(Earl Wilson, New York Times)
Good Monday Austin:
I haven’t been here all that long (5.5 years), but for those of you who were here back at the turn of the century, somewhere between 1998 and 2001, I have a question.
Did you ever go to the Barton Springs Sno-Beach and order a Tigers Blood or Wedding Cake sno-cone and you were served by this pretty young UT student?
And then, maybe a couple of days later, you were at Tesoro’s on South Congress and you were
buying, say, a natural raffia/glass necklace from Burkina Faso for the price of two sno-cones, and you
thought, there’s something really familiar about the young woman handling your sale and you realized, it’s the same woman who sold you that sno-cone.
Yes? Well, that was Amy Chozick who spent four years in Austin, working at Sno-Beach and Tesoros, getting a dual degree in English and Latin American studies and writing mostly arts and leisure stories for the Daily Texan.
“Those were my people,” Chozick told me in an interview last week.
“I had a hard time fitting in at UT. I wasn’t a sorority girl. I wasn’t a getting-high-by-the-lake girl.”
But, she said, when, her second semester, she found the Daily Texan with its “scummy basement with its ratty couch and moldy newspapers, I kind of found my niche.”
On graduating, her Daily Texan clips in hand, she lit off to New York in search of fame and fortune.
Chozick, now a New York Times reporter, is back in Austin today, her Irish-born husband, Bobby, and their three month-old baby, Cormac, in tow (see, I Put Off Having a Baby to Cover Hillary Clinton’s Campaign—and I Don’t Regret It, Glamour magazine, Apri 2014).
She is back in Texas to see her family in San Antonio (where she grew up and her parents still live) and Austin, and, along the way talk with Evan Smith this afternoon for a taping of his KLRU show, Overheard, about her new book – Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns and One Intact Glass Ceiling – and be interviewed at 7 tonight by Texas Monthly’s Mimi Swartz at BookPeople, where she will also sign copies of her book.
If you can’t read the small print on the cover, Texas memoirist extraordinaire Mary Karr calls it a “breathtaking, page-turning masterpiece.”
I too loved the book.
It is a terrific read and very funny.
As someone who covers politics and wrote some about the 2016 presidential campaign, it also disabused me of the notion that doing so for the upper deck New York Times would somehow lift someone above the indignities suffered by the more plebeian press in steerage.
Apparently it does not, the slights and injuries are pretty much the same, only the stakes are higher.
“You actually get tortured on a whole other level,” Chozick said.
From Charlotte Alter’s review in the New York Times:
In her funny and insightful memoir, “Chasing Hillary,” the journalist Amy Chozick grapples with this question while also providing a much-needed exploration of Hillary Clinton’s antagonistic relationship with the press. Unlike “Shattered,” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, which provided an inside look at Clinton’s dysfunctional campaign, or “What Happened,” which was a personal reckoning from the candidate herself, “Chasing Hillary” doesn’t attempt to assess why Clinton lost the election. Instead, it’s a first-person account of Chozick’s failed 10-year quest to see the “real” Hillary, a quixotic mission that is as revealing in defeat as it would have been in victory.
The Impressionist Claude Monet never painted haystacks; he painted the rain, sleet and sunshine between his eyes and the haystacks. In “Chasing Hillary,” Chozick has written neither a raw personal memoir nor a biography of Clinton, but rather an account of all the elements that came between Clinton and the journalists condemned to cover her. Her impressions of Clinton are less about the woman herself and more about the brutally effective apparatus that shielded her from public view.
People who know Clinton often complain that the press, and therefore the public, never gets to see how warm and funny she is in person. “Chasing Hillary” is the best explanation so far of why that is. Chozick describes Clinton’s press shop (which she calls “The Guys”) as an anonymous gang of manipulative, unresponsive and vaguely menacing apparatchiks who alternate between denying her interview requests (47 in total, by her count), bullying her in retaliation for perceived negative coverage (“You’ve got a target on your back,” one of them tells her) and exploiting her insecurities about keeping up with her (often male) colleagues. The campaign quarantined the press on a separate bus and, later, a separate plane, often without even an accompanying flack to answer basic questions. It denied Chozick’s interview requests even for positive stories, like a piece about Clinton’s experience in the early 1970s going undercover to expose school segregation in the South, and refused to confirm the most minor details, like whether Clinton ate a chicken wing or not.
