Andrea Mitchell Blames Trump ‘Gaslighting,’ ‘Unfairness of Media’ for Clinton Loss

Updated with video, watch below.

Participating in a panel discussion for the Recode Decode podcast with fellow NBC News colleagues Chuck Todd and Hallie Jackson, on Wednesday, Andrea Mitchell told host Kara Swisher that two of the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election were “gaslighting” from the Trump campaign and “the unfairness of the media.”

Recalling a “post-election autopsy” that she moderated at Harvard University with Washington Post journalist Dan Balz shortly after the 2016 race concluded, Mitchell bemoaned: “...the Trump people, they were really triumphant and not gracious at all....the Clinton people were still in shock and breaking into tears at one point. And the Trump people were hardly gracious.”

 

 

She particularly remembered Clinton media staffer Mandy Grunwald turning to the head of Donald Trump’s digital communications team, Brad Parscale, and asking: “You really gaslighted her, didn’t you?” Mitchell noted: “And Brad Parscale said, ‘Yes, and you never saw it coming.’ And grinned, rather than being chagrined...”

The liberal journalist admitted: “There was this whole subterranean social media campaign that we never saw.”

Todd chimed in by expressing his surprise at how effective social media was during the campaign and how “gullible” voters were:

I knew the gaslighting was out there. I knew it was everyday. But I think there was part of me in my head assumed people were discerning it out, knew the BS from the non-BS. So, I think what my sort of shock to the system was just sort of how gullible a big chunk of the country was to this and gullible because maybe they want to be gullible.

He added: “And also look, you can’t separate that the Clintons weren’t very popular. So, people wanted to believe the worst about them and they own some of that on themselves, right?”

Later in the lengthy discussion, Mitchell lamented: “I think she [Hillary Clinton] had her opportunities and, for whatever happened externally from [James] Comey and the Russians and a lot of other things, and the unfairness of the media, the conventional media putting so much attention on Trump and squeezing out the legitimately serious stuff she did.”

While acknowledging Clinton making “mistakes that were self-inflicted,” Mitchell defended the Democratic nominee by arguing: “The defensiveness, the inability to come up with a credible explanation quickly, which goes back, I think, decades to when I first started covering her and she was traumatized by that ’92 campaign, what happened in New Hampshire, and legitimately frightened by the intrusiveness of the ‘draft dodger,’ Gennifer Flowers.”

In other words, Clinton was really just the victim of a prying news media.

Looking ahead to 2020, Todd warned his fellow reporters not to give Trump too much attention:

I worry about the role the President. You know, unlike previous sitting presidents, this president is going to insert himself into the Democratic primary. He’s going to want to be a pundit every night when there’s a debate. It is going to be imperative on us to be careful in how we cover those things.

Mitchell touted NBC having “an expanded investigative team” which “added tremendous depth” to reporting about the Trump administration. Of course, by “depth,” she meant hostility:

We did a piece on Section 8 housing in Hartford. An extraordinary, lengthy piece on NBC Nightly News, which showed what the firing of HUD inspectors has meant. What Ben Carson’s agency has really meant for the squalor of people who are still paying these contractors enormous amounts of money not to fix their houses. Now, that’s the kind of piece. We have to go agency by agency, we have to drill down on the EPA, and the firing of scientists. We have to look at Zinke. We’ve done a lot of this.

Later, she declared: “I think we underestimate the appetite for real, in-depth reporting....I just want to dig and dig and dig more into the kinds of things we used to do in campaigns.”

Where was all that interest in digging during the Obama administration? The fact that NBC suddenly expanded its investigative team shows that the network wasn’t that interested in doing “in-depth reporting” when a Democrat was in the White House.

Here are excerpts of December 5 discussion:

(...)

ANDREA MITCHELL: And it was afterwards, it was two weeks after the election when I and Dan Balz from the Washington Post were doing the wrap-up session at Harvard. The traditional post-election autopsy. And we had both teams facing off against each other. And at one point, the Trump people, they were really triumphant and not gracious at all –

KARA SWISHER: Well, I call them sore winners. But, go ahead.

