So… What Happened? The Media Attempts to Answer

After widespread anticipation, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s memoir on her 2016 election loss came out last week.

Titled What Happened, the 512-page book details Clinton’s introspective thoughts on why she lost the election to President Donald Trump, including the roles that Russia, Bernie Sanders and Trump himself played to prevent her from becoming the first female president in U.S. history.

There have been polarizing reviews and no shortage of opinions on what Clinton had to say. Amazon even went so far as sifting through reviews of the book on its website, deleting those it believed to be false or incomplete in nature.

Among the initial 1,500 reviews, only 338 came from Verified Purchasers, meaning users who bought the book through Amazon. After removing 900 or so reviews, Amazon’s mean review score went from 3.2 to 4.9 stars out of 5.

While “fake news” was a factor in Clinton’s analysis of her own loss, real and reputable news outlets all took different takes on the memoir. Some saw What Happened as a true reflection of the events that transpired, while others saw it as a cop-out, concluding that Clinton cast blame on everyone but herself.

The New York Times took a more historical route of how the public should view not just the book, but Clinton herself. It used context to explain that, essentially, Clinton’s loss will be talked about for years, and she may never get over it. As the article noted, Clinton compared herself to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the book.

“One vituperative national columnist called [Roosevelt] ‘impudent, presumptuous and conspiratorial,’ and said that ‘her withdrawal from public life at this time would be a fine public service,’” the Times’ Jon Meacham wrote. “Clinton then adds, as if anyone could miss the point: ‘Sound familiar?’”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post and The Guardian took more scathing positions. The Post’s approach, at least in the form of a political cartoon, was much harsher and advertised the book as a plea for forgiveness and a litany of excuses for her loss.

The Guardian, on the other hand, took the opportunity to say that, as much as Clinton frames her loss on Comey and Sanders’ lack of uniting the Democratic Party, the future of the party will be up to voters and politicians who are tilting further to the left by the day. However, these two things alone may have paled in comparison to Clinton’s understanding — or lack thereof — of Trump’s base.

Columnist Sarah Leonard noted that “[Clinton] primarily attributes her loss to what she calls ‘tribal politics’ — a blend of racism, sexism and economic discontent — and FBI director James Comey’s press conference days before the election. She may be right about Comey shifting enough white swing voters to ultimately cost her the race. But Clinton’s relationship to populism is more complicated.”

What makes this book interesting is its timeliness. The future of the Democratic Party is still uncertain, both in terms of leadership and platform. Clinton also hasn’t been shying away from the limelight despite the near-certain end of her political career.

Perhaps it is the Los Angeles Times, though, that took the most meaningful approach to understanding Clinton’s thinking in publishing What Happened. The review’s author, David L. Ulin, is of the opinion that Clinton isn’t doing anything differently from how previous candidates handled their losses.

More significantly, this election wasn’t a typical one, given the vitriolic battle between Clinton and Trump. Ulin wants readers to understand that, and he concluded his piece with what he believes is a directive for curious readers:

“Read What Happened, then, not as score settling or revisionist history,” Ulin wrote. “Read it, rather, as what is it: self-serving in places but relatively honest, if not a knockout blow then something of a necessary punch.”

With that in mind, there are numerous ways to approach reading What Happened. And, if you’re looking for a more succinct version of the large book, Axios compiled a list of 16 reasons why Clinton says she lost.

Some readers will find it eye-opening, while others will find it a pointless read. But, for those looking for Clinton to take responsibility to some degree, the media ultimately agrees: What Happened will not disappoint.

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