It seems clear from Chozick’s account that Clinton thought of her traveling press corps as more buzzard than human (although she did write Chozick a note when her grandmother died). Bill Clinton also had troubles with the press, but at least he would say hello at events or tell a long-winded story. Even Trump, who spent the campaign railing against the “fake news” media, seemed to intuit that a cordial relationship with reporters was essential to managing his public image. Trump once called Chozick out of the blue to provide a comment for an article, and they ended up chatting about “The Apprentice.” So grateful to be actually speaking to a candidate (in nearly 10 years, Clinton had never called her), Chozick made the mistake of telling him that Clinton hadn’t had a news conference in months. Shortly afterward, the Trump campaign began blasting that Clinton was “hiding” from the press
.In fact, Chozick spoke with Clinton so infrequently that their entire personal relationship can be summed up in a half-dozen interactions that are shockingly banal: the time Clinton said “hi” to her in Iowa, one 14-minute phone interview, the time Clinton accidentally walked in on her in the bathroom. The fact that Chozick interacted so rarely with Clinton over nearly 10 years of covering her for The Wall Street Journal and then The New York Times is perhaps the most damning evidence of Clinton’s self-destructive relationship with the press. “How could we communicate Hillary’s ‘funny, wicked and wacky’ side to voters,” she asks, “if we never saw it for ourselves?”
To her credit, Chozick opens up about her own attitudes toward Clinton more than most political reporters would. Despite the campaign’s skepticism of her, it’s clear that she admired Clinton. She is acutely aware of the sexist double standards Clinton faced (though readers may rightly wonder why this appeared so rarely in her coverage). She’s inspired by the historic nature of the campaign, and hurt by Clinton’s iciness toward her. Chozick recalls that the first time she saw Clinton at a town hall, when she was covering her for The Journal in 2007, she stood up and clapped (a huge faux pas among journalists). For her, Clinton’s loss is both a personal and a professional blow.
Their ambitions were aligned — had Clinton won, Chozick would very likely have been given the historic opportunity to cover the first woman president. But Chozick devotes only a few lines to exploring the broader significance of Clinton’s loss beyond what it means for her own career, despite the global implications of the outcome. She records the facts of her life as they occurred during that period (including personal details about her marriage and her fertility) but rarely grapples with the larger contradictions of being an ambitious woman journalist covering an ambitious woman candidate. And even as she documents a campaign that floundered because it had too much head and not enough heart, Chozick risks falling into the same trap: In trying to outwork her male colleagues and outwit The Guys, Chozick at times seems to lose track of the emotional arc of Clinton’s rise and fall.
“Chasing Hillary” is a portrait of two women with shared hopes and weaknesses, both driven and blinded by an ambition that could be possible only in the 21st century, bound by history but not by love. This book won’t make you know Hillary any better. But it will help you understand why you don’t.
OK. So here we have in Chozick,a reporter who stood and clapped the first time she saw Clinton at a town hall, whose ambition was to have that byline for the ages under the story on the election of the first woman president, who wanted to cover the first woman president, but who, because she did her job in ways that were not always pleasing to Clinton and the circle of men around her, was frozen out in a way that undermined Clinton’s ability to communicate who she was and to be elected president.
Meanwhile, it is Donald Trump who emerges as the candidate with a greater understanding and, yes, even appreciation of the press, the (not-so) failing New York Times (whose bottom line has very much benefited) very much included, and it is Trump who displays the more subtle and supple emotional intelligence when it comes to doing what it takes to be elected president of the United States – which he was.
There are countless examples in the book, but I will focus on one.
An excerpt from Chapter 50: Chekhov’s Gun.
Oct. 28, 2016
The day October delivered its final big surprise my colleague Mike Schmidt was visiting from D.C. He sat in the cubicle next to me in the newsroom as we both worked our sources. Twenty minutes after the Clinton campaign announced in a show of confidence that Hillary would hold an early voting rally in Arizona, a state that had gone red in eleven of the last twelve presidential campaigns, but seemed potentially in play, news broke that James Comey sent a letter to Congress stating the FBI found additional emails related to Hillary’s private server. Trump wasted little time in declaring, “This changes everything.”
