On PBS, Jonathan Alter Noted Bill Clinton's 'Working the Refs' on Obama's 'Free Ride'
In 1992, Republican chairman Rich Bond oafishly suggested in public that he was arguing the media had a liberal bias because he was "working the refs," cynically complaining about harsh coverage to get better coverage. But many candidates try to work reporters this way, and on the slightly dated April 4 edition of the PBS talk show Charlie Rose, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter said Bill Clinton's trying that tactic against Barack Obama, who he feels hasn't been challenged or critiqued by reporters:
JONATHAN ALTER: He`s working the refs, as we say.
CHARLIE ROSE: He`s doing what?
ALTER: He`s working the refs....Basketball players understand that.
ROSE: Tell me what it is of -- you started to say he says?
ALTER: Well, that was Mark's point, that he really feels that the press and the big fund-raisers and people who are inside this process should focus more on Obama and his record and that he`s getting -- Clinton has basically said in many private forums, that he feels he`s getting a free ride.
"Mark" was ABC's Mark Halperin. Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times and Kristin Jensen of Bloomberg News were the other reporters on the panel. Alter also reported the Clintons are professing that they could be the underdog, and that could be good for them, spin, spin, spin:
ALTER: A person very close to both Clintons told me, as long ago as last fall, look, we could slip behind Obama in 2007, and be in the underdog role, and that would actually be a good thing, this guy was saying, for Hillary Clinton. It`s never comfortable to be the frontrunner. We don`t know how Obama will react should he become the frontrunner in the polls. It might not be a good place for him to run a campaign.
There is a tradition in the Democratic Party of liking the underdog, and the candidates being a little bit more comfortable when they surge at the end, rather than right upfront the whole way. So I think this could conceivably be a blessing in disguise for Hillary Clinton. I know that`s not the kind of thing they like to hear.
You can tell how different the sound is when liberals are sitting in a room together without anyone disagreeable there to suggest the Clintons are more than a bit corrupt, or that his enormous appetite for sex or speaking fees or adulation is going to get them both in trouble. Instead, they spread bizarre claptrap about how the Clintons raised "America's prestige" during his presidency.
ROSE: Hillary Clinton`s narrative is?
ALTER: I think Hillary Clinton`s narrative is, let`s restore America`s prestige in the world to where it was in the 1990s, and complete the unfinished agenda of her husband`s presidency. And that can be a compelling narrative. So we`ve got a lot of different elements here that are going to compete in a fascinating way.
ROSE: Speaking of her husband, he`s -- everybody believes that he is a big plus for her. Yes?
ALTER: Right now, yes. Yes.
ROSE: What -- right now, what does that mean, right now?
ALTER: Because it allows her to be in two places at once, which is a huge advantage.
ROSE: But you would have thought that the money thing would have been double what it was, because he was out there...
ALTER: They raised a lot of money.
ROSE: I know they did.
ALTER: But they were up against -- they were up against this new cyclone, this tremendous new power in American politics, which is the Internet.
MARK HALPERIN: Since her start -- she had a very good launch -- since her start, she has done nothing but play defense on Iraq, and raise money, and do good retail events in the key early states.
She`s not put forth any policy proposals or any rhetoric that I think has captured the imagination, and she has not solved her problem with the blogosphere, which is no big fan of hers. She`s going to have to do something exciting, risky, creative. And I think she will this year, and I think that will help her and it will help her raise money.