While the media continues to parse every word that Hillary didn’t say during the latest Benghazi ruffling, the rest of us should recall that pretty in pink moment when she actually broke her legendary silence. It was on April 22, 1994, that news-making year of Arafat’s return, OJ and Bosnia and Hillary’s own little war over Whitewater.
The press had been hammering the then-First Lady for months, demanding she explain her role in the controversial land deal. When she finally agreed to a press conference, every reporter in the country clamored for a seat at it, including me. What we got, however, wasn’t only a lesson in how deftly she can reclaim the narrative but what a master she is at political staging as well.
In the theater of politics, staging is everything and Hillary made certain she had the perfect backdrop. Seated in front of a White House portrait of President Lincoln, in a replica of the very same chair he sat in, she was the picture of poise with her newly cropped hair and a pink suit even Jacqueline Kennedy would have marveled at.
In media terms we call this “framing” — the way you present an event in order to capture the message you want to convey. Which, for Hillary, required more than just the perfect backdrop since she was not only embroiled in the Whitewater fiasco but the fallout from Bill’s womanizing and her own highly questionable commodity trades from the 70’s.
The press conference, however, just may have been her personal best and a riveting Q & A that for 72 minutes displayed her unflappable control in the face of controversy. Many of us even noted the empty glass on the small table next to her and that she didn’t once take a drink of water.
The next time you watch an interview, pay attention to how many times they reach for that glass or bottle. That, too, is by design, and a standard media prop, as a way to buy time when answering a difficult question.
Yet the only prop Hillary relied on was her zone of privacy defense and the media was later savaged for focusing more on her stylish suit than the critical issues. A man’s hair or clothes would never have been fair game if his finances were scrutinized nationally, as critics claimed and applauded Clinton’s relaxed poise and stylish tone.
In the end, she gave very little new information on that now whitewashed land deal or how she parlayed a $1000 cattle investment into a $100,000 return. But it didn’t matter. That picture-perfect backdrop worked, and a stellar lesson in her ability to turn the tables on her critics and strategically deflect even the most pressing questions with just a suit and a well-staged pose.
Of course, none of this may matter now as she heads towards the nomination. But with her money-making methods still shadowing her and an FBI investigation underway (a first for a presidential candidate) she may need to stage another pretty in pink moment. Unless she deleted the suit too.