Schmidt heard the emails had been unearthed during a separate investigation into Anthony Weiner’s sexting with an underage girl. He kept yelling into the phone, “They’ve got Weiner by the balls!” until I finally G-chatted him that he had to stop saying that.
The Times news alert went out that the emails had been found on a computer Huma had used. The Wiener connection was both unbelievable, and yet in some sad way, made perfect sense: Hillary, married to an alleged sexual predator, could lose to Trump, an alleged sexual predator, because of Weiner, an alleged sexual predator.
I mean, if Donald Trump gropes women the way he boasted about, but which he then said he actually didn’t, but then a bunch of women said he most definitely did, that is presumably a lot worse than Weiner’s consensual virtual sex with women (I know nothing about the latest Weiner charges, involving underage girls, but that too, I presume, is virtual.).
In fact, in the vast realm of personality types, Trump and Weiner seem if not on the same page than at least in the same chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
I thought back to 2013 when I first heard about the “Carlos Danger” scandal, to the stories I wrote about The Guys hoping to contain Huma’s personal life so that it didn’t spill into Hillary’s political future. They protected Huma as if she were a beloved little sister and a vital appendage of Hillary. Big donors were less sympathetic, imploring Hillary to put Huma in a less visible role. At least one stop donor confronted Huma directly, in 2013, pleading with her, for Hillary’s sake, to step down. “I’m good at what I do and that’s Hillary’s decision,” Huma replied.
Now, in the last act, with eleven days before the election, Huma’s problems exploded in one final, seismic, self-inflicted wound.
“It’s like Chekhov’s gun,” I said as we stood around discussing the news.
A colleague who overheard this said, “I didn’t know they knew who Chekhov was in Texas.”
Very Senior Editor came by my desk to ask, “She’s not gonna lose, right?”
I gave my extremely professional assessment of the situation.
“Brooklyn is freaking the fuck out,” I said. “Her trust numbers are already shit.”
In August, after the Pop Goes the Weiner cover in the New York Post, Trump told us, “I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such proximity to highly classified information. Who knows what he learned and who he told. It’s just another case of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been compromised by this.”
Here is the top of the story, by Chozick and Patrick Healey, that day.
Everything was looking up for Hillary Clinton. She was riding high in the polls, even seeing an improvement on trustworthiness. She was sitting on $153 million in cash. At 12:37 p.m. Friday, her aides announced that she planned to campaign in Arizona, a state that a Democratic presidential candidate has carried only once since 1948.
Twenty minutes later, October delivered its latest big surprise.
The F.B.I. director’s disclosure to Congress that agents would be reviewing a new trove of emails that appeared pertinent to its investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server — an investigation that had been declared closed — set off a frantic and alarmed scramble inside Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and among her Democratic allies, while Republicans raced to seize the advantage.
In the kind of potential turnabout rarely if ever seen at this late stage of a presidential race, Donald J. Trump exulted in his good fortune. “I think it’s the biggest story since Watergate,” he said in a brief interview, adding, “I think this changes everything.”
He promised to batter Mrs. Clinton as a criminal in the race’s final week and a half. And Republican House and Senate candidates gleefully demanded to know whether their Democratic opponents were sticking by Mrs. Clinton.
The good news, dear First Reader, is that, right here, right now, you can read Amy Chozick’s all-time favorite story as it appeared online. If you follow the link, you can also see the terrific video of Sara Ehrman.
What’s more, if the small note at the bottom of the online story is to be believed, A version of this article appears in print on October 28, 2016, on Page P13 of the New York edition, a placement of such relative ignominy that Chozick can be forgiven for not knowing it ever appeared in print, or finding the prospect of seeing what version of her masterpiece made it onto page P13, too unbearable to contemplate.
In any case, here it is.
Oct. 28, 2016
Hillary Rodham gazed out the window of the beat-up ’68 Buick rolling down Interstate 81, and saw spruce trees, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the life she’d left behind.
