24 September 2007

Power moves


GQ describes itself as “the definitive guide to fashion and grooming,” but also has a history of carrying groundbreaking reporting and long-form writing.

Early this summer, Hillary's campaign learned that GQ was cooking up a story about infighting inside the walls of Hillaryland.

So Clinton’s aides pulled a page from the book of Hollywood publicists and offered GQ a stark choice: Kill the Hillary piece, or lose access to planned celebrity coverboy Bill Clinton.

Bill is/was slated to appear on the cover of GQ’s December issue, in which it traditionally names a “Man of the Year”.

Power move.

GQ editor Jim Nelson met the Clinton campaign’s demands and the offending article by Atlantic Monthly staff writer Josh Green was trashed.

Nelson said: “I don’t really get into the inner workings of the magazine, but I can tell you that yes, we did kill a Hillary piece. We kill pieces all the time for a variety of reasons.” Surrrrre!

The altercation with GQ opens a curtain on the Clinton campaign’s hard-nosed media strategy, which is far closer in its unromantic view of the press to the campaigns of George W. Bush than to that of Bill Clinton’s free-wheeling 1992 campaign.

The spiked GQ story also shows how the Clinton campaign has been able to use its access to the most important commodity in media — celebrity, and in fact two bona fide celebrities — to shape not just what gets written about the candidate, but also what doesn’t.

There’s nothing unusual about providing extra access to candidates to reporters seen as sympathetic, and cutting off those seen as hostile to a campaign. The 2004 Bush campaign banned a Times reporter from Dick Cheney’s jet, and Barack Obama briefly barred Fox News’s Carl Cameron from campaign travel.

But a retreat of the sort GQ is alleged to have made is unusual, particularly as part of what sources described as a barely veiled transaction of editorial leverage for access.

The Clinton campaign is unique in its ability to provide cash value to the media, and particularly the celebrity-driven precincts of television and magazines. Bill Clinton is a favourite cover figure, because his face is viewed within the magazine industry as one that can move product.

It’s a fact that gives the Clintons’ press aides a leverage more familiar to Hollywood publicists than even to her political rivals — less Mitt Romney and more Tom Cruise, whose publicists once required interviewers to sign a statement pledging not to write anything “derogatory” about the star.

The Clinton campaign has more sway with television networks than any rival. At the time Clinton launched her campaign, the networks’ hunger for interviews had her all over the morning and evening news broadcasts of every network — after her aides negotiated agreements limiting producers’ abilities to edit the interviews.

This past weekend, she pulled off another rare feat — sitting for interviews with all the major Sunday talk shows. In most cases, the Sunday shows will reject guests who have appeared on competing shows. Clinton’s team is also unusually aggressive in moving to smother potentially damaging storylines, as last spring when Wolfson and other aides took aim at an unflattering book by writers Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.

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