After Sen. John Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004, the press focused on Sen. Hillary Clinton as a potential Democratic savior in 2008.
As Mrs. Clinton's home-state broadsheet, The New York Times has a front-row seat for the race. Yet a Times Watch study discovered that the paper has used its seat more as a cheering section for Clinton than as a dispassionate perch for objective observation.
Since Election Day 2004, the Times has assisted Clinton by falsely positioning her as a political centrist, sliming her Senate opponents, and downplaying her most controversial anti-Republican comments.
The American Conservative Union awarded Sen. Hillary Clinton a rating of nine out of 100, placing her quite firmly at the liberal end of the political spectrum. Yet a Nexis search of 641 news stories in the Times from November 2004 through March 2006 found a mere three direct labels of Clinton as liberal by the Times.
In fact, the paper spent as much time specifically dismissing accusations of Clinton's liberalism as "caricature," doing so on four occasions.
Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is as conservative as Clinton is liberal. Yet Santorum was 15 times more likely than Clinton to be given an ideological label by the Times. There were seven descriptions of Santorum as conservative out of 95 stories, or one out of every 14. A similar contrast was seen with conservative Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas -- 7% of all Brownback stories identified him ideologically.
The main Hillary-hailer-in-chief was reporter Raymond Hernandez, who got the mainstreaming strategy rolling right after John Kerry's loss.
He framed Clinton's liberalism as an unfair accusation: "Conservatives have long caricatured Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York's junior senator, as the sort of Democrat whose positions on social issues are out of step with Americans deeply concerned about religious and moral values. But while Mrs. Clinton has been strongly identified with polarizing issues like abortion rights, the picture that conservative Republicans paint of her is at odds with a side of her she has lately displayed as she enters a new phase of her public life."
The Times also helped clear Hillary's Senate re-election road by punishing two female Republicans for having the audacity to challenge her.
The Times ignored Clinton's past ethical controversies and brought out the big guns against Westchester County DA Jeanine Pirro, delving into controversies involving the finances and personal affairs of Pirro's husband. That took a bit of nerve, given Bill Clinton's history in that regard.
Hernandez wrote on September 3, 2005: "Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton brought her husband along to the New York State Fair on Friday, drawing a sharp contrast with her likeliest Republican rival in next year's Senate race, who has mostly kept her scandal-plagued husband out of public view since announcing her candidacy."
Bill Clinton wasn't scandal-plagued?
He reveled in sleazy details: "Mr. Pirro, an influential Republican lobbyist, served 11 months in federal prison for his conviction on tax fraud in 2000. He also fathered a child in an extramarital relationship in the 1980s, a matter that has recently drawn heavy scrutiny."
After Pirro left the race, K.T. McFarland announced her challenge in March. The paper's dismissive headline of March 3 seethed with Republican flop-sweat: "Clinton Challenger Pulled From Reagan-Era Hat." Reporter Patrick Healy didn’t even mention McFarland's name until the fifth paragraph.
Clinton's inflammatory remarks were also consistently brushed aside. On Martin Luther King Day, she stood in front of a black church audience to claim Republicans were running Congress like a "plantation."
But the Times found no worries for the senator: "Her comments, made before a predominantly black audience at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem, drew a harsh response from national Republicans, but black leaders came to her defense."
In another article, Hernandez reassured Clinton's supporters: "Some of Mrs. Clinton's closest allies do not think that the Republican assault is entirely bad for her ... the Republican attacks are already leading Democrats to rally around her, at a time when the senator is facing criticism from pockets on the left on several issues, chiefly her support for the war in Iraq. 'If a person is defined by their friends and their enemies, she has all the right enemies,' said one Democrat who is close to Mrs. Clinton."
Among Hillary's "friends" can be counted the staff of America's most influential newspaper.