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How To Ski In Front Of The Avalanche Of News: Talking With The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza

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The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza joined me this morning, and we both reflected ion how the job of reporting and opining on election 2016 is being impacted by social media:




HH: Joining me to talk about everything, including the latest NBC/Survey Monkey poll, which shows Hillary Clinton up 5 points, and the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll, which shows Donald Trump up 5 points, a ten point swing in the two latest polls, is none other than the Fix, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, along with me an NBC News contributor. Chris, it’s good to have you back. It’s been too long. How are you, my friend?

CC: I know. You know, that’s on me. You guys are wonderful about asking, and I’ve just been doing a bunch of stuff early in the morning, so I really, I miss being on, and thanks for having me, and it’s not for lack of effort, and I promise to get it on the books more regularly if you’ll have me.

HH: Well, let’s get your, absolutely, let’s get your email out there so people can sign up for The Fix, which is indispensable in the next 50 days.

CC: That’s kind of you. Just if anybody out there listening wants to be on my email, as basically getting everything that I write on a daily basis, it’s Just put subscribe or Hugh Hewitt, or send me a picture of Hugh, and I will subscribe you.

HH: All right, Chris, I’m going to get to specific stories in just a second.

CC: Yes, sir.

HH: Just a general feeling. I feel like I am skiing in front of an avalanche of news every morning. I went to bed last night with a set-up of stories to do…

CC: Yeah.

HH: …prepared to look at the latest polls, and then the Tulsa video comes out and it’s horrific.

CC: Yup.

HH: It’s very, very bad. It will dominate news coverage. It ought to. It will cause, I toured the country with Sheriff David Clarke last week, whose admonition to every audience is please follow the orders of the police. That said, no one should get shot if there is no cause to do that. And yet, here I am skiing in front of the avalanche, and the avalanche overtakes my show again. Do you have that same feeling this year?

CC: Always. Every day. Yeah, I remember, it’s so funny you say that. I remember when I started the blog ten years ago. My constant worry was what am I going to write today? Am I going to have enough information? Am I going to be able to…and now, it’s literally the exact opposite, and we have six other people writing for the Fix. You know, I mean, like there’s, it’s never a function of what, how much we’re going to do. It’s sort of what. You’re really having to choose your spots at this point, because I mean, look, put aside sort of current events. I mean, just pure politics, you could, I could literally write all day and all night. I mean, look, it’s an embarrassment of riches. And I’m not, I’m not looking askance at you know, a political season that features Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. You wish things like the Tulsa shooting, you wish things like the bombings in New York/New Jersey and the stabbing in Minnesota, those are not things that are an embarrassment of riches. Those are the things you wish didn’t happen. But if you’re focused purely on the politics, that in and of itself is enough to keep you going for a long time.

HH: And let me ask you, Sean Trende brought up an interesting concept in the last hour, the “social desirability bias” of polls. And I’ve been thinking about it since, which where people do not want to say they’re in favor of Donald Trump or they’re in favor of Hillary Clinton because of the desire to be socially acceptable, the “shy Tory” impact. Take that over to the Tulsa shooting. I approach a story like this, I already posted something. I quoted David Clarke, and I got back critics online saying “Oh, so it’s a license to shoot and kill?” And of course, I didn’t say that. But all of media now labors, I think, Chris Cillizza, under an apprehension of being misunderstood when they are simply reporting facts. Do you agree with that?

CC: It’s very hard. You know, I occasionally talk to our mutual friend, Chuck Todd, about this. And obviously, both of us are quite active on social media, and both of us, he more, much more so than me, but both of us are relatively high-profiled, and have been doing this for a while. And I will tell you, Hugh, that in the last month, it has become full out, full scale assault on every piece that I write. And I always say to people the great thing about me is you can go back ten years into the Washington Post archive and see everything I’ve written. And you know, I always say judge me not by this one piece that you disagreed with, but I’m going to, I know not everybody’s going to go back a decade and look through every piece, but it’s there, you know, and it’s very difficult, because it’s just you’re trying to just say here are the things as I see it, right? As I see it, and here’s the conclusion I draw based on these things as I see. And the attempt on both sides to sort of not only discredit you but to insist that you have ulterior motives that you’re not sharing is tough, I will say. I mean, I think people assume we just have really thick skin and just ignore it all and we don’t care. And I care. I mean, the reason I got into this is I wanted to reach people with my journalism. I didn’t necessarily want to reach them the way I am, where most of what I hear back is just, you know, character assassination. But I don’t know whether it’s this election. I don’t know whether it’s Trump and Hillary who, you know, as we know, are deeply polarizing figures. I don’t know if it’s the rise of social media, you know, that this election, Twitter and all those things, are very, very prevalent in a way that they weren’t as much in 2012. I honestly don’t know what it is. But I have noticed an increasing of the volume.

