Three is a trend, right? That’s the magic number whereby you’re allowed to write about something that might only be in your head at the moment? If you get that number then, boom! Story.
That’s what must’ve happened with the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and his piece on Hillary Clinton this weekend on just how old and female Clinton is and how the Republicans are dying to make that obvious. So… the story is, then, there are a bunch of sexist, ageist misogynists in the Republican party? Wow. That one needs a #breaking hashtag on it if ever a story has.
Like any good journalist, Martin trots out the power of three to make his point, right at the top of the story: “She’s been around since the ’70s,’ (quote from Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens), “‘a rerun of ‘The Golden Girls,'” (quote from Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) and “’If you want to keep thinking about tomorrow, maybe it’s time to put somebody new in,'” (quote from Republican Gov. Scott Walker).
From there, Martin makes the points that he actually seems to have wanted to make all along, points barely supported by his power of three: Clinton is old, and Republicans think that makes her vulnerable. Republicans, and sometimes even Democratic opponents, have used sexism against Clinton for decades—why are we now surprised that age wouldn’t also be a target?
Martin could’ve just summed the whole thing up for us quickly: Clinton is just a silly woman, so things we generally don’t talk about with male candidates—like their age, their sunglasses and their clothes—are perfectly acceptable and germane for a national political discourse and, an article in a supposedly respectable newspaper. Her policy positions? Her experience? None of that is even on the periphery of Martin’s story. We guess in his defense, it’s not on even on the periphery of most male politicians, either, regardless of their political persuasion. But still… couldn’t the story have been about how the Republicans are trying to make this a story? Wouldn’t that have been the public service?
We can hear some of you, though, forming protests. You can see, clearly, that Martin takes time to point out the folly of this supposed Republican strategy, you say. That he’s only reporting what he’s seen and heard. Power of three, remember? Well, we’ve been around journalists long enough to know how this works. If Martin really didn’t just invent this Hillary is old narrative by stringing together three quotes to build a story—and that’s a big if—maybe it’s an actual line of attack. But, then, doesn’t that raise the idea that Republicans used him to do it? The narrative is out there now. Clinton is old, and this should, for some reason, matter. Shouldn’t someone at NYT have asked, are we reporting news, or just advancing someone’s agenda?
But then, maybe that was the point. The Times is always accused of being liberal, so putting Martin, formerly of the obviously right-wing National Review, the National Journal and Politico, and his story on the front page was their way of countering that. And it is hard to blame Martin entirely. He’s obviously learned from his colleagues who have never passed up the opportunity to comment on Clinton’s pantsuits or her fashion accessories. Earlier this year, the New York Post even came out with this fantastic cover and headline that really summed up her political career. At least it seems to have, in the eyes of few journalists.