MITCHELL: Unlike past elections where I’ve been through this process, where both sides try to heal some wounds, there was none of that and there was a – the Clinton people were still in shock and breaking into tears at one point. And the Trump people were hardly gracious. At one point, Brad Parscale said –

SWISHER: This is the Trump campaign, the Trump digital person.

MITCHELL: The digital person.

CHUCK TODD: Who will be the campaign manager for Trump 2020, when he is...

MITCHELL: Manager and was with Cambridge Analytics and all of that and worked so closely with Jared [Kushner]. At one point, Mandy Grunwald, who had done the media for Hillary because they were arguing over who had more store fronts and the Trump people said, “We didn’t need store fronts, we had social media. We didn’t need volunteers. You had the wrong metrics.”

And at one point towards the end of this really intense three-hour emotional session, Mandy Grunwald, who did the traditional media for Hillary Clinton and has for decades, said, “You really gaslighted her, didn’t you?” And Brad Parscale said, “Yes, and you never saw it coming.” And grinned, rather than being chagrined or –

TODD: So what do you –

MITCHELL: And it was quite a moment. There was this whole subterranean social media campaign that we never saw.

TODD: But, Kara, to answer your question, I knew the gaslighting was out there. I knew it was everyday. But I think there was part of me in my head assumed people were discerning it out, knew the BS from the non-BS.

SWISHER: Right.

TODD: So, I think what my sort of shock to the system was just sort of how gullible a big chunk of the country was to this and gullible because maybe they want to be gullible. And also look, you can’t separate that the Clintons weren’t very popular. So, people wanted to believe the worst about them and they own some of that on themselves, right? Why do people want to think the worst about them, you got to ask, when people want to think the worst about you, you gotta ask yourself why is that? You need to look in the mirror.

So, I don’t, I do think that, I wouldn’t sit here and say, “Oh, it’s all Facebook’s problem.” But that’s the thing. It was the want. It was like people wanted to believe the worst about all of us, us in the press.

Look, the most disconcerting thing was when I saw my wife’s email show up. It was my wife’s email that showed up in Wikileaks, of all the things. A personal email that she had sent to somebody that she’s personal friends with and it shows up and it was a small, little dinner at our house and it becomes this giant fundraiser apparently that I threw at my house for Hillary Clinton. Which wasn’t, none of it, it wasn’t even remotely true. There wasn’t even a campaign at the time. It was just literally a couple of couples that showed up at the house.

But that’s when I was like, “Oh, my God. This is...”

SWISHER: You didn’t recognize the strength, the strength –

TODD: Yes. It was so out of the tube, you realize. Boy, it’s hard to fight, you can’t just fight this one back response at a time –

SWISHER: Not even knowing about it –

(...)

TODD: I worry about the role the President. You know, unlike previous sitting presidents, this president is going to insert himself into the Democratic primary. He’s going to want to be a pundit every night when there’s a debate. It is going to be imperative on us to be careful in how we cover those things.

And essentially, if Trump’s tweeting about him. “Oh, why does he fear so-and-so?” Whatever. In the same way that he’s tweeting a bunch about Mueller, don’t report what he’s tweeting, report that he is tweeting about X, you know? I think that’s going to be a challenge. We’re also going to have a sitting president who may get challenged in his own primary. That is going to be an allure. That is going to be something we’ll want to...

This president, again, when the stove is on, he puts his hand on it and says, “Watch me.” You know, he runs to the flame, and if he gets a primary challenger, he’s going to want to debate his primary challenger.

(...)

SWISHER: Well, you even look at a politician. I mean, everybody’s obsessed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she’s fantastic on social media, like superb.

HALLIE JACKSON: What her makes so fantastic, right? Here’s the answer. I think it’s that people feel like she’s extremely authentic. That when she’s cooking her mac and cheese, or her coffee stir-

TODD: Nobody believes someone’s doing it for her.

JACKSON: Exactly. She’s doing it herself. You know who else people thought that way about? Donald Trump, right? I think that as we move into the next two years, the key thing it comes back to is authenticity.

