Last night, at the Fox News Town Hall, moderator Bret Baier predictably went after Hillary Clinton on her email server issues. This was the least surprising development of the night, and at least initially, Hillary Clinton was more than holding her own. She showed the same poise and aplomb we saw in the Benghazi hearings, and seemed to be coasting. But that’s when things took a dark, surprising turn. Call it a slip of the tongue, a thoughtless moment, or just bad judgement, but what Clinton said next sent shock waves across the Internet. Skip ahead to the 10:10 of the video below for the “she said what?!” moment:
For those who can’t watch, here’s the full quote, emphasis mine:
Bret Baier: So your contention now is that the 2,101 emails contained information that shouldn’t be classified at any time…they shouldn’t be…now or then…you’re just saying, it shouldn’t have been classified.
Hillary Clinton: Well what I’m saying is, it wasn’t at the time. Now, if you…let’s take Mary Smith, who has some information in the government...and she is FOIA’ed—Freedom of Information Act—give us your information, your memos, your emails whatever it might have been…that then goes through a process, so even though the agency she works in has said none of this is classified, others start to have a chance to weigh in.
That’s right—when Hillary Clinton had to come up with a generic name to prove her point, she chose “Mary Smith.” If this seems like an innocent moment to you, then you’re not one of the many online activists who noticed that the name was unmistakably…traditional. Suburban. And, yes, white.
At the very least, it was definitely not representative of America’s multicultural landscape. Worse than being non-inclusive, many believed that Clinton’s use of the name tacitly endorsed one specific segment of society which, let’s face it, already owns the lion’s share of privilege in this country. And while it may seem unfair to nail Clinton on a throwaway line, some Twitters felt it was even less fair for her to abandon a significant portion of her base just to make a political point:
You know things are bad when you're being compared unfavorably with Trump.
He's got a point: Exclusionary politics lose elections, especially for Democrats.
Did it get worse? No. It got wayyyy worse:
Touché. Others questioned Hillary's knowledge base when it comes to race relations:
This last one may have made the best point of all:
That’s some pretty emphatic, powerful stuff. Whether you agree or not, you have to wonder—what the hell was she thinking? How can someone who has been in the public eye for so long say something on national TV that is so potentially offensive to so many?
Now, there are only a couple of conclusions to draw here. The first is that Hillary Clinton, by using the generic name “Mary Smith,” proved that she’s a subconscious racist who will pursue an agenda of white power if she ever attains the highest office in the land. It’s impossible to know for sure, but for many on the Internet, last night’s gaffe was all the evidence they needed.
The alternative theory is that articles like this one—which take an innocuous moment, throw in a handful of hyper-sensitive tweets from virtual nobodies, and thereby manufacture an absurd narrative out of thin air—are examples of the most despicable, manipulative journalism in existence today. Essentially, they are the product of unscrupulous outrage merchants masquerading as serious writers, profiting from vitriol even as they dumb down the political discourse. Twitter users are not “sources,” they’re not “experts,” and sometimes they’re not even “real”—which I demonstrated above by inventing all five Twitter accounts, as well as the tweets themselves, in service of a stupid argument.
Further, the theory posits that these articles are heavily agenda-driven and/or total clickbait, preying on the lowest reactionary impulses of the public, and written by duplicitous cowards who have developed a cynical four-part strategy: Ask open-ended questions dripping with negative implication, adopt a phony passive voice to operate under the cover of false neutrality, distort or ignore contradictory facts, and lean on third-party “opinions” to endorse positions they pretend not to directly advocate—and which, quite often, are the purest kind of bullshit in the first place.
Which conclusion is true? Well, gee…far be it from us to choose a side. This is a difficult situation with a lot of nuance, and if the latter conclusion has any merit, we can only hope that this type of article doesn’t take root and flourish across the Internet at a time when our country needs all the serious, policy-driven discussion it can get.
But what if the Twitter accounts that I made up last night are right? In that case, we can only hope Hillary learns from this PR disaster, and comes to understand a simple lesson that might save her from future microaggresions: Language matters. It matters so, so much, and it’s a shame—assuming we give credence to a narrative fabricated by Internet personas which are themselves fabricated—that she had to learn this the hard way. In 2016, racism won’t fly.