Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, by Amy Chozick

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Two stars, read in June 2018.

Very mixed feelings. I’m giving it two stars for the interest factor, but writing this review made me angry enough at the book that I almost want to go down to one.

Interesting though this inherently was, it became more and more frustrating as the book went on, and by the end I was pretty sick of Amy Chozick’s whiny bullshit. Essentially, this book is about her apparent belief that Hillary Clinton’s relationship with the press is the same thing as her personal opinion of Amy Chozick.

I started out feeling that Chozick had a lot of good points, striking a good balance between her understanding—as a woman who’d been a Hillary fan since childhood—of the position Hillary is in, and her view as a journalist—which makes her, in the structure of the political system, sort of Hillary’s natural enemy. Maybe she was making a particular effort to be critical of Hillary because she’s a fan, or because The New York Times is a liberal newspaper, to avoid the inevitable claims of partisanship—but as the book went on the balance seemed to shift.

Unfortunately, I have no quotes for this post, because I listened to the book while driving 1200 miles from Texas to Utah, and it’s nearly impossible to get hold of right now (I waited six weeks for my Overdrive request to come in, and that was at the library with the shortest hold queue). What I do have are the text messages I dictated to myself when something particularly irritated me, which I’ve edited for punctuation, insane autocorrect spellings, and my unimaginative-in-the-moment overuse of the word “bullshit.”

She has a lot of really good points, and there’s a good balance between her understanding of the situation Hillary’s in and her view as a reporter which makes her sort of inherently opposed to Hillary. Except for the part where she tried to make it sound like Hillary just refused to give interviews about the substantive issues. I am going to call bullshit on that because Hillary talked a lot about all the substantive issues. Also find it really disingenuous of her to say that she [Chozick] thinks that would have bumped the emails off the front page, “even if only briefly.” Come on. She says she doesn’t want to blame the victim but what else is that.

Oh, sure—the media had no choice but to keep talking about Hillary’s email because Hillary just refused to give them anything substantial to talk about instead! That’s exactly how I remember it, too.

Does she understand that Hillary’s experience with and distrust of The New York Times is not actually the same as her personal opinion of Amy Chozick, or in fact any individual reporters? She whines like a child about Hillary not liking her, but that is very inaccurate because Hillary has not engaged with her as a person—she has engaged with her as a representative of the newspaper with which she, Hillary, has had an incredibly strained relationship for over twenty years. Chozick uses some pretty sarcastic-sounding language even though the surrounding text appears to be complimentary of Hillary (calling her “Saint Hillary” in reference to Hillary’s ingrained Methodism). And for the record, saying that Gloria Steinem “declared war on young women” by making that comment is sexist bullshit. THAT is the mean girl bitchiness, not the fact that Steinem said it in the first place.

Let’s take a moment for a side rant: Gloria Fucking Steinem has an eight-decade-long history of supporting the shit out of young women, and portraying her this way over one comment that wasn’t even very insulting is petty, catty garbage. Two minutes before that comment, Steinem had been talking about the strength and radicality (which is of course a positive word in the feminist vocabulary) of younger women, and how they’re much more feminist than the women of her generation had been. Then she said the thing about supporting Bernie, Bill Maher interrupted her to say “if I’d said that you would slap me,” and in trying to explain why he was getting it wrong she said virtually what I just did: “Hello? How well do you know me?”

Okay. Back to Hillary.

This “joyless campaign” thing is not only victim-blaming, I’m pretty sure it’s racist, too. Because it sounded like there was plenty of joy among the minorities who supported Hillary—e.g. her interaction with the Latina hotel workers—but the only measurement the media cares about is the enthusiasm of “I’m with her I guess” bougie white people.

And yes, it’s victim-blaming, too. Even Hillary Clinton’s supporters don’t support her as hard as they should, and that’s her fault? No, it’s the exact same sexist mountain she’s been climbing since the beginning of her political career.

Her insistence that Hillary didn’t have a reason for wanting to be president seems disingenuous or blind or just stupid to me. Her 25 years of political experience show why she wants to be president. But if she said “hey, I want to be president because things are fucked up for everyone but white men and we need someone besides a white man to finally do something about it,” she would be crucified. Amy Chozick knows perfectly well what Hillary’s reason is for wanting to be president, and she also knows why Hillary cannot just come out and say it the way she [Chozick] wants her to. So why is she pretending like this is just some big flaw in Hillary as a candidate?

This goes right along with that thing wherein everyone—including Chozick, if I remember correctly—feels they’re entitled to “really know” Hillary Clinton down to her deepest most personal self, as though that’s something we have ever even one single time required from a male politician.

I’m so tired of the way she depicts all the reporters in their Charlie Brown dejection, scuffing their lil’ shoes on the ground because Hillary won’t get drunk and just chat with them on the record.

I just . . . I mean . . . It can’t be possible to be this stupid.

Her example of how little “love and kindness” there was throughout the campaign is that Hillary had spent the last year calling out Trump for being so gross???

Classic.

