TMZ Corners Hillary, Bungles the Question

Hillary Clinton gets away easy.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States, speaks during the presentation of the German translation of her book 'Hard Choices' ('Entscheidungen' in German) at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

Photographer: Adam Berry/Getty Images

The breaking news from TMZ is that one of its reporters finally got Hillary Clinton on camera, responding to the firestorm over her private e-mails. The buried lede is that the question was impossibly bungled, as if concocted by a crack team of prose-muddlers to get no answer. Here is what TMZ's "intrepid D.C. photog" asked when the former secretary of state arrived at Reagan National Airport.

How you doin', Hillary? Hillary, with the blunder of the emails, was that just a generalization gap or can that be corrected? Any chance that will be corrected, Mrs. Clinton? Secretary Clinton? All right, have a good day though.

Coverage of the video has taken on an emperor's-new-clothes feel, with straight reporters writing up the gibberish and the non-response. On the one hand it was her first on-camera With so little to go on, the online discussion of the... interview... has moved right on to how those other outlets covered it. The Washington Free Beacon's Lachlan Markay zeroed in on how Politico initially covered the video, with the headline "TMZ Stalks Hillary Clinton." (The headline was later stealth-edited into oblivion.)

This shifted the discussion from the substance of the video–functionally, nothing–to why other news outlets didn't go for the scoop. A representative version of the argument came from Ken White.

This raises a good point about the utility of ambush journalism versus other kinds of journalism. Sometimes, ambush journalism advances a story by clarifying what a figure in the news is afraid to answer. (A fine example: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren fleeing a question about Gaza, revealing for the umpteenth time that she did not want to wade into foreign policy.)

Sometimes, reporters are clearly advancing the story without the involvement of the key figure. The Associated Press's stories about Clinton's e-mail are perfect cases of that. TMZ had previously asked Clinton, on camera, whether she'd run for president. She didn't answer. Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Phil Rucker and Dan Balz broke the news that the nascent Clinton campaign had hired an operative to run its Iowa campaign. That advanced the story infinitely further than TMZ's video.

Here's another example. In 2014, Lachlan Markay's colleague Alana Goodman dug through the papers of Hillary Clinton's late friend and confidante, Diane Blair. That led to a series of scoops that the "MSM" (mainstream media) struggled to beat. Goodman's stories made far more news than Clinton's own on-camera refusal to discuss them. "We beat them," wrote Free Beacon editor-in-chief Matthew Continetti, "and they are sore losers." The WFB had invested in unglamorous archival work while other outlets had burned up expense accounts to cover Clinton's paid speeches–for far less reward.

One of the many media frustrations of Clinton's likely bid is that she starts with a lead that could protect her from the typical indignities of primary campaigns. Most Republican candidates need to raise their profiles with interviews, coffee shop visits, and speeches at rubber chicken dinners in 99 Iowa counties. Clinton does not. By not laying in wait for her at the airport, plenty of news outlets missed a piece of video. They are not missing a story.

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