Clinton advisor assesses role of facts, media in political discourse

Philippe Reines, advisor to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton since 2002, talked about recent changes in the political communications landscape since President Donald Trump’s rise as a candidate at a Civic Life Lunch hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the political science department on Monday. 

Reines, who was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategic Communications in 2010 under Clinton and a communications advisor during Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, also teaches the civic studies special topics course 150–06, titled “Hindsight Might Not be 2020 – The Upheaval of Political Communications in the Era of Trump.”

Reines notably played the role of then-candidate Trump during Clinton’s 2016 presidential debate preparations.

Reines explained that he believes political communication in the present era is too hasty, alleging that the news media fail to verify the validity of facts before rumors spread like wildfire.

“I am a vocal critic of the media,” Reines said. “The speed hasn’t only increased for those on the receiving end, it also has increased for reporters — the pressure for them to say whatever is on their mind, no matter how insignificant, creates a lot of mistakes.”

Reines argued that the state of current political communications has sped up noticeably in his own career, even within the past decade.

Reines recalled that when Clinton fell ill with pneumonia and fainted two months before the election in 2016, the media and news outlets spread the news so quickly that it reached hundreds of thousands of people before her own staff knew.

Comparatively, Reines noted that when Clinton fainted from food poisoning in 2006, their team had several hours to deal with the news and could do damage control before information was disseminated. 

Reines asserted that this event cost Clinton at least 75,000 votes, and from the margin by which she lost, it most likely cost her the election as well. 

Reines explained that the changing speed that information spreads drastically impacts the political sphere, noting that it can be used as a campaign strategy to hurt a competing presidential candidate.

Reines also asserted that a female Democratic nominee would have the best chance to defeat Trump in the upcoming election. Reines explained that he believes men have a harder time seeming rational when arguing against Trump, who often comes off as brash in debate.

According to Reines, people agree and disagree because of competing perceptions around facts. 

“I might never agree with someone who disagrees with me on facts,” Reines said. “If I say its Monday, and he says it’s Saturday, how can I convince him today is Monday?”

Reines applied this view to his analysis of Trump’s comments in argument. 

“When you’re Donald Trump, it doesn’t matter what you say. No one knows what to expect, and that’s why it’s so hard to remain composed when arguing with him,” Reines said.

However, Reines attributed Senator Elizabeth Warren’s success in her presidential campaign thus far to her ability to come off as calm and sensible during a presidential debate, providing a juxtaposition that may be attractive to potential voters.

“She doesn’t get tied up in anything,” Reines said. “The hard thing [about] being a candidate is to stick to what you want to stick to, which is hard in a heated political climate.”

Lastly, Reines discussed the impact of Twitter on politics, describing his and other politicians’ Twitter usage as unhealthy. Reines explained that despite being uncensored and overly heated, Twitter acts as a medium to reach supporters that may feel isolated, such as Democrats in Wyoming or Oklahoma

“It can remind people that they are not alone, and they are among the millions of other supporters,” Reines said.