“I’m going to say what I know, what I believe, and let the chips fall where they may.”
- Hillary Rodham Clinton [Diane Sawyer interview]
IT’S NOT often that NPR’s Terry Gross resorts to contortions in an interview to get the result she wants, but that’s what happened when she and Hillary Rodham Clinton chatted on “Fresh Air” on NPR.
YouTube channel from RisingICYMI offers a partial video of the exchange about LGBT rights. Oh, and it’s just fine that RisingICYMI is and anti Hillary Clinton channel, it’s just not a minor point considering the foreshadowing of what the interview would become is contained in the part of what wasn’t included.
Now, you first have to decide whether Hillary Rodham Clinton owes Terry Gross the particular answer for which she’s fishing. As a listener, whether you like Hillary are detest her, you also have to decide that when a reporter doesn’t get what he or she wants and keeps on pushing, whether the interviewee has the right to hold her (or his) ground, because she’s said all she wants on the subject. Obviously, if the reporter wants a specific answer or one of her hypotheses validated, she’s going to do whatever she can to manifest her original intent. The interviewee is, however, not obliged to play along.
The foreshadowing of just how bad it got was when Terry Gross brought up the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Bill Clinton signed. Gross actually expected Hillary Clinton, as first lady, to defend him on it or say he was wrong. Not separating Hillary Clinton’s positions from Bill Clinton’s, or expecting her to defend her husband, is an amateur move by someone who knows exactly what she’s doing when she pulls a stunt like this. It was embarrassing for Gross.
The beginning that was left out of the video that went viral (but you can listen to at NPR), went like this:
GROSS: I want to move on to LGBT rights, which was very important to you as secretary of state. You made it one of your priorities. In fact, you gave a speech at the headquarters of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva with the goal to place LGBT rights in the international community’s framework of human rights. In that speech, you said, (reading) like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.
I found it very interesting that you decided to not limit what you were saying to gay rights but to include transgender people. There are parts of the world that are still imprisoning or even executing people for being gay. Being transgender is probably, like, way off the map for them. Was it difficult to decide to include transgender, which would strike some people as being more radical than including – than just including gay and bisexual people?
CLINTON: Well, LGBT includes the T, and I wanted to stand up for the entire community. I don’t believe that people who are the L, the G, the B or the T should be persecuted, assaulted, imprisoned, even killed for who they are. And this was the debate that I was having with leaders in many parts of the world who first denied there were any such people in their communities, that it was all an invention and export of the West and then would change the argument to they didn’t want people being proselytized. They didn’t want children being abused.
And I said well, there are laws against that that are certainly appropriate. No one should be coerced. No one should be abused. But you’re talking about the status, the, you know – the very core of who a person is. And it has become, and I think will continue to be, a very important issue for the United States to combat around the world and to stand up for the rights of all people. And as I said, not just women, religious, ethnic, tribal – all people, including the LGBT community.
GROSS: You added gender identity to the State Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy, and you made it easier for Americans to change their sex on their passport. Did you have to sneak that in without a lot of attention?
I can – I mean, I didn’t know you’d done that. But I have a feeling, if a lot of people had known you’d done that, you would’ve gotten a lot of pushback for that. I mean, ’cause there’s still a lot of people in our country who oppose gay rights and would probably even more so oppose, like, any recognition of the transgender community.
So did you do that on (laughing) the quiet?
CLINTON: Well, I don’t know how quiet it was.
Even before I did that, I spoke to the LGBT employees at the State Department. I was aware of their hopes for some changes that might make it easier for them to be the professionals that they had signed up to be. And I don’t think it was any big secret. I think it was part of the overall efforts to try to treat people with dignity and equality.
And certainly the Obama administration made some of its own moves at the same time with respect to the larger federal employee pool. And when I had responsibility for the well-being of the 70,000 or so employees around the world who worked for the State Department and USAID, I had an opportunity, through executive action, to recognize that there were barriers and vestiges of discrimination that had no place in a moderate American workplace and so I acted. …
Terry Gross makes it clear in the beginning section of the interview what she intends to do. The problem Gross runs into is that she sounds increasingly throughout the interview that she came in with preconceived notions that she wanted to get Clinton to confirm. It didn’t work, because Clinton wouldn’t play along.
