In four tweets on Wednesday afternoon, New York Times reporter Amy Chozick revealed the existence of the HRC Super Volunteers, which promised in an email to journalists to call out sexism in press coverage of Clinton’s likely presidential campaign. Inexcusable sexist words include “polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over confident,” as well as “secretive” and “will do anything to win, represents the past, out of touch.” There was instant outrage. But the thing is, HRC Super Volunteers doesn’t seem to be much more than an email address. It’s based on a private Facebook group with a different name. Its Twitter account is an imposter. “John sent an email this week to reporters from his own personal viewpoint but was busy and accidentally sent it from our joint gmail account and the media seemed to think this was some type of official group or something,” the group’s founder, Kim Frederick, told The New Republic.
Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy in April, but has been considered a potential presidential candidate since, oh, 1999. In the email to Chozick, HRC Super Volunteers stumbled into the perfect story while the world sits in Clinton pre-campaign purgatory. Clinton has certainly faced sexist criticism over the years, but she’s also exploited her gender for political gain. Only a couple weeks ago, Clinton had tried to deflect criticism about using private email for State Department business by claiming she only deleted emails about yoga and planning her daughter’s wedding.
At the same time, news and commentary websites have built and refined a system for turning outrage—over sexism, and other -isms—into money. The system was built to run on fuel like HRC Super Volunteers. Of course “secretive” and “out of touch”and “polarizing” and so on could describe many politicians, and they’re not sexist when applied to Clinton. Immediately, the outraged Super Volunteers generated their own outrage. Sample counter-outrage headlines: “The 13 words you can’t write about Hillary Clinton anymore” (The Washington Post); “HILLARY ‘SUPER VOLUNTEERS’ WARN REPORTER AGAINST USING ‘SEXIST’ WORDS” (Breitbart); “Don’t call Hillary Clinton ‘disingenuous,’ but really don't call her ‘liar’” (Christian Science Monitor); “Don’t call Hillary calculating, ambitious, entitled, over-confident or secretive—they are SEXIST: ex-male model turned Clinton 'super volunteer’ says he and his allies are reading everything written about her for ‘sexism’” (Daily Mail, which also posted multiple pictures of Super Volunteer John West’s modeling days). “Why don’t the Volunteers just come out and say it: any criticism whatsoever about the secretive former secretary of state is sexist?” a post at the Independent Women's Forum said. As usual, there were many outraged tweets.
The Drudge Report linked to a post by Patrick Howley for the conservative Daily Caller titled, “Here Are The Words Hillary’s Supporters Won’t Let You Say.” Howley is somewhat infamous for writing about sex and sexism in a way that skews a bit skin-crawlish. He took the words the Super Volunteers would ban and defined them. For example: “disingenuous ... Like when chicks say ‘I’m not looking for anything serious.’ Or, you know, ‘I’m on the pill.’” Howley's article, naturally, generated some mild counter-counter outrage. “Cute, the Daily Caller still lets Howley write about sexism,” tweeted George Zornick of The Nation.
There’s a problem with this frenzy over the Super Volunteers. It’s not just that the group isn’t in any way tied to Clinton’s unofficial campaign—it’s that it barely even qualifies as a group. “We're not at all attached to the campaign, not at all,” John West, sender of the infamous email, told the Washington Examiner, which actually did some real reporting on the story. “All we are is a Facebook group of Democrats. We met in 2007 and stayed connected afterwards.”
The New Republic contacted West through a Google Groups email the Examiner linked to. The email address was for his landscaping business—his signature promises “Unrivaled Outdoor Lifestyle Design”—and West forwarded it to the group’s founder Kim Frederick, saying, “another media request.” (Poor guy.) Frederick told me she started the Facebook group a few months ago after “starting to notice some of the same old media tactics from 2008 rearing their ugly head again. As a young woman, it was infuriating/insulting to me that the media hadn’t learned how truly awful and disgusting they were in 2008 and tried to rein themselves in this time around.” She named the private Facebook group “HRC Super Volunteers 2008,” and, by allowing invitees to invite others, it’s grown to 600 people. That’s a lot of people, but let’s be clear about who they are: ex-volunteers who clicked “join” on Facebook, not a paid staff of oppo researchers and media trackers.
As of Friday afternoon, “HRC Super Volunteers” gets 9,250 Google search results and 289 Google News results. And according to Topsy, the Twitter account @HRCSuperVols had 389 followers and had received 877 replies since March 25. But it’s a hoax. Neither Frederick nor West registered @HRCSuperVols, which was created after West’s email was tweeted by Chozick. Last night they noticed the imposter Twitter handle. “So this has kind of hit us regular folk off guard. But we are learning and preparing.”
2008 was not Hillary Clinton’s time. The internet had not yet developed its potential to celebrate and exploit her historic candidacy as the likely first female presidential nominee. In the seven years since her defeat in the Democratic presidential primary, the outrage-click machine has evolved. People are going to send their kids to college through Clinton outrage clicks. Today, the internet is ready for Hillary.