(...)

JACKSON: You know, it’s so interesting. People talk a lot about the lack of briefings in the White House briefing room, which is true. Sarah Sanders, I think, I might get this stat wrong, three since Labor Day. If Josh Earnest or Jay Carney did that, right?

MITCHELL: The daily briefing is a monthly briefing.

TODD: Honestly, you’re not going to hear supportive words from me about the daily briefings. I don’t think they should be televised.

JACKSON: You know that I don’t necessarily disagree with you on that. What I bring it up to do is to talk about the President’s access on the South Lawn, and in Oval Office sprays, and in other instances where there’s an opportunity to have interactions with him as reporters. I think it is incumbent on myself, my colleagues at NBC, my colleagues in the White House Press Corps to make sure that you don’t squander those opportunities. I don’t think we do.

SWISHER: Just anywhere.

TODD: Can I just say, I think the dumbest critique is the complaint about the press briefing. Just what Hallie just said. My God, we get more access to him on the South Lawn.

JACKSON: Right, so be ready.

TODD: You’re getting it directly from the horse’s mouth. The press briefing is a waste of time.

SWISHER: 100 percent. I mean, Olivia Nuzzi, in the past 17 hours...

MITCHELL: I think we should get out of the White House, actually. They have to do what they do. All the networks have done this. We’ve done it, I think, better than others. We have a new investigative – an expanded investigative team, I should say, in the last two years. We’ve added tremendous depth. It’s very well-coordinated and led in New York. Our political and investigative teams.

We did a piece on Section 8 housing in Hartford. An extraordinary, lengthy piece on NBC Nightly News, which showed what the firing of HUD inspectors has meant. What Ben Carson’s agency has really meant for the squalor of people who are still paying these contractors enormous amounts of money not to fix their houses. Now, that’s the kind of piece. We have to go agency by agency, we have to drill down on the EPA, and the firing of scientists. We have to look at Zinke. We’ve done a lot of this.

SWISHER: Do you think your bosses think that?

MITCHELL: They are encouraging this. This is what is –

SWISHER: The noise has made you more substantive? The noise and circus?

MITCHELL: Well, yeah. In fact, we have hired so many more people, there are more White House correspondents, as well as producers, and we also –

TODD: The issue isn’t coverage. It really isn’t. The issue isn’t coverage.

MITCHELL: It’s airtime.

(...)

MITCHELL: I think we underestimate the appetite for real, in-depth reporting, and that the investigative reporting should not only be on Mueller and all the rest of that. I think that there are a lot of other things happening. You know, climate. Just the way people live. The way tariffs are affecting soy bean farmers. I just want to dig, and dig, and dig more into the kinds of things we used to do in campaigns. We would start a campaign season with Chuck Todd’s predecessor saying, “Okay, let’s do these issue pieces. Housing, education. Who’s going to do this? Who’s going to do that?” They actually got on the air.

(...)

MITCHELL: But I think she [Hillary Clinton] had her opportunities and, for whatever happened externally from [James] Comey and the Russians and a lot of other things, and the unfairness of the media, the conventional media putting so much attention on Trump and squeezing out the legitimately serious stuff she did.

I think that there were enough mistakes that were self-inflicted, not just the server, but her reaction to the server. The defensiveness, the inability to come up with a credible explanation quickly, which goes back, I think, decades to when I first started covering her and she was traumatized by that ’92 campaign, what happened in New Hampshire, and legitimately frightened by the intrusiveness of the “draft dodger,” Gennifer Flowers.

That whole awful New Hampshire introduction to the national stage and I think that that created, in the White House, a tendency to not be transparent, to cover up with her health care plan and all the rest of it, and the unfairness of a lot of the editorials; “Who killed Vince Foster?” Number one. Who killed Vince Foster? They were accused of murder.

SWISHER: Yeah. No, I get it.

MITCHELL: It was horrible.

SWISHER: I think if the Clintons killed people, Anthony Weiner would be dead and he’s not.

MITCHELL: Right, so I’m just saying.

TODD: It is their best character witness, right?

(...)

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