“Mobs of reporters and cameramen and other Big Timers were out there wearing bush jackets with leather straps running this way and that and knocking back their Pepsi-Colas and Nehis and yelling to each other and mainly just milling about, crazy with the excitement of being on the scene, bawling for news of the anguished soul of Louise Shepard. They wanted a moan, a tear, some twisted features, a few inside words from friends, any goddamned thing. They were getting desperate. Give us a sign! Give us anything! Give us the diaper-service man! The diaper-service man comes down the street with his big plastic bags, smoking a cigar to provide an aromatic screen for his daily task — and they’re all over him and his steamy bag. Maybe he knows the Shepards! Maybe he knows Louise! Maybe he’s been in there! Maybe he knows the layout of chez Shepard! He locks himself in the front seat, choking on cigar smoke, and they’re banging on his panel truck. ‘Let us in! We want to see!’ They’re on their knees. They’re slithering in the ooze. They’re interviewing the dog, the cat, the rhododendrons. …These incredible maniacs were all out there tearing up the lawn and yearning for their pieces of Louise’s emotional wreckage.”
—Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (1979), describing the media scrum at the home of Louise Shepard, wife of Alan Shepard, America’s first astronaut, who had just returned safely from a sub-orbital flight in space.
Has anything changed?
Decades later, on May 22, Ruby Cramer of BuzzFeed was in the small town of Hampton, N.H., covering a Hillary Clinton event at — I am not making this name up — Smuttynose Brewing Co., a locally owned small business that proudly brews its own brands of beer.
Cramer reported that a small group of 60 local townspeople attended, including Lenore and Gary Patton, ages 78 and 79, respectively. For about an hour, the Pattons and the five dozen other guests listed to Clinton talk “in granular detail” about challenges facing small business.
The event was open to the press. And here’s what happened next, as reported by Cramer:
“The spell of the everyday was broken. Clinton was swarmed by reporters. From the aisle, pressed up against the wall of beer cases stacked to the ceiling on pallet shelves, they gathered in thick circle that happened to coalesce right around the two best seats in the house. Lenore and Gary Patton could not talk to the candidate they had come to see. They could not even get out of their chairs.
“Cameras flashed wildly. Lenore was crunched. Gary had a tape recorder in his right ear, a television camera in his left, and microphones overhead. They were inches from Clinton, with her ‘in the eye of the hurricane,’ as Gary put it after watching her field questions on Iraq, her emails, and her image. (‘Do you have a perception problem?’)”
Clinton responded by saying she would let voters decide for themselves.
“ ‘Hey,’ Gary said to no one in particular. ‘She’s smart. She’s experienced. End of story. … This woman has what it takes.’
‘She has ideas for the direction of the country she wants to go in,’ said Lenore. ‘She cares about the middle class. We’re about as middle class as you can get.’
‘She’s so experienced, she’s so bright, and she’s so adroit,’ her husband added. ‘And I came in here not necessarily feeling all of these things, but I go away thinking that we would be lucky to have her as the president, because she has so many attributes that you need. It’s an incredibly impressive performance.’ ”
A CNN poll published on Tuesday reported that the former secretary of State’s favorable and trustworthiness ratings have dropped. Shocking! She has been pounded virtually every day for the last two months by mainstream media, far-right media and every Republican running for president — so that shouldn’t be surprising.
Lest we forget, just recently The New York Times/CBS national poll showed that the percentage of Americans who rate Clinton as a strong leader has increased from 57 percent in March to 65 percent, and she is still defeating most Republicans in most polls by a significant margin.
Is there a disconnect between Clinton and real voters like Lenore and Gary Patton? Or is the disconnect between the frenzied media scrum and partisan Republican presidential candidates and real, everyday Americans?
Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, LEVICK. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).