see McFadden challenge Clinton on minor issues, such as whether America is sick of /Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton, most of the interview followed the syrupy format of the 2006 version.

A partial transcript of the segment, which began airing at 11:35pm on December 19, follows:

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Likability has always been a problem for Clinton. And with Barack Obama's rapid rise, she seemed to get the message that experience alone was not going to win her the race here. People had to like her too.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON [ad]: I have my mother and my daughter with me tonight.

MCFADDEN: Late last week, this ad featuring her mother and her daughter came out with a not surprising, but very effective message that her mother really likes her. Really. The campaign seems to have decided that if Hillary Clinton is to go personal, it should be about herself and not other candidates. The attacks on Barack Obama in recent weeks landed like duds.

CLINTON: Someone with little national or international experience started running for president as soon as he arrived in the United States Senate.

MCFADDEN: Let me ask you about to going negative. You made a speech in early December and you said, "Now comes the fun part."

CLINTON: I have been four months on the receiving end of rather consistent attacks. Well, now the fun part starts.

MCFADDEN: Did you really mean that? Because it didn't look fun to me from where I sat. It didn't look like you were having much fun going negative.

CLINTON: Well, I, what I was really trying to, inartfully, say was the fun part is when people start to make up their minds. You know, when you could see voters begin to really resolve who they're going to be for. That's what I was talking about.

MCFADDEN: It really sounded as if you were saying, "Now comes the mudslinging. Now, I get to hit back."

CLINTON: Well, I think that, that was the way it was interpreted. That's not what I intended by it. I do think it's legitimate to draw a contrast. [Cut to Hillary about to get in a plane.] This is the fun part.

MCFADDEN: This is the fun part?

HILLARY CLINTON: Up, up and away.

MCFADDEN: There you go. When we come back, is the Iowa fog lifting for Hillary Clinton?

11:45

MCFADDEN: The buzz here in Iowa amongst Democrats certainly centers on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But these days, it seems she can barely bring herself to say his name. Little Iowa towns like Elkader are where big political ambitions are being played out, the second stop on another marathon day with the Clinton campaign.

CLINTON: Some people think I am, maybe, too serious a person. Well, that's not the way I am all the time.

MCFADDEN: That seems to be the point of this last blitz through Iowa, where insiders worry she could well end up third, not only behind Barack Obama, but also behind John Edwards. So your husband says it's gonna be a miracle if you win it. Is he setting expectations too low? I mean, come on. What, what, I mean, is he setting expectations too low?

CLINTON: Well, I think anybody would tell you that I started out very far behind here because I had never really spent much time in Iowa unlike, you know, my, one of my major competitors. I wasn't from next door like another one. So I really had to start from ground zero and--

MCFADDEN: So you don't even say his name anymore? We're not saying Barack Obama?

CLINTON: Well, I, I hardly ever refer to my opponents because I want voters to make the decision looking at each of us. I want them to decide that I'm the person who would be the best president because, obviously, that's the case I'm making.

MCFADDEN Obama has been very specific about you, especially recently in a "Nightline" interview in which he said, let me make sure I get this right. He says that you claim all of the successes of your husband's administration, but none of the failures and says that, "Listen, Michelle hears me talk about my life as a senator. She doesn't think that makes her qualified to be a senator." Would you respond to that?

CLINTON: I am a senator. I have been elected twice in a very--

MCFADDEN: But you understand the point?

CLINTON: Well, I understand the point, but it's, it's really beside the point. I have been very forthright in saying that we weren't successful on health care. The whole world saw that. But I think you know more about someone by seeing how they respond to setbacks than successes.

MCFADDEN: Barack Obama has been quite effective, though, with some people in - in painting you as someone who is an opportunist, as someone who is not principled, relying on polls, not principle. He would say relying on calculation, not convictions. How do you fight back against that?

CLINTON: I've never been deterred by criticism and I don't intend to be now. You know, I don't really care about any of the hits that people make on me. It's, that's fine. I can't control it. They can say whatever they want.

MCFADDEN: There's never a night when you go back to whatever hotel room, whatever city you're in that night, and crawl in a ball and say, 'I just, this just hurts too much?"

CLINTON: No, it really isn't. I, you know--

MCFADDEN: Really?

CLINTON: You, if you've been talking to me 20 years ago when, you know, Bill was in politics for the first time and you, you all of a sudden are subjected to all of this criticism, it takes some getting used to.

MCFADDEN: And coping with insults is one thing, coping with helicopters and fog and the cold is another. Is this the, is this the fun part?

CLINTON: This is the fun part.

MCFADDEN: This is the fun part?

CLINTON: Up, up and away.

MCFADDEN: There you go. All right, so you're gonna come to the next event, and then we'll gonna meet you back in Des Moines?

CLINTON: In Des Moines. See you there. It's a date.

MCFADDEN: There you go. Finally, at nearly at 5:00, the helicopter takes off for yet another little town and more retail politics. Whether some of this frantic last push could have been avoided had the Senator worked the rural areas earlier, we will never know. Whether it has worked, we will know soon enough. There are gonna be people who vote for the first time ever in a presidential election this year, who are 21, 22, 23, 24 years old, who, ever since they were born, have either had a Bush or a Clinton in the White House. If you win, I mean, it's been Bush, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, Clinton, Clinton? Is - do you understand why some people think that's not good for America? I mean, Barack Obama being one of them.

CLINTON: Well, I can understand why people would raise that because, obviously, that is the pattern. But I also think what's great about America is anybody can run for president. I want to prove that women can run and win to be president.

MCFADDEN: There's been a lot of talk about the role your husband is playing in the campaign. Would you just settle the record? Is he, in fact, creating the strategy at this point?

CLINTON: You know, he is having a great time. And I'm loving having him out on the campaign trail because he makes a wonderful case for my candidacy. And, you know, everybody's spouse is trying to do that. He gives me a lot of advice. Sometimes I take it. I used to give him a lot of advice. Sometimes he took it.

MCFADDEN: It's been suggested that he owes you this.

CLINTON: Oh, I don't see it that way. You know, he's been incredibly helpful to me in everything that I've ever tried and I've done that for him. We started, as we like to say, a conversation all those years ago and it's taken us to a lot of interesting places. And it still goes on just as, you know, much today as it ever did.

MCFADDEN: One of those interesting places, she hopes, will be somewhere they have been before, the White House. Bill Clinton has been a tremendous asset. He's also been a liability, making some noticeable gaffes in the last few weeks. One thing is clear, her husband may be trying to lower expectations for her performance here in Iowa, but she has no intention of making that necessary.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org