The new Hillary Clinton campaign podcast, With Her, debuted Friday. It is both charming and gross.
The 16-minute program showcases Clinton as the warm, earnest, easygoing woman her intimates often describe, a woman they’re baffled that the wider world doesn’t see. It begins with the host, Max Linsky, asking what he should call her. “You can call me whatever you want to call me,” Clinton says. “You can call me Hillary, you can call me Madame Secretary, you can call me ‘Hey you.’ Anything you want.” He decides to call her Hillary, which sets the casual, friendly tone. This Clinton does not have a likability problem.
The podcast is supposed to be about what it’s really like to run for president, and Clinton speaks movingly about how she felt walking onstage at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia to accept the presidential nomination after being introduced by her daughter. “The moment just came crashing in on me, and I just had to take a second to let it all come in and feel it,” she says, describing it as “both a liberating moment and a crushing sense of responsibility.” She talks about maintaining her stamina on the campaign trail, including her grudging relationship with exercise: “I’m not going to pretend that I like it, because I don’t, but between yoga, and walking, getting on the treadmill, some weights, I try to keep up.” Clinton is known to love a drink at the end of day, and she speaks with genuine delight about the cases of 3 Daughters beer that her campaign picked up in Florida.
It’s obvious why her campaign wants to present this version of Clinton to the world. Knowing she’s not going to have to field questions about her email or explain her reaction to being widely hated, she can relax and speak like a normal person. She sounds genuine and authentic in a way she rarely does when doing press. Nevertheless, campaign-controlled Potemkin interviews are no substitute for the real thing. It was insulting when Mike Pence, as governor of Indiana, tried to create a state-run news service, “JustIN,” to cover his own administration. Clinton shouldn’t be following in his footsteps.
Linsky is clear that he’s not a journalist, but the podcast still strives to present an image of candor and spontaneity. “This is your last chance,” he tells her near the start. “You can bail now. You don’t have to do this podcast, but if we do this, we’ve got to do it.” The attempt to make it seem as if Clinton were doing something risky only underscores how safe she’s playing it. Clinton’s campaign isn’t unique in creating propaganda—that’s part of what campaigns do. But a politician attempting to circumvent the media by creating media of her own sets a bad precedent. If Clinton really wants Americans to get to know the woman behind the caricature, she’s going to have to start giving interviews to people who don’t work for her.