Fox News' mindless, manic pursuit of Hillary — in 2020

Parallel universe

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After another rambling, hateful call-in interview on Fox News Business Thursday morning, in which Trump called Kamala Harris a "monster" and deemed himself to be a "perfect physical specimen," panelist Dagen McDowell pointed out that the interview didn't do Trump much good politically, because he spent so much of it obsessing over Hillary Clinton.

"Why isn't she being indicted for terminating 33,000 emails?" Trump had raged. "They were classified," he added, combining two beloved, right-wing media lies about the former first lady's electronic communications. McDowell noted, "I am not sure it helps his campaign to talk about Hillary Clinton e-mails, going back down that rabbit hole like four years ago."

Fox News host and Trump sycophant Mario Bartiromo quickly jumped in and insisted the obsessive pursuit of Clinton, who's not running for any office this year and who has retired from public life, was in fact very important. It wasn't Trump going down a "rabbit hole," it was Trump making a courageous stand for "liberty" and fighting back against those who "colluded to commit treasons" — or something.

The country is rushing towards a pandemic death toll of 250,000, the U.S. economy is in complete shambles as Trump refuses to pass desperately needed economic relief, climate change-fueled natural disasters are ravaging the country — and Trump along with Fox News spent much of the week obsessing over Clinton and a supposed Deep State plot to spy on his campaign in 2016. (“Clinton” was mentioned nearly 200 times, according to TVeyes.com.)

Even for a right-wing movement that detached itself from reality years ago, this parallel universe spectacle where Trump and Fox News are now running against an opponent who's not on any ballot has been especially bizarre to witness.

"Genuinely incredible to watch Trumpworld keep talking about Clinton as Biden’s favorable numbers rise to the mid-50s," tweeted Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel. It's like a classic rock station that just keeps playing "Sweet Emotion" and "Sweet Child O’ Mine" hour after hour, enjoying the warm glow of bygone glory days.

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The question has always been, are these people serious? Do they actually stay up at night obsessing over Clinton’s emails from four years ago, connecting all kinds of invisible dots about the Russia investigation in a sloppy effort to concoct a vast conspiracy? Or, is this all a cynical ploy for cheap, easy content.

Do they know this rabid pursuit is a waste of time and there's no there there, but they do it anyway because Clinton's an established villain — and established character for Fox News viewers to relate to— and it provides the network with hours of free programming at a time when Trump's campaign is in shambles. And at a time when attacks on Biden — ‘He's senile, he's been captured by the radical left’ — fall flat. "Despite Mr. Trump's prodding, the [Tulsa rally] crowd couldn’t work up the bloodlust for his opponent that his throngs reliably did (and still do) for Hillary Clinton," the New York Times reported this summer.

The context for the latest Clinton kerfuffle: In a naked attempt to politicize raw intelligence, Trump's Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a Russian intelligence assessment, in which the Kremlin judged that Clinton in 2016 was trying to get the American public to believe that Trump and Russia were in cahoots. And guess what? She was! Clinton spoke often in public about how Trump was Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.” But using the cover of a blockbuster document release, Fox News has gone into hyper-drive, feeding their fans a fantastic tale, with Trump howling about how Barack Obama, Biden, and Clinton need to be in jail. It's all manufactured absurdity.

Then came news on Friday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ordered the release of old Clinton emails from her time at the State Department, after Trump publicly hectored Pompeo for not producing pseudo-scandal fodder.

It's clear Trump and Fox News desperately want to run against Clinton. Why? Part of it's misogyny. It's Trump wanting to gin up the ugly sexism he used in 2016, knowing that the mainstream media will boost it by creating a blatant double standard for the first woman nominee for president.  It was signature sexism four years ago that drove big, gotcha Clinton stories, including her use of a private email server (which lots of men do), giving paid speeches (which lots of men do), and running a charitable foundation (which lots of men do).  The 2016 coverage, from a gender perspective, was a nightmare.

The current Clinton obsession during the final weeks of the campaign could also be a signal that Fox News has basically given up on Trump winning in 2020. With polling across the board tilting away from the incumbent and indications mounting that he's facing a landslide defeat, Fox News may be looking to move away from playing defense for a loser. The network always prefers to be offense, to warn viewers about the looming threat to liberty that Democrats pose.

There's an old sports adage that says, you prepare for the team you're going to play, not the team you want to play. Fox News sure wishes Trump was running against Clinton.

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💻 GOOD STUFF:

Jim Dwyer was a giant of New York City journalism over the last three decades, working as a reporter and columnist for Newsday, the New York Daily News, and the New York Times. Dwyer passed away last week.

A gifted reporter and brilliant writer, Dwyer told the stories of New York, and its injustices, like nobody else in his era. The son of a janitor and a nurse, his work serves as a model for what journalism can accomplish.

From the Times obituary:

As a student at Fordham University, he had hoped to become a doctor until he joined the student newspaper, The Fordham Ram, and one day wrote about a rough-looking man having an epileptic seizure on a Bronx sidewalk. Mr. Dwyer stopped to help.

“People passing by were muttering disapproval, ‘junkie,’ ‘scumbag,’ that sort of thing,” he wrote. “The seizure subsided, and those of us who had stayed with him learned he was a veteran and had been having seizures since coming back from Vietnam. A few minutes later, off he went. But that moment stayed with me.”

A 19-year-old cub reporter, he wrote a lead paragraph that set the tone for a career: “Charlie Martinez, whoever he was, lay on the cold sidewalk in front of Dick Gidron’s used Cadillac place on Fordham Road. He had picked a fine afternoon to go into convulsions: the sky was sharp and cool, a fall day that made even Fordham Road look good.”

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🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, "Dreamsicle”

One of Nashville’s most important, outspoken, and talented voices, Isbell’s 2020 album is brimming with greatness. “Dreamsicle” finds Isbell, a gifted storyteller, recalling a turbulent childhood, and doing it with haunting details. Yet the song’s built around a sweet guitar and piano melody that makes you think all is right in the world.

“There’s an autobiographic element to the song,” Rolling Stone noted, “as Isbell, who joined his first touring band at age 14, sings, ‘Broken glass and broken vows/I’ll be 18 four years from now/With different friends in a different town/I’ll finally be free.’”

I guess we're leaving town again
We're moving out and moving in
Gotta break the news to all my friends
But they won't care

They'll just find another face
To fall behind to take my place
And run way up past second base
And just stand there