If Hillary Clinton’s trying to warm up her image in the last days before the first presidential vote, NBC’s Meredith Vieira threw another log on the fire, vouching strongly for her personal warmth on Wednesday’s edition of Today. "Her every word and move is caught on tape and while her critics assail Clinton as overly calculating, up close the Senator and former First Lady is natural, confident and warm," reported Vieira as she followed Hillary on the trail in Iowa.
After her report was over, Vieira underlined that private-warmth line to co-anchor Matt Lauer: "she's excellent, one-on-one with people. You know she has the image of being very cold and calculating but she's great one-on-one. I actually took my son Ben, who's a freshman in college, and wants to be president. He told her that and they sat and talked for the longest time and it was very genuine. I think she relates a lot to young people."
Vieira has interviewed Hillary several times, and has routinely offered her a sympathetic interview. On this occasion, Vieira asked a couple of skeptical questions about Hillary’s foreign-policy experience (more on that in a bit), but there was plenty of soft-focus puffery, like noting how Hillary loves her "Bucky" neck pillow to relax between stops. From there, it was all puff and no tough stuff:
VIEIRA: Her every word and move is caught on tape and while her critics assail Clinton as overly calculating, up close the Senator and former First Lady is natural, confident and warm. Who are you, Hillary, at your core? At your very core, who are you and why do you believe that you would be a good president? Why do you even want to be president?
CLINTON: I want to be president because, at my core, I am an American through and through. And I am so grateful for all of the opportunities and blessings that I've had. I couldn't be sitting here in any other place in the world. I didn't come from a family of power or money. I came from the middle class. And I realize that, you know, I had an opportunity because of my family and my faith and the way that I was raised to use the talents I had to help other people. That's what I've always wanted to do and that's what I want to do as president.
[END of taped piece]
VIEIRA: You know she actually got very emotional, her eyes started to tear up when she was talking about that and she said, which I didn't remember, you may know this, but as a little kid she wrote NASA. She wanted to be an astronaut.
LAUER: Yeah, right.
VIEIRA: And they wrote back and said, "We don't take girls." And there were schools she couldn't go to and jobs she couldn't get as a woman. So she appreciates the historic quality of what's happening right now.
LAUER: And it's interesting to actually get out and watch these candidates --
VIEIRA: Oh yeah.
LAUER: – on the campaign trail. Because when we interview them here it's a little different than seeing them in a crowd of people with their stump speech. And by this time they said that speech 1000 times. But it is interesting to the dynamic in a room.
VIEIRA: And she's excellent, one-on-one with people. You know she has the image of being very cold and calculating but she's great one-on-one. I actually took my son Ben, who's a freshman in college, and wants to be president. He told her that and they sat and talked for the longest time and it was very genuine. I think she relates a lot to young people. She has a daughter, you know, who's young so I think she really connects to young people. And the weather, I think is gonna be a big factor for tomorrow.
LAUER: Well we'll see.
VIEIRA: And for more on that interview you can go to our Web site as well.
Vieira started the taped interview (routinely clipped and edited to keep it snappy) by questioning Hillary’s "dwindling" poll numbers, which Hillary said should be disregarded.
VIEIRA: But is being the First Lady the kind of experience voters are looking for?
CLINTON: I think my experiences over those eight years, both in the rough and tumble of the political process here at home and in the diplomatic endeavors around the world, give me a unique set of experiences that I'm going to take with me to the White House.
VIEIRA: Fair enough and yet the New York Times ran an article, I'm sure you saw this, critical of your experience during those eight years and questioning it and they write, "That during those two terms in the White House, Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the President's daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti, and Rwanda." They say you were really a sounding board and not somebody really deeply involved in policy.
CLINTON: Well I think that is a misreading of what went on in those years. I don't think it would have been appropriate to attend a formal National Security Council meeting. I have said that when I'm president my husband won't do that. I was intimately involved in preparing for a lot of the trips that I took. I was the first high profile American to go into Bosnia, after the Dayton peace accords. Nearly everywhere I went I was briefed both by the CIA, by the Department of Defense, by State Department, by National Security Council members. You know the idea that you aren't involved because you don't attend a meeting and knowing, as I do, that there weren't too many of those formal meetings, really doesn't understand the way decisions were made. And --
VIEIRA: But when you mention something like Bosnia, that, that people are responding, "Yeah but she went to Bosnia, for example, with Sinbad. With a performer. That, that was --
CLINTON: That's right. That's right.
VIEIRA: – that was about, that wasn't really establishing any kind of foreign policy.
CLINTON: Oh, you know, again I put my experience up against anybody. I believe that we, we want change and experience. It's a false choice to say you get one or the other.
VIEIRA: And that is the heart of Clinton's message, that her promise of change is backed up by a proven track record of results.
CLINTON: I'm saying that I am a proven and tested leader.
The New York Times article by reporter Patrick Healy on December 26 wasn’t necessarily "critical" of Hillary’s experience, although it did suggest she was hardly a shadow secretary of state. But the first paragraph – the one before the passage Vieira was using – tried to play nice:
As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton jaw-boned the authoritarian president of Uzbekistan to leave his car and shake hands with people. She argued with the Czech prime minister about democracy. She cajoled Roman Catholic and Protestant women to talk to one another in Northern Ireland. She traveled to 79 countries in total, little of it leisure; one meeting with mutilated Rwandan refugees so unsettled her that she threw up afterward.
Healy noted "Her rivals scoff at the idea that her background gives her any special qualifications for the presidency. Senator Barack Obama has especially questioned ‘what experiences she’s claiming’ as first lady, noting that the job is not the same as being a cabinet member, much less president."
Healy touted a speech as Hillary's signal foreign-policy achievement:
The foreign policy achievement most often credited to Mrs. Clinton came in 1995, with her speech to the United Nations conference on women in Beijing, where she declared that "human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights." She also tangled with Chinese officials, she said, and refused to bow to pressure to soften her remarks.