HH: Oh, yeah. There is an amplification of the extremes on both left and right, and both left and right extremes are attempting to intimidate journalism. Now I am in talk radio, so I’m used to this for a long time. And I’ve been wired up for a long time.

CC: Right.

HH: But I think print media and television media may have been insulated before, and those like you and Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper, who are willing to go…

CC: Right.

HH: …into the fray…

CC: Right.

HH: …are going to get more of it. But it’s just, now let’s go to why that might be. Yesterday, Secretary Clinton made a statement on the tarmac, which I think goes to the limit of American rhetoric. Let’s play it.

HRC: We also know from the former head of our counterterrorism center, Matt Olson, that the kinds of rhetoric and language that Mr. Trump has used is giving aid and comfort to our adversaries.

HH: “Aid and comfort to our adversaries,” Chris Cillizza.

CC: Right.

HH: …is the textbook, indeed, Constitutional definition of treason. We can’t go beyond this. We’ve now reached the absolute? 100% over-the-top-rhetoric limit. Now others will say that Trump got there long ago, but they’re now tied. You can’t go any higher.

CC: Yeah, I mean, and it’s 49 days until the election. I mean, that’s the thing that I wonder about, is what else can you say? I mean, it’s like you turn it up as loud as it can go on the first song of the concert. You know…

HH: Yes.

CC: The thing is, Hugh, to your point, the reason that you’re seeing the rhetoric out of Clinton and Trump, and you’ve been seeing it longer for Trump, but the rhetoric is sort of at 11 for both of them at this point…

HH: For both of them, yeah.

CC: …is because it reinforces beliefs within their base. You know, people are like why would Trump, you know, bring up the birther thing? Yeah, I mean, there’s just a piece of the base that likes it. Why would Hillary do this? Because there’s a piece of the base that does believe that, of the Democratic base, that does believe Donald Trump is aiding and abetting the enemy. The problem is if you are somewhere outside of those two places, or if you are me and you’re trying to navigate and try to figure out okay, well, what, what’s truth here? What’s close to truth and what’s not close to truth? It becomes almost impossible, because you are part of a sort of broad attempt to villainize anyone who is not with you.

HH: And “villainize” is a great word.

CC: As you and I have talked about, and like the thing that you and I talk about that I always respect you for is that at some point, we need to find a way toward some level of civility in our political dialogue, no matter where you come from on the political spectrum.

HH: I agree.

CC: You cannot demonize the other side. It will not work for our country.

HH: Now, and I will tell my audience, people know I’m voting for Donald Trump. I do not trust Hillary Clinton. I believe she will destroy the Supreme Court. I could run down all this litany. But I believe her to be a patriotic American. I believe her to be a Christian in the way that Donald Trump is a Christian. They are both part of mainstream denominations. I don’t know their hearts. I know that politically, she will do things I disagree with. But then I go to the Post. I want to give you the last 45 seconds….

CC: Sure.

HH: Richard Cohen’s title today is “Trump’s Hitlerian Disregard For the Truth.” Who picks a headline like that? It’s not Cohen. It’s not his.

CC: Yeah, I mean, I just, I see a lot of “Trump as Hitler,” you know, rhetoric, “Hillary as the antichrist.”

HH: Yes.

CC: It’s like you know, we’re just, here’s the problem. It rewards, over the top rhetoric is rewarded. People put you on TV. It helps sell you books. Unfortunately, it does not help the sort of broad experiment at democracy we are engaged in.

HH: Well said. That which gets rewarded gets repeated. If it gets clicks, it gets repeated. Chris Cillizza at The Fix, one of the voices of reason in America, I appreciate you being on, Chris.

End of interview.


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