Ms. Rodham, then a 26-year-old lawyer, had just finished working on the Watergate committee and wanted to be with her boyfriend, Bill Clinton, who was teaching law in Arkansas.
Her landlord, Sara Ehrman, who worried her bright young tenant was throwing away her future, offered to drive her down from Washington, and over the course of two days and 1,193 miles in August 1974, Mrs. Ehrman tried to talk Ms. Rodham out of her plan.
“We’d drive along and I’d say, ‘Hillary, for God’s sake,’ ” Mrs. Ehrman, now 97, recalled. “He’ll just be a country lawyer down there.”
Their journey had some of the ingredients of a classic American road trip — a cheap motel, tchotchke purchases, encounters with drunken strangers and deeply personal conversations. Mrs. Ehrman, a strong-minded career woman who had scrapped her way to becoming a senior congressional aide years before the feminist movement of the 1960s, believed Ms. Rodham could do anything — and could not believe that she was shelving her promising career for an uncertain future at Bill Clinton’s side in Fayetteville, Ark.
But each time Mrs. Ehrman would raise the issue, Ms. Rodham would politely respond: “I love him, and I want to be with him.”
The trip 42 years ago offers a glimpse at a Hillary Clinton the public seldom sees. She was not yet a self-assured lawyer, a powerful political wife or a tenacious presidential candidate, but a young woman, wide-eyed and eager, vulnerable and afraid, at the cusp of a momentous decision that would alter the course of her life.
And Mrs. Ehrman, then 55, had an unusually close-up view of the woman who would become the first female presidential nominee of a major party.
Young Hillary Rodham, Mrs. Ehrman recalled, was an intelligent, unstylish, hard-working woman, if an occasionally sloppy tenant, who had an infectious, throaty laugh and often failed to make her bed in the morning.
The two met in 1972: Mrs. Ehrman was working as co-director of issues and research for George McGovern’s presidential campaign in Texas, and the Democratic National Committee had sent Mrs. Clinton, a law student at the time, to help with voter registration.
“A young girl walked in. She looked like 18 or 19,” Mrs. Ehrman said of the first time she saw Mrs. Clinton at the campaign’s headquarters in San Antonio. “She had brown hair, brown glasses, brown top, brown skirt, brown shoes, brown visage, no makeup.”
‘They shared a cheap dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant in downtown San Antonio and didn’t speak again until 1973 when Mrs. Clinton, then a Yale Law graduate, got a coveted job on the Watergate committee and called Mrs. Ehrman for advice on finding a place to live in Washington.
“I said, ‘The kids are gone, you can stay with me. No cooking,’ ” Mrs. Ehrman recalled during a recent interview at her home in Washington. “So she moved in with all her junk.”
Mrs. Clinton’s room in the four-bedroom house quickly took on the feel of a college dorm room, with piles of clothes (mostly brown), books and even a bicycle strewn about
“She had all her stuff on the floor,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “I just remember she didn’t make her bed.” (Years later, Mrs. Clinton, who declined to be interviewed for this article, argued with Mrs. Ehrman that she did, in fact, make her bed.)
Mrs. Ehrman had a new job representing the Puerto Rican government, and she and Mrs. Clinton worked grueling hours. They would talk only occasionally in the rushed weekday mornings.
“We’d get up, eat yogurt, maybe have coffee, get in my car, I’d drop her at the Watergate,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “She’d come home at 11, 12 o’clock at night, exhausted, eat yogurt, go to bed and do the same thing over again.”
The living arrangement lasted about a year until one day, when Mrs. Clinton told Mrs. Ehrman her plan: “She said, ‘I’m going to go down to Arkansas to be with my boyfriend.’ ”
The word “boyfriend” looming in the air, Mrs. Ehrman reacted instinctively. “It was at that point that I said, very delicately, ‘You don’t want to go there. You could get any job you want,’ ” she recalled.
Then there was the matter of all that stuff.
Mrs. Clinton planned to take the bus to Fayetteville, where Mr. Clinton was teaching law and running for Congress. She was trying to figure out how to ship all of her clothes and books and bicycle. Watching this logistical spectacle unfold, Mrs. Ehrman said: “Get in my car. I’ll drive you down.”
