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How New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister convinced Hillary Clinton to start talking

Traister, who profiled Clinton twice for the magazine, talks about how those stories got made on the latest Recode Media.

Hillary Clinton, Code 2017 Lynsey Addario / New York Magazine

Rebecca Traister says she has a rare and lucky job: She gets to do original reporting while also writing about her opinions, and her employer, New York Magazine, lets her write at length, with “historic context.”

That matters because Traister’s beat is gender and politics; on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Traister said you can’t cover politics without also covering history.

“Everything about our every day — the jobs, education, early childhood education, paid leave, minimum wage, our health insurance, our infrastructure — everything that we live in this country every day is shaped by policy that is influenced by racial and gender inequality,” Traitor said. “And it has been made, historically, nearly exclusively, by white men, who are a minority population in this country.”

Traister, who had been openly critical of or ambivalent toward Clinton in dozens of columns, couldn’t get a phone call returned by Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign. But in 2016, with a book about women in the 2008 race on her résumé, she cracked through with a clear pitch: I will write what others are missing.

“I made very clear that the piece I wanted to write was putting [Clinton] in the context of American history,” Traister said. “There was no promise about, ‘It’s going to be good, it’s going to be bad,’ of course. But I did say, ‘This is a crucial historic moment, and I thought there would be more coverage that made careful note of that.’”

“This [was the] first woman nominated by a major party who’s going to run in a major election; the first woman in a 51 percent female nation that purports to be a representative democracy, in 231 years,” she added. “I thought there was going to be more historicizing this moment. [I said] ‘What I’m going to do is put her in the story of America.’ That is what they were signing on for.”

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That pitch led to Traister’s first interview with Clinton, chronicled in the May 2016 story, “Hillary Clinton vs. Herself.” By coincidence, it was almost exactly one year later that New York Magazine ran Traister’s second profile, about Clinton’s “surreal post-election life.”

On the new podcast, she said she was not one of the reporters asking to speak to Clinton on Nov. 9, partly because she “was in horror for a long time.”

“There are stretches of the fall I don’t remember clearly,” Traister said.

Starting in November, she began collecting thoughts, paragraphs and links to others’ work in a folder on her computer’s desktop, but didn’t pitch Clinton’s team on another story until the following March. In the intervening time, though, several sources from the campaign reached out to talk to her about the fallout.

“In those conversations, I was saying, ‘Obviously, this is a piece I want to write,’” Traister said. “I was saying something reporters don’t usually say, which is, ‘I don’t want to write it now.’ As somebody who has written about Hillary Clinton and loss before, I thought there are periods where these things are so fresh, where you want to go back and look at the dynamics involved; where it’s so fresh that you can’t see it clearly. And my guess in January or February was that it wouldn’t be until at least the spring.”

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