It turns out I do have one quote from the book, because I remembered being so annoyed by the final words that I needed to include them here, and make sure I got them exactly right. Rather than run to Barnes and Noble in the 45 minutes I have before they close, I realized I have some Audible credits waiting, so I just bought the book; thankfully Audible is really good about returns. (Disclaimer: I transcribed it from the recording, so I can’t be sure this is punctuated the same way it is in print.)

I keep going back to what Hillary said when she found out she was pregnant with Chelsea. They’d tried for four years and were on their way to California to see a specialist when she heard. Hillary, then the First Lady of Arkansas, was adjusting to infidelity and the boom-and-bust cycles of life with Bill Clinton. She went to a girlfriend’s house to share the good news.

The two women sat on a patio in Little Rock’s leafy Hillcrest district. They sipped iced tea. “Oh, I’m just so happy,” Hillary said. “For the first time in my life I don’t have to DO anything. My body will do everything for me.”

That is the Hillary I want [my] child to understand. Not the historical figure who lost to Donald Trump in a very strange and ugly election in the year 2016, but the Hillary who spent her life doing, the Hillary who tried to hold it all together—her marriage, her daughter, her career, her gender, her country. The Hillary who taught me about grit, who showed me how to revolt against the dunces all in confederacy against me, to believe I could infiltrate the elite media . . . Hillary taught me all of that.

So what if she hated me.

And that’s the note Amy Chozick decided to end on. Thirteen hours, or nearly 400 pages, of a book covering ten years and two presidential campaigns; the final pages all about how much Amy Chozick has learned from and been inspired by Hillary Clinton; but that’s what she wants us to remember. She wants her baby to remember the Hillary who spent her life doing, but for her readers, it’s about Hillary’s likability. Because that’s what this is, the image of poor little journalists who just want Mean Hillary to like them—and the more I talk about it, the less I like Amy Chozick for creating that image.

Chozick talks a lot about “the guys,” some part of Hillary’s staff whose exact role I can’t remember, and how they “hated her” for writing a lot of the articles that plagued Hillary throughout her campaign. Chozick defends herself in the book, saying that she meant those articles to be positive and it was just the backlash she couldn’t control. I took Chozick’s word for it, but in writing about this book I’ve realized that she did the same thing here—writing about Hillary in ostensibly positive ways that actually deeply undermine her. It’s starting to look intentional, or at least unacceptably obtuse. She told The Guardian in an interview about Chelsea Clinton’s reaction to the book, “To be immediately greeted with antagonism when you’re writing something that was pretty sympathetic and self-reflective reminded me of the constant state of play in the campaign where you just can’t win. You write a positive story, there’s something they [the campaign] hate about it”—as though she genuinely doesn’t understand the way our political landscape works, and why the campaign might have stopped trusting her when she kept writing “pretty sympathetic” pieces that nevertheless became massive weapons in Trump’s hands.

An aside to make sure we’re all still on the same page: I don’t say this because I think Amy Chozick had a responsibility to support the Clinton campaign. She absolutely didn’t. I say it because Chozick, in writing this book, framed it as a question of “Why doesn’t Hillary like me?” That’s actually the theme of the book, and it shouldn’t have been. Whether or not the campaign “liked” her shouldn’t even be an issue, and it’s infuriating that that’s all Chozick seems to care about.

I gave this book three stars initially, but as I finish up my review I’m deciding to downgrade it. It feels disingenuous, and I very much dislike feeling that an author is lying to me. I didn’t know who Amy Chozick was when I started this book; I didn’t know what paper she wrote for, whether she was liberal or conservative, or which candidates she’d supported. If she’d hated Hillary up front, I may have stopped reading after a while, but I almost certainly wouldn’t have developed a personal dislike for her. That comes from betrayal—from discovering that someone is telling me one thing but doing another. Amy Chozick needs to get her head out of her ass, realize that presidential politics aren’t about her personal popularity, and stop feigning wide-eyed innocence of the fact that her words have consequences. And if this is the kind of work we can expect from a reporter for the most prestigious periodical in the United States, we’re even more fucked than I thought.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    The BBC is showing a serialised documentary about the first year of 45’s presidency from the perspective of The New York Times. I can’t remember if Amy Chozick has appeared so far. Maggie Haberman has, but then she’s White House Correspondent. But anyway, Chozick sounds a real treat. She mocks Hillary Clinton with the moniker Saint Hillary but at the same time wants her to be an unrealistic paragon? She wishes Hillary was still a ‘do-er’ but ignores all the doing Hillary performed on the campaign trail and in the debates? That same doing that is now proving to be entirely prescient? You’re right. Chozick is part of the problem. Hillary Clinton is never going to be allowed to be her own person. She’s a woman trying to make a difference being treated like a character in a book that’s been made into a film and Real Fans don’t like the actor chosen to play her.
    I know journalists have to have ego to do what they do, but a good journalist doesn’t let that ego be the focus of their journalism. A good journalist knows that the story isn’t about them.
    I haven’t read the book and it’s making me angry!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Miri says:

      Ooh, that’s an excellent analogy! More specifically, I’d say the way she’s treated is like when they cast a person of color in a role that was previously played by white people, even if race wasn’t remotely relevant to the role.

      Like

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