Department of Communication
Public Address Conference
Melody Lehn

"Talking It Over" with Hillary: The First Lady as Syndicated Columnist, 1995-2000

This dissertation critically appraises over two hundred and fifty newspaper columns penned by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton over the course of nearly five years. From July 1995 to December 2000, the first lady wrote a weekly syndicated column distributed through Creators Syndicate and carried by hundreds of newspapers across the nation and the globe. Through “Talking It Over,” the first lady not only shared with the public her personal opinions and experiences, but also reported on and offered judgments about a host of political issues of both national and international importance. The topics the first lady wrote about include, but are not limited to, health care, education, adoption, welfare, domestic violence, caring for war veterans, literacy, mental illness, family planning, sex trafficking, and terrorism. Interestingly, the column was either suspended or dropped by a number of newspapers throughout its syndication. Some newspaper editors found the column to be “too political,” while others complained that the column seemed “content-free”: thus, underscoring the ambiguous nature of the first lady position, which is both undefined and unofficial regarding what the first lady can and cannot do. Locating this ambiguity in the text of this newspaper column and its reception, as well as considering it in light of the sitting first lady’s historic run for the United States Senate as she wrote the column, I argue that “Talking It Over” functioned as a site for Hillary Rodham Clinton to couple together two seemingly discrete objectives: imagining and defining the first lady position and crafting a political candidacy. This coupling, I contend, both reflects and contributes to the increased politicization of the first lady position during Rodham Clinton’s tenure.

Melody Lehn
University of Memphis 

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Last Updated: 1/9/13