Well, it worked for the media.
Instapundit called her “testy,” as did MSNBC, and New York Magazine does, too, also writing that “Hillary won’t say she evolved on gay marriage.” The Wall Street Journal also picks up the “testy” line, while the New York Daily News prefers “lashes out” in a “tense” interview. Mediaite says she “snaps” at NPR’s interviewer. Oh, and Politico prefers “testy.” Over at The Atlantic, they go with “Clinton’s gay marriage problem,”, ignoring her work at State for transgender human rights across the globe, preferring to look backwards at how she felt during her husband’s presidency.
Ann Althouse, a conservative, thought Clinton did “a great job” in the interview:
“Testy” is an interesting word to use to describe a woman. To me, it resonates with Hillary Clinton’s discussion, in the “Fresh Air” interview, that as Secretary of State she was regarded, in those countries that don’t recognize women’s rights, as an “honorary man.” …
Gross was trying to pin something on her, and I liked it that Hillary noticed and, in the midst of eloquently elaborating her thought-out talking points on marriage equality, turned on a dime and put Gross in her place.
We need that kind of sharpness on our side. You can’t be sliding along, acting amiable, when you’re talking to Vladimir Putin. I want someone with that kind of mental and verbal skill working for us.
Eliana Dockterman of Time magazine had a similar reaction that I did to Gross trying to “pigeonhole” Hillary.
I understand the desire to nail down when Clinton’s views on gay marriage changed and whether they changed for purely political reasons. …
However, Clinton, as an interviewee, had every right to push back against being boxed into a simple narrative, one in which she is either a reformed homophobe or a political animal.
Some are taking the Gross interview as a sign that Clinton has gotten rusty—that she’s not quite ready for the campaign trail again. But in another light, the fact that she was bold enough to push back suggests that she’s more ready than she was in 2008.
Terry Gross didn’t expect what she got, so she kept on trying. Hillary continued to refuse to let Gross contort her position.
The video picks it up here, with the transcript below from NPR:
[CONTINUING] GROSS: …Were there positions you believed in as senator but you couldn’t publicly support because you felt that it wasn’t time yet? That the positions would have been too unpopular? That the public wasn’t ready in regards to LGBT rights?
And, you know, I often think that there are politicians who, you know, in their heart really support it but don’t publicly support it.
CLINTON: Well, I was fully on board with ending discrimination in the workplace on behalf of the LGBT community. I did not support gay marriage when I was in the Senate or running for president, as you know, and as President Obama and others held the same position. But it, for me, became an opportunity to do what I could as secretary of state to make the workplace fairer – something I had always supported and spoke out about. And then when I was out of the secretary of state position and once again free to comment on domestic matters, I very shortly came out in favor of fully equality, including gay marriage.
GROSS: So what’s it like when you’re in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage that you actually believe in? And you obviously feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights, but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn’t support it – correct me if I’m reading it wrong.
CLINTON: Well, I think you’re reading it very wrong. I think that, as I said, just as the president has said, you know, just because you’re a politician, doesn’t mean you’re not a thinking human being. And you gather information. You think through positions. You’re not 100 percent set – thank goodness – you’re constantly reevaluating where you stand. That was true for me. We talked earlier about Iraq, for goodness sakes. So, for me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states. And in many of the conversations that I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists who work state-by-state and in fact that is what is working. And I think that, you know, being in the position that I was in the Senate – fighting employment discrimination, which we still have some ways to go – was appropriate at that time.
As secretary of state, I was out of domestic politics and I was certainly doing all I could on the international scene to raise the importance of the human rights of the LGBT community. And then leaving that position, I was able to, you know, very quickly announce that I was fully in support of gay marriage and that it is now continuing to proceed state-by-state.
And I am very, very hopeful that we will make progress and see even, you know, more change and acceptance. One of my big problems right now is that too many people believe they have a direct line to the divine and they never want to change their mind about anything. They’re never open to new information and they like to operate in an evidence-free zone. And I think it’s good if people continue to change.
