Buzzfeed is an abomination. It’s at the forefront of a movement in media that feels like it’s going to eventually leave us all incapable of keeping a thought in our heads for longer than 12 seconds and communicating in anything other than text-speak and Jurassic Park gifs. The site is the fucking journalistic Antichrist. That said, it’s probably not a wise idea politically for a 2016 presidential candidate to haughtily dismiss Buzzfeed’s influence, given that it is in fact immense when it comes to the millennial vote.
Earlier today, Hillary Clinton was speaking to a conference of car dealers in New Orleans when she said that she hadn’t driven a car since 1996. When you consider who she is, the jobs she’s held, and the parts of the country she’s lived and worked in for the past 18 years, this isn’t in any way a shocking admission. But being that politics is what it is, the Quickrete was poured and a beautiful, sprawling new controversy built on top of it in the time it took her to finish talking. Her political enemies are now trying to portray her comment as proof that she’s hopelessly out of touch with people who haven’t been a first lady, U.S. senator, or secretary of state for most of the past two decades.
This is what led Buzzfeed reporter Katherine Miller to try to contact the Clinton camp for a comment about the “controversy.” That comment, as befitted the source, was asked for in the form of a list. Miller wrote out “7 Questions from Buzzfeed” for Clinton, all of them inquiring whether she had engaged in various activities recently that no doubt make up most of the day of the average Buzzfeed reader — “Has she set up the contacts on a phone?” “Has she used Facebook?” “Has she ever eaten Chipotle?” — and sent it off to Clinton spokesman Phillippe Reines.
Reines responded with arguably appropriate but entirely ill-advised mockery:
“Thank you for the opportunity to answer BuLLfeed’s inane questions. I typically don’t respond to BuLLfeed inquiries, but given the extra special inanity BuLLfeed put into today’s inquiry, I’ve answered each of BuLLfeed’s inane questions with as much specificity as possible. Again, thank you and BuLLfeed for this exercise in serious journalism.”
Personally, I enjoy any time Buzzfeed gets called out for its ridiculousness, but Raines’s response is as childish as anything Buzzfeed has ever printed, regardless of the fact that he’s right: the questions Miller asked were indeed inane and probably didn’t deserve to be taken the least bit seriously. What’s fascinating, though, is the irony of the Clinton camp giving the smug brush-off to a youth-oriented media outlet, given that Hillary’s husband won the hearts and minds of the youth vote two decades ago precisely by unabashedly embracing the media that catered to it at the time.
The campaign of Bill Clinton will always be remembered for its canny use of youth media in its effort to mobilize young adults (the Arsenio Hall sax solo is still the stuff of pop culture legend). But I specifically remember that it was the juxtaposition of Clinton’s treatment of MTV’s political coverage versus his opponent’s that hammered home for me the reason I needed to not only put my vote behind Clinton but deprive the incumbent, George Bush, of another term.
MTV didn’t used to be the toxic cultural miasma it is now, and while Clinton treated it as a useful tool in his goal of bringing his message to a new generation of American voters — and its audience as brimming with potential political savvy — George Bush showed aloofness, arrogance, and visible disdain for the network and the fact that he was expected to pay it any attention whatsoever. In one particular interview with MTV News’s Tabitha Soren, who was the face of the network’s “Choose or Lose” campaign of the early 90s, I’ll never forget the expression on Bush’s face, the pissy, irritated condescension he heaped on Soren — who was, as much as Bush didn’t want to believe it, an actual journalist worthy of his respect — for forcing him to suffer through such an indignity. Watching that interview was what made me say, out loud, “Screw this guy.”
The point is, while Buzzfeed may be the flimsiest of news outlets, it’s still in many ways a strong voice in millennial culture, and that voice is snottily dismissed and insulted at the Clinton camp’s peril. Hillary plans to run for president in 2016, and she’ll need to be able to show the youth vote that she takes it seriously in the same way that Bill did 20 years ago and, quite frankly, Barack Obama did six years ago. Telling a political editor for the site to essentially go fuck herself doesn’t play well with 20-somethings — and Buzzfeed’s unparalleled social media clout will ensure that millions of them will hear it, see it, and come to believe what it says about how the Hillary Clinton camp regards them.
I guarantee that in 1992 George Bush figured he could blow off MTV News’s Tabitha Soren — and the audience she spoke for — and it wouldn’t hurt him in the least. He ultimately found out how wrong he was.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.