One week ago today, Hillary Clinton unveiled her plan to "make debt-free college available to everyone and take on student loan debt." The plan will "make in-state colleges and universities tuition-free for families making under $125,000/year," which will "help more than 80% of families." It provides for costs beyond tuition, including books and housing, and commits to investments in historically Black universities.
Student loan debt is a major economic concern across generations—and Clinton's plan addresses many of those concerns. And yet on the day it was made public, the media were primarily concerned about "transparency" around her having pneumonia—a temporary illness for which she received treatment before returning to the campaign trail days later.
It was not an unusual day.
In fact, the media's disproportionate focus on "optics"—whether it's email, the Clinton Foundation, or health disclosures—has left many people accusing them of abandoning policy analysis altogether.
It certainly seems that way. But if the plentiful policies that Clinton had released were not solid, practical, and achievable plans, we'd be hearing about it.
The truth is, it's only because Clinton's policies are as strong as they are that we're not hearing about policy at all. If they were a vulnerability for her, the press would be all over them. But they cannot be exploited to give her bad headlines, so they are of no use to media determined to try to derail her candidacy.
Thus, it's not strictly true that the media has abandoned policy analysis. They've certainly scrutinized Clinton's policies—and found them to be of no use in coverage designed to harm her.
Combine that with Trump's woeful and sparse attempts at serious policy proposals, attention on which would aid Clinton, and there's simply no use for policy discussion. Not for a media who want a horse race (that Clinton will lose).
Ultimately, the endemic silence on meaningful policy analysis can mean only one thing: The media agree that Clinton's policy is pretty great. It's not a weak point for her; to the contrary, it's a strength.
Every day that passes without commentary on her policy is evidence that Clinton is winning on policy. Big time.
But. It's also evidence that the media structure is broken. Big time.
Contemplate what it means that the media have decided that, in an election in which one candidate has put forth virtually unassailable policy, and the other has put forth virtually no policy at all, no less any workable policy, policy is simply irrelevant.
We are one week out from the first presidential debate. For a very long time, the narrative has been that Clinton will crush Trump in the debates—but that calculus is rooted in the presumption that the debates will, as per tradition, center on policy.
There is no guarantee of that in these debates. To the absolute contrary, every indication is that the debates, like the vast majority of the campaign coverage, will focus on "optics." Which will oblige Clinton to debate the moderators more than she will even be debating Trump, as they put her on the defensive and necessitate her providing explanations for "things that look bad."
If this is how the debates go down, they will be a shitshow. And it could meaningfully impact the election. All because Hillary Clinton's policies are so solid that the media can't even be bothered with them.
That is incredible.
We have one week. And I strongly encourage you, if you are on Twitter, to contact the moderators to #DemandFairDebates.
Monday, September 26: Lester Holt | @lesterholtnbc
Tuesday, October 4 (veep debate): Elaine Quijano | @elaine_quijano
Sunday, October 9: Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper | @martharaddatz and @andersoncooper
Wednesday, October 19: Chris Wallace | @foxnewssunday