Anatomy of an Article
Joseph Janangelo

Introducing Author Jonathan Pearson

        In many ways, Jonathan’s project is one of passion. He refers to Rodham as “Hillary” and calls her “one of [his] heroines.” Indeed, the published essay emanated from the author’s personal interests in and felt connections to his subject. The essay evidences a strong sense of cause.

Jonathan became interested in “Hillary” in 2004 after reading her autobiography, Living History (2003). The influence was so significant that reading about Rodham’s achievements influenced Jonathan’s early career decisions. As Jonathan stated, “I decided to become a lawyer. I even applied to Yale for undergraduate to be like her—and I wasn’t accepted. Instead I went to college at University of Missouri–Kansas City and was a political science/pre-law major.” He noted a pivotal point in his interests: “After the first semester I realized I was meant for the English department.” Yet his passion for this public figure persisted, “Every day I read news about Hillary and her Senate work. Supported her campaign for reelection in 2006 and when she decided to run for president in January 2007.” He even visited web sites that kept him abreast of her campaign.

        Jonathan’s interests in Rodham drove him to read everything he could find about her. In fall 2007, Jonathan read journalist Carl Bernstein’s book, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton (2007). Looking back, Jonathan recalled that “I appreciated his journalistic style of providing both views of Hillary.” He called it the “most objective look at her biography” and said that it “confirmed a lot of details of her biography which many criticized and said she had fabricated.” With clarity, Jonathan noted the backlash against Rodham, adding that “A lot of anti-Hillary groups would take her original title, Living History, and change it to Rewriting History. But Bernstein took her book one step further.” As Jonathan reported, “He [Bernstein] interviewed hundreds of people, including conservative Dick Morris (former Clinton ally, now foe), who fleshed out the details of her biography.” Rodham also threw focus on certain moments and events; Jonathan perceptively added that “Hillary would shy away from too much in-depth analysis about her life, skimming certain parts, like her schooling, so she could focus on the more controversial areas like her years as First Lady and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.”  

In fall semester of 2008, Jonathan’s interest would soon receive a major writing opportunity. As he reported, "In my senior year of undergraduate studies, I took a class called Women and Rhetoric.” In that class “we studied famous female rhetoricians and the tools they used to convey their message, whether it was specifically about issues concerning females (i.e. right to vote) or slavery, etc.” Jonathan then went into detail about the major class assignments, “We had to do a project about a female rhetorician as part of our final grade.” His teacher was Professor Jane Greer, Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. As Jonathan remembers, “When Jane proposed the assignment, Hillary was an obvious choice.” He noted that “I had followed her work so much she felt like a close friend” and adds that “I felt comfortable researching her because I felt I knew her.” Jonathan elaborated on his felt connection to his subject “All through my youth I heard nothing but awful things about her, and after reading her autobiography I realized how much the media and her critics obsess about all the negativity surrounding her.” Jonathan explained that “I knew in my Spirit she was not those things (i.e. manipulating, calculating, deceitful).” He added, “I really identified with the criticism and began to write the paper as a tribute to show people, ‘Hey! She’s not what you think!’” As Jonathan explained, “My initial goal was to defend her.” He also articulated the emotions that drove him to his goal: “I felt that no one understood her like I did, and everyone must know the Hillary I knew! I started to formulate ideas for my paper.”

Perhaps attendant to his devotion to his subject, this writer appeared to be driven by a desire for redress and clarity, which brought his attention to issues of focus and selection. As Jonathan reported, “Problem arose—what aspect to cover? First Lady? Senator?” Then clarity came: “Covering her presidential campaign would have been easy since there were plenty of available media.” He added that “In fact, she sharpened her oral rhetoric—that’s where I noticed the biggest change of her rhetoric. Speaking every day she began to sharpen her campaign message.” When asked, Jonathan expanded on this idea: “At the beginning of her campaign she was almost quiet in her demeanor. She announced her candidacy through a video instead of a public venue, but by the end of her campaign, she publicly and humbly accepted her loss.”

As a passionate and purposeful rhetor, Jonathan sought to make a specific intervention. As he explained, “I didn’t want to focus on this period of her career. I felt it wouldn’t contribute to her life story in a significant way. There was already too much commentary.” He went on: “I was really curious about her college life since I was also in college. I realized a lot hadn’t been discussed.” According to Jonathan, “Hillary wrote very little about her early days in her autobiography—[I] wanted to do some more investigating. Since there wasn’t much discussed academically about her early work, I decided that was the best area to cover.” 