So they piled her belongings into the back of Mrs. Ehrman’s banged-up Buick, nicknamed “Old Rattletrap,” and began the drive, with Mrs. Ehrman determined to change Mrs. Clinton’s mind.
Her chances were slim. Mrs. Clinton had failed the Washington, D.C., bar exam, but passed the Arkansas test, confirming her decision to join Mr. Clinton, she wrote in her 2003 memoir, “Living History.”
They headed for Interstate 81, which parallels the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and into Tennessee. Mrs. Ehrman remembered the talks the two women had as they drove past poor towns in southwestern Virginia and stopped briefly at the historic Barter Theater in Abingdon, Va., which got its name during the Great Depression, when most theatergoers could not pay the full ticket price.
They stopped in Laurel Bloomery, Tenn., a town known for its fiddler conventions, and bought pottery — smooth ceramic dishes and mugs in earthy tones that both women still have. And in Memphis, they got stuck in a parade of inebriated Shriners who swarmed the streets in their distinctive hats.
The hotels were sold out in Memphis because of the Shriners convention, so they found a cheap motel just across the Mississippi River in Arkansas.
The women came from different backgrounds: Mrs. Ehrman was a secular Jew from Staten Island, Ms. Rodham a Methodist from Park Ridge, Ill.
But they talked, about life and careers and love, usually ending up in the same spot, with Mrs. Ehrman seeing talent and promise in Ms. Rodham, and little of the same in her boyfriend. “Every 25 or 30 miles, I would say, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ ” she said. “He may never get a job. He can’t make a living.”
Eager to start her new life, Mrs. Clinton didn’t want to waste time, so the two women pulled in at drive-throughs or stopped at food stands and barbecue joints. “I’m from Staten Island. We didn’t eat ribs,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “We ate pie, a lot of pie — pecan pie.”
Even as she urged her traveling companion to rethink her life plan, Mrs. Ehrman partly understood why the young woman was so smitten with Bill Clinton, having briefly seen him herself on a tarmac in Waco, Tex., in 1972 when Mr. Clinton was also working on the McGovern campaign.
“Standing at the foot of the steps of the plane was this drop-dead gorgeous young man in a white linen suit,” Mrs. Ehrman said.
“He was so beautiful, but young. He looked 21. And I said, ‘Who’s that kid down there at the foot of the steps?’ And somebody said, ‘He’s the state director,’ and I said, ‘Obviously, we’re not going to win Texas with a 21-year-old for a state director,’ ” Mrs. Ehrman said. “He doesn’t like that story, but it’s true.” (Richard M. Nixon defeated Mr. McGovern in Texas by 33 percentage points, and it is unlikely that even the most seasoned state director could have reversed that result.)
After they made their way deeper into Arkansas, bypassing Little Rock and curving through the Ozarks, the women stopped at a ramshackle restaurant for lunch. Mrs. Ehrman was growing more alarmed as she took in the surroundings.
“I said to her, ‘Hillary, you’re never going to get French bread here. You’re never going to get Brie,’ ” she recalled in a final plea, but by then Mrs. Clinton had made up her mind. “She wasn’t even listening to me at that point,” Mrs. Ehrman said.
They arrived in Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, on one of the rowdiest weekends of the year. The hilltop town, with its canopy of oak trees, had become a swarm of drunken football fans, their faces painted red and their heads covered with hats shaped like the university’s hog mascot. The Razorbacks were playing a major rival at the time, the Longhorns of the University of Texas.
“It was then that I broke down and cried when I thought, ‘She’s going to live here?’ ” Mrs. Ehrman said. “I just cried. I just absolutely cried.”
Mrs. Ehrman took a plane back to Washington and paid someone to drive her Buick home. “I thought, ‘I’m getting out of here tomorrow morning. I don’t belong here,’ ” she said.
She has thought of Mrs. Clinton often after that, she recalled, sighing. “I certainly did think about her and feel, not that I had left her, but that her life had left her.”
When she dropped her off in Arkansas some 42 years ago, Mrs. Ehrman never dreamed that a young Hillary Rodham would be one election away from possibly becoming president herself. But, as the years went by, she came to see the wisdom of her young tenant’s choices.
