Hilary Clinton’s Congo Outburst and the Media

Hillary Clinton’s Congo blow-up is a story that just won’t go away. Even those sympathetic to Obama and Clinton, like Jon Stewart, are having a field day with this.

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Mrs. Clinton’s answer on Monday has quickly become the No. 1 sound bite from her trip. Her whole seven-nation Africa tour, which has had quite serious intentions, like combating Congo’s appalling rape epidemic and raising her personal profile within President Obama’s administration, may end up being reduced to this: “Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state, I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband.”

Almost immediately, her showdown with the student became a media phenomenon, with a level of attention on an American in Kinshasa perhaps not seen since the so-called Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974.

Mrs. Clinton’s aides have been notably frustrated that this brief flash of anger, or undiplo-speak, has come to overshadow a trip that took weeks of planning and was intended to strengthen America’s ties to some of its most strategic allies on the continent.


No matter the issues she was talking about — encouraging good governing, ending Africa’s wars, lifting women up from their lowly position in a place like Congo. The interest in this trip, it seemed, was not about the problems facing Africa. It was about her.

As one journalist covering her trip put it: “She is a celebrity. We have a celebrity secretary of state. When you have a celebrity, you get celebrity coverage.”

That’s the reality of modern media. And, like it or not, this is a big story. It’s yet another reason secretaries of state and vice presidents have to be on guard at all times rather than letting fly whatever thought happens to be crossing their minds at the moment.

As to the emerging meme that the media is playing up this sensationalism while ignoring the real story — the horrific plight of women in Africa — it’s nonsense. Of course the latter is much more important. But it’s not news.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Media, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Maggie Mama says:

    Hillary looks exhausted. After all the coverage of Bill’s “rescue” of the young women journalists from North Korea, it is slowing dawning on Hillary that the “hot spots” in the world have been given special envoys by Obama, diluting her importance.

    She finds herself on the “Dark” Continent virtually in the “dark” as far as media coverage goes.

    Obama has really been very shrewd to get her out of the Senate (& the Beltway). and he holds the power to “banish” her to remote places anytime he wishes! …. all the while her husband roams freely around this country – no longer hiding from her on other continents!

    The reality of her situation must be too much to handle when she’s jet lagged! I almost feel sorry for her. Almost.

  2. Tano says:

    Its only news because you say so.
    I don’t think its news.
    And I would much prefer to gain an insight or two into what is going on in Africa these days.
    Why are you playing the apologist for dreck?

  3. hcantrall says:

    I’m with Maggie on this, I almost feel sorry for her. Regardless of whether it is news or not though, it is funny as hell – you have to love Jon Stewart.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Its only news because you say so.

    Well, me and every editor and news producer on the planet.

    Why are you playing the apologist for dreck?

    It’s not dreck. The chief diplomat of the most powerful country in the history of the planet going apeshit because some kid asked her a question is interesting and important. It’s not front-page news and wasn’t treated as such. But it’s news.

    And I would much prefer to gain an insight or two into what is going on in Africa these days.

    There’s a big old Internet out there with more info on that subject than you could possibly read. Misery in Africa is the norm, not the news.

  5. Drew says:

    Boy, after 8 horible years its sure great to see our foreign policy apparatus operating with such aplomb and decorum.

  6. amac says:

    You said: [horrific plight of women in Africa] is much more important. But it’s not news.

    Huh? Doesn’t that last sentence prove the point of the meme that the media and YOU are ignoring the real story. If it is not news, then what is?

  7. James Joyner says:

    Doesn’t that last sentence prove the point of the meme that the media and YOU are ignoring the real story. If it is not news, then what is?

    News involves things that are new. Gravity, for example, is very important. It’s not news. Similarly, that things are horrible in sub-Saharan Africa is hardly a breaking story.

  8. JL says:

    But it’s not news.

    And Hillary being upstaged by Bill IS news? No it’s not. It’s gossip and it’s OLD gossip at that.

    And that’s the point. To many (if not most) Americans, the deplorable conditions for women around the word is novel. You already acknowledge it’s important. How, then, is the combination of important and novel NOT news while the combination of “expected” and “unimportant” regarding Hillary and Bill is?

    The answer is the media (and apparently you included) PREFER the sensationalistic to the important and truly novel. It’s so much easier to report than the deeply disturbing treatment of women in the Congo.

    It has become common knowledge that the better the conditions for women, the better the conditions of everyone (various sources for this, but the book “Three Cups of Tea” should be required reading for everyone). This is probably the MOST important story to be told now because it has implications for Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, the Congo and many more places where U.S. interests lie.

    How would the American public know if they only care about “Hilary’s Congo blow up” if that is the ONLY sound byte they’ve been allowed to see?

    It is ridiculous for the media to pretend that their hands are tied by such a sound byte when they can easily choose to stop airing it and instead talk for even half a minute about how women are treated in the Congo.

    Yes, it’s the media’s fault.