Ah, clickbait…Great for traffic, bad for the truth.
You have perhaps seen the headlines declaring, “Hillary Clinton Compared Staying With Bill Clinton to Raising a Transgender Child,” or a similar variant, following comments she made about her decision to stay in her marriage despite her husband’s infidelity, during an appearance on The View.
The clip was posted, unlisted, by conservative publication The Washington Examiner with the provocative headline, and has since been picked up with the same clickbait headline by at least two LGBTQ publications at time of writing, despite its obvious reach and misrepresentation.
Clinton was asked why she has described her choice not to get a divorce as the “gutsiest thing she has done personally.” Her answer, which includes a mention of a friend who struggled with the revelation that her child was transgender, is a thoughtful, nuanced explanation of why she decided to make that choice, and how everyone has similar crossroads experiences in their lives where they lean on their loved ones while trying to make the right choices for themselves and those around them.
It was more about learning and growing as an individual than it was any sort of one-to-one comparison of the situations themselves. Raising a transgender child was also only one of several examples she offered.
None of that is as enticing and clickable as the inflammatory video title, however, and the headlines that mindlessly aped it.
Here is what she said, in full, because context matter:
Look, I think everybody knows it was an incredibly painful time and experience for us. I’ve lived long enough that I’ve had lots of friends go through similar experiences, but not on the world stage.
So, you’d be in a kitchen holding each others’ hands, or on the telephone listening to your friend cry, and trying to figure out, what’s the right thing to do? And there’s no one answer.
For some people that I’ve known, the right thing was take your kids and go; clean out your bank accounts and don’t look back. For other people, (it’s) get into a negotiation and figure out if you want to stay. Or, in my case, after really hard, hard thinking about it, counseling, praying, all the things that I did and that we went through, you know, I just decided that it was the right thing for me [to stay in my marriage]. But that didn’t mean that it was an easy decision. It was a really hard decision.
I think, at personal points along the way—sometimes deciding whether to get married, or who to marry, is a gutsy decision. You know, if you marry someone outside your faith, or of a different race, or different ethnicity, you know, that’s a gutsy decision. I’ve had friends whose parents wouldn’t go to the wedding and [who] haven’t talked to them in years.
Sometimes when your child has an issue—I had a friend who, a few years ago, called up and said, “I don’t know who to talk to about this, but my little girl wants to be a boy. What do I do?”
Several of us—we didn’t know what to do, we’d never had a friend who faced that before—and several of us kind of read everything, talked to people, and gave her advice. And it was really gutsy of her to say, “Okay, I’m going to respect the feelings of my child, as hard as it is for me to understand this.”
So, I think when the question was asked personally—everyone faces a moment of decision. And you have to reach deep down inside and decide what’s right for you to do. Hopefully it’s reached with love and understanding, but it’s gutsy.
You can watch her answer the question below.
It should be clear to anyone with basic reading comprehension skills that she wasn’t comparing her situation with the experience of raising a trans child as if they are more or less identical, but rather her experience of having to navigate an unexpected life event involving family members with the same, and how a loving, supportive community, as well as a lot of reflection, can help lead you to the rate path for oneself.
The 2016 election should have been a wake-up call to journalists that chasing down the most inflammatory stories and presenting them in the most polarizing ways is a dangerous strategy, even if it makes you money. It is something I intend to take more seriously myself, as I wouldn’t pretend to have a spotless record on this front either. In this present landscape you’d be hard pressed to find many who do, quite frankly.
We can all stand to do better, as writers and as editors, who are more often than not the ones headlining stories (in case you weren’t aware of how the process works), not to mention all of us as consumers of news. How often do we find ourselves rage clicking without even thinking? Remember, your emotions or reasons for clicking and sharing stories doesn’t get recorded, just the fact that you viewed the article and shared it, which equals revenue, which results in more of the same being fed into your feed, whether you like it or not.
Yes, the industry is in a difficult spot right now, with publications going out of business left and right, and you need eyes on stories to survive, but at what cost are we willing to sell off our credibility? Not to mention, strictly from a strategy standpoint, how long will that work? As the saying goes, you can sheer a sheep many times but skin it only once.
It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves more often, and one we better start getting right. The future of this country is too important to be chasing clicks and cash while helping to tank our already tattered democracy.