But there it was, LIVE, on CNN and MSNBC simultaneously Thursday morning: a car waiting outside the Washington home of Hillary Clinton in the hours before congressional testimony heatedly-awaited by the media, far less so by the rest of America.
“CLINTON FACES GRILLING OVER EMBASSY ATTACK” declared CNN. “CLINTON’S HIGH STAKES SHOWDOWN,” said the chyron across the bottom on MSNBC.
It was cable’s version of a “perp walk” by a world-renowned figure and member of the American propertied class. For cable news, it was as if Clinton’s trek to Congress for a House committee hearing on the Benghazi tragedy was equivalent to a criminal defendant running a media gauntlet on the way to a court arraignment.
And, wait, hold on, look! There she was!! At about 9:25 a.m. Eastern, she exited her own home and got into her own car as, yes, Bill Clinton briefly stepped outside in what appeared to be blue jeans and a blue sports shirt, bidding his farewell to his wife.
Rarely has political and foreign policy melodrama been so seamlessly melded with a moment of such banal domesticity. All that was missing was perhaps his bending over for the morning paper or perhaps a milk-bottle delivery.
But if you had any doubt about the purported significance of this day (at least for Washington media), Wolf Blitzer was beckoned for morning anchor duty, while MSNBC had the partially liberated Brian Williams at the “breaking news desk” of his new professional home at MSNBC.
And, at one point, Blitzer was surrounded by, count ’em, nine CNN correspondents and pundits in boxes surrounding Blitzer. You needed a scorecard.
Derision toward Clinton in the hearing preamble was, no surprise, most evident on Fox News Channel. Predictably, the most pejorative spin was cast on new Clinton emails to be publicly disclosed and a deep-in-the-weeds take on the terrorist raid and the White House public relations response back then.
How great were the political ramifications for the then-Secretary of State, asked Bill Hemmer of Fox in what was essentially a rhetorical question for Fox pundit Stephen Hayes.
“I think they are huge,” Hayes responded. It would have been a bulletin if he’d said anything other on a channel that improbably beckoned former Navy SEALS to deride Clinton’s “lack of ownership” of the underlying tragedy and avoiding responsibility and “leadership.” Hemmer led them down the anti-Clinton path in a pedestrian interview whose aim was transparent.
AT CNN and MSNBC, there was a decided ideological sympathy toward Clinton, with a distinct reliance on Democrats partial to her.
“Any good to come out of today?” asked Brian Williams at one point to a pundit. The answer wasn’t clear.
His colleague Chuck Todd fittingly focused on the politics of the moment and her goal, which he called “survival.” But he noted the likelihood that she would exhibit a distinct discipline and preparedness over what could conceivably be an eight- or nine-hour session.
And even Steve Schmidt, a former top adviser to John McCain, noted the obvious theatrics and orchestration of such sessions. Spontaneity would be at a minimum.
And then there was MSNBC stalwart Chris Matthews, who was beckoned very early in San Francisco (he’s a dutiful spouse at his wife’s college reunion) for an actually interesting mix of political and cultural analysis.
There was the possibility that Clinton will “be hounded by a bunch of guys” at the hearing, Matthews said. He then noted how his favorite TV show is “The Good Wife” and how he finds it notable in tandem with another CBS show, “Madame Secretary,” about a Secretary of State played by Tea Leoni.
“We’re getting schooled on women taking the highest positions in this country,” Matthews said. “I think we’re going to see Hillary Clinton, for a lot of women, especially at her age, looking at her as their heroine. There is Clinton fatigue but there is also history.”
Back on Fox, White House correspondent Ed Henry, fresh from announcing that Joe Biden was planning to run for president the other day, said that Clinton was “handed a gift on the eve of this,” with a prominent House Republican saying this was all about politics and dragging down her poll numbers.Then came the opening of the daylong session. The Brian Williams question was clearly relevant as Rep. Trey Gowdy, the panel chairman and a South Carolina Republican, began by saying this was no witch hunt but an attempt to ascertain “the truth,” while the top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, scoffed at Gowdy and what he deems a sham proceeding during his own opening.
Clinton sat with an air of seeming skepticism toward Gowdy and mild head-nodding agreement with Cummings.
What good would come of this? Perhaps we’d know a little bit by nightfall.