GROSS: So you mentioned that you believe in state-by-state for gay marriage, but it’s the Supreme Court, too. The Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. That part is now struck down. And DOMA was actually signed by your husband when he was president. In spite of the fact that he signed it, were you glad at this point that the Supreme Court struck some of it down?
CLINTON: Of course. And, you know, again, let’s – we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I’m proud of our country. I’m proud of the people who had been on the frontlines of advocacy, but in 1993, that was not the case and there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to, you know, make it even more difficult and greater discrimination. And what DOMA did is at least allow the states to act. It wasn’t going yet to be recognized by the federal government, but at the state level there was the opportunity. And my husband, you know, was the first to say that, you know, the political circumstances, the threats that were trying to be alleviated by the passage of DOMA thankfully were no longer so preeminent and we could keep moving forward, and that’s what we’re doing.
GROSS: So just to clarify – just one more question on this – would you say your view evolved since the ’90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?
CLINTON: I think I’m an American. (Laughing) And I think we have all evolved and it’s been one of the fastest most sweeping transformations.
GROSS: No, I understand, but a lot of people already believed in it back the ’90s. A lot of people already supported gay marriage.
CLINTON: But not – to be fair, Terry, not that many. Yes, were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement, but the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to, you know, think about it and grasp it for the first time. And, you know, think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did or their son or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast – by historic terms – social, political and legal transformation. And we ought to celebrate that instead of plowing old ground, where in fact a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have been moving forward – maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped, but nevertheless we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country, is solidly established. Although there will be places.
GROSS: I – I…
CLINTON: Texas, just to name one, where that is still going to be an ongoing struggle.
GROSS: I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question about whether you evolved or it was the American public that changed (Laughing).
CLINTON: I said I’m an American, so of we all evolved. And I think that that’s a fair, you know, that’s a fair conclusion.
GROSS: So you’re saying your opinion on gay marriage changed as opposed to you – you just felt it was comfortable…
CLINTON: You know, somebody is always first, Terry. Somebody’s always out front and thank goodness they are. But that doesn’t mean that those who joined later in being publicly supportive or even privately accepting that there needs to be change are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across our country if nobody changed their mind. And thank goodness so many of us have.
GROSS: So that’s one for you changed your mind? (Laughing).
CLINTON: You know, I really – I have to say, I think you are very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.
GROSS: I am just trying to clarify so I can understand.
CLINTON: No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify. I think you’re trying to say that, you know, I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we’re making.
GROSS: You know, I’m just saying – I’m sorry – I just want to clarify what I was saying – no, I was saying that you maybe really believed this all along, but – you know, believed in gay marriage all along, but felt for political reasons America wasn’t ready yet and you couldn’t say it. That’s what I was thinking.
CLINTON: No. No, that is not true.
CLINTON: I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don’t think you probably did either. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position. And when I was ready to say what I said, I said it.
GROSS: OK, thank you for clarifying that. … ….
There is a reason Hillary Rodham Clinton had such a reaction when Diane Sawyer characterized one of her responses as “radical candor.” It’s also another reason why Clinton isn’t announcing for president now. She has changed. You can hear it in the “Fresh Air” interview where she puts the “I’m over it” feeling to good use. Clinton is planning to run for president it seems, but she’s going to take her “I’m going to say what I know, what I believe, and let the chips fall where they may” out for a walk this year and see what happens.
If at the end of it people feel like me, as well as how Ann Althouse and others do about her “radial candor,” she’ll announce as planned.
However, Hillary Rodham Clinton will be perfectly happy walking into the sunset and enjoying a life that is her own if the people can’t figure out that a woman doesn’t have to sit quietly while Terry Gross or any other reporter mischaracterizes how she thinks or feels, or doesn’t like the answer they’re getting, preferring another that fits a certain stereotype. If the media finds this “testy,” tough.
The entire conversation between Gross and Clinton on LGBT rights is on NPR’s Fresh Air site.
This piece has been updated.