In 1992, Mrs. Ehrman went back to Arkansas, this time to the governor’s mansion in Little Rock to help with Mr. Clinton’s presidential campaign.
On the day of his inauguration in 1993, Mrs. Ehrman even attended church with the Clintons. “I was sitting there right against the railing and I saw her, head bowed and I said to myself, ‘Jesus, she’s really praying. She’s a believer.’ ”
In 2008, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Ehrman were reunited in Texas, this time for Mrs. Clinton’s own presidential campaign. And Mrs. Ehrman attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July to support Mrs. Clinton.
The passage of time has deepened Mrs. Ehrman’s understanding of the love-struck young lawyer who stared out the Buick window.
“Hillary is a very practical, pragmatic person,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “She wanted to be with him, but she also saw a future for him and herself.”
Now remember, this is the story that Hillary Clinton and her protective circle tried to keep from seeing the light of day, because she and they thought that Chozick would somehow diabolically twist what Ehrman had to say and turn it into a negative story about Clinton.
They really thought that?
And acted on it?
On the other had, as Chozick told me, “Trump would call me out of the blue occasionally. ”
From the chapter in Chozick’s books entitled, The Bed Wetters, a reference to how Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook viewed Washington insiders who were sounding the alarm that maybe the Clinton campaign might not know how to handle Trump.
Matthew Dowd, a former chief strategist to George W. Bush, who is not an independent, told me in late February, “Hillary has built a large tanker ship and she’s about to confront Somali pirates.”
Brooklyn blew it all off. The math was on their side. “It wouldn’t be a general election without some early bed-wetting from Washington insiders,” Robby said.
No caller ID flashed on my phone. I’d left the newsroom and was sitting in Bryant Park to soak up the early summer air and clear my head. It was June, days before Hillary Clinton would win the nomination. People with normal jobs spread picnic blankets and wine and Brie out on the lawn as a trio of flamenco guitarists set up on a temporary stage.
“Amy, it’s Donald Trump.”
Chozick had written a curtain-raiser on a very tough speech Clinton was delivering savaging Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements as, “not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.”
I reached to the Trump campaign for comment. I expected a statement from Hope Hicks, Trump’s competent and responsive spokeswoman. Instead, Trump called directly..
In this period, most of my colleagues had stories of standing in line at Starbucks or climbing onto the elliptical when the infamous “NO CALLER ID” Trump call came in. I’d spent months requesting interviews with Hillary. Always the answer from Brooklyn, no matter how positive or substantive the topic, was either stone-cold silence or a hard no. But there I was in Bryant Park picking up my phone to …
“Amy, it’s Donald Trump…”
I dug around in my bag for a pen and pulled out some loose scraps of paper. Trump repeated the phrase “America First” at least six times, attributing this pet phrase to “your very good, very smart colleague David Sanger, excellent guy.” (I agreed) He then laid out his plan to counterattack.
“Bernie Sanders said it and I’m going to use it all over the place, because it’s true,” Trump said. “She is a woman who is ill-suited to be president because she has bad judgment.”
We bantered about The Apprentice a little. (“Can you believe Schwarzenegger thinks he can do it?”) Then I said something I never should have said.
“Thanks very much for calling Mr. Trump. I’ve been covering Hillary since 2007 and she’s never called me.”
“Is that right?” The wheels were turning. “When was the last time she talked to you?” Trump asked.
I thought about it. “I don’t know. I guess it’s probably been five, six months since she had a press conference.”
Silence. The wheels turned some more.
“You know why?” Trump said. I wanted to say, Yes, Mr. Trump, because she hates us and thinks we have big egos and tiny brains. But I’d already said too much. “She doesn’t have the stamina,” Trump said. He raised his voice. “It takes STAMINA to talk to the press.”
I don’t know if I gave Trump the idea or he’d had it for weeks, but after that he started to tell crowds, “So it’s been two hundred and thirty five days since Crooked Hillary has had a press conference … ” His campaign started to blast out a daily reminder: HILLARY HIDING WATCH: DAY 262 SINCE LAST PRESS CONFERENCE.