As mentioned, Jonathan’s project was inherently multimodal. The author pursued his need to research by creating a video he later posted on YouTube, called "Hillary Rodham Clinton: Survivor," which he presented to his Women in Rhetoric class. As part of his research, Jonathan read Rodham’s articles in the journals Harvard Educational Review and Yale Law Review concerning the well-being of children and their rights under the law. In paying attention to Rodham’s language choices, he found that “she used a lot of analogies to talk about how children were being neglected and even U.S. Senators didn’t even want to address the issue at the time.” For research, Jonathan consulted JSTOR, used interlibrary loan, and scanned back issues of Life magazine. He found that those sources were adequate for his project and, in his interview, added that he “was able to find all primary sources via library and online. Eventually [I] scanned four sources from books and the rest downloaded from the internet and kept them in one giant folder.”

When I asked Jonathan what caught his attention as he reviewed those sources, he replied, “I read all this material, was fascinated by it, but couldn’t decide what area to focus on.” For him, the “biggest question was the thesis.” He added, “that’s when it started out as a tribute paper for the class.” At that point, the goal became clear: “I was going to defend Hillary to the people who supported other presidential candidates at the time. I wanted them to see what I saw in Hillary.” Here the author elaborated eloquently: “What jumped out at me was a truthful, honest, hardworking person who was being maliciously and unfairly attacked, and I felt it my duty to reveal the truth about her.” This sense of duty, coupled with the desire for redress, led to an even closer inspection and counter-reading of some of Rodham’s early writings. Jonathan asserted that “Her college thesis wasn’t radical and her work on behalf of children really shed light on a lack of protection for children in their own homes.”

Jonathan used the discoveries he made in his research to make an intervention. In his close readings of some of her arguments he noticed a misperception of and an over-reaction to many of Rodham’s ideas and words. As he put it, “Her critics were only concerned about her subject, [community organizer and writer] Saul Alinsky and I kept wondering if they had even read the thesis at all.” As Jonathan explained, “I didn’t feel it was overwhelmingly supportive or against him. I felt she was simply analyzing his work.” Here a researcher’s scrutiny led to ongoing reflection: “After having read Bernstein’s book, I remember the Republican criticism about her years as First Lady. I remember when they did pieces in 1992 about ‘Who Is Hillary Clinton?’ and talked about her ‘radical’ speeches and thesis at Wellesley.” Jonathan explained his own reaction to that criticism: “As I read that speech and thesis, the “radical” ideology never jumped out at me. I kept asking, ‘where is it’? It was more of a sensationalistic portrayal made out of fear of Hillary.” Such dramatic portrayals reified Jonathan’s belief that “The critics had this image of her as radical and kept promoting something that wasn’t true. She was passionate about her beliefs and I believe they were afraid of a strong woman.”

Jonathan’s increasingly pointed passion for redress was fueled by examining a variety of texts. He described a very special resource in some detail: “I was given a pamphlet once by a fellow Hillary supporter (my high school English teacher whom I’m still friends with!) that was made by the American Conservative Union called, Hillary Rodham Clinton: What Every American Should Know.” Jonathan described this tome in terms that are less than flattering, writing that “it was made during Hillary’s run for the Senate in 2000” and noting that “it was the same misconceptions and misinterpretation of her life and work.” He added, “I still hold on to it for purely entertainment purposes because of its absurdity and as a reminder of how people are unfairly vilified.” Jonathan enjoys quoting excerpts. For example, he quoted from the preface: “The ‘real’ Hillary Rodham Clinton, with her many faces, is a terribly complex individual—much more so than either her sycophants or worst enemies believe.” Jonathan also shared this excerpt from the text:

This book is by no means a chronicle of Clinton scandals—Lord knows that would take more space than I’ve been allotted here—but it is a summary of those scandals [i.e. her alleged affair with Vince Foster and later, his death] that seem to have come about primarily as a result of Hillary’s ego and actions. (ACU, 2000, p. 4)

To such florid prose, Jonathan offered this succinct rebuttal: “It’s such an absurd piece of political trash I find absolutely hilarious that anyone would actually believe it.” He added that “I also find it interesting how a lot of Republicans support her now over President Obama. I think a lot of them realized she wasn’t as ‘radical’ as they thought she was.” Jonathan also noted that “Even Rush Limbaugh admitted during the democratic nomination he would rather support Hillary over Obama if he had a choice because her politics seemed more middle-of-the-road than liberal.”