September 2011: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters
I love this time of year. Leaves begin changing colors, butternut squash soup starts making its way onto restaurant menus, and political debate season gets into full swing. And there’s nothing I enjoy more with my autumn foliage and hearty soup than a big bowl of politicians saying dumb things.
Here are the five worst video media disasters of September! (Or, as Rick Perry might say, “Here are the best of the worst before they were good they were bad media victory disasters, five of ‘em.”)
#5 (Tie) Rick Perry Blows His Attack Against Mitt Romney
Rick Perry had clearly prepared a vicious attack against his main Republican foe, Mitt Romney. But what came out of his mouth was a barely coherent string of words. It was almost sad to watch.
#5. (Tie) Rick Perry Can’t Be Bought. Not For That Paltry Sum, Anyway.
There’s an old story, probably apocryphal, that’s often attributed to Winston Churchill. It’s said that while drunk one night, the former British Prime Minister had the following exchange with a woman:
Churchill: “Madame, would you sleep with me for one pound?”
Woman (offended): “No, of course not.”
Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for one million pounds?”
Woman: “For one million pounds? Maybe.”
Churchill: “Now that we’ve established what you are, why don’t we negotiate the price?”
Texas Governor Rick Perry fell into a similar rhetorical trap with a careless retort to fellow candidate Michelle Bachmann during one of this month’s Republican debates.
#4: When a Hoffa Says It’s Time To Take Somebody Out, It’s Time To Worry.
As readers of this blog know, I have little tolerance for violent rhetoric in politics. Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa Jr. ran afoul of that line by shouting, “Let’s take these [Tea Party] son of a bitches out” while introducing President Obama to a pro-union crowd.
Mr. Hoffa later said that by “take them out,” he meant “vote them out of office.” But that’s the same excuse Sarah Palin used to explain her infamous “crosshairs map” – and neither piece of rhetoric should have a place in public life. President Obama failed to distance himself from Hoffa’s language when given the chance, which must mean he tacitly approved of it.
#3: Republican Debate Audience Boos Gay Soldier
Most audience members attending September’s three Republican debates behaved honorably. But a few made headlines for cheering the execution of 234 people in Texas and for the death of a fictional 30-year-old man who opted not to purchase insurance and entered a coma after an accident.
But the moment that stood out the most is when a few members of the audience booed an active duty soldier in Iraq. He was gay, you see, and his gayness apparently made it okay for a few people in the audience to boo an active duty member of the military. You can blame this incident on a few extremists in the audience – but none of the candidates took them to task, which must mean they tacitly approved of it.
#2: Congressman Andre Carson Suspects Tea Party of Holding Same Views as KKK
At a town hall meeting last month (the audio became available after last month’s media disasters list was published), Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) made some incendiary remarks about the Tea Party:
“Some of those folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second class citizens. Some of them in Congress right now of this tea party movement would love to see you and me … hanging on a tree.”
When given an opportunity to apologize, Mr. Carson refused. If Mr. Carson has evidence that members of Congress would like to see African Americans “hanging on a tree,” he should offer it publicly. Otherwise, he should be careful to avoid the same types of broad generalizations that have been used against African Americans for centuries.
#1: Michele Bachmann Suggests HPV Vaccine Causes “Mental Retardation”
Michele Bachmann opposes a mandate that would require young girls to take the HPV vaccine. But when she relayed a story about a mother who claimed her daughter “suffered mental retardation” after being vaccinated, Ms. Bachmann jumped the shark. There’s not even a shred of medical evidence to support that claim.
Not only did the media turn on Ms. Bachmann after her comment, but many ideological allies suggested her comment would irrevocably damage her campaign. It did. Ms. Bachmann, who was leading the Republican polls just two months ago, now badly trails the rest of the field.
BONUS VIDEO: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) Tries To Explain Where She Went During Hurricane Irene
This one requires little explanation. If you go on vacation to Italy when you know a massive storm is coming, you should probably spend a little more time crafting a better response for your constituents than this one.
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Related: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters: August 2011
I think it is unfair to say that Bachmann “suggested” that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. She relayed a story. She said she was relaying a story, just told to her. So, an astute listener knows that Bachmann hasn’t had time to check out the story. Besides, she said she was relaying a story, at the time she did so. That isn’t an excuse she came up with later.
I do agree that it has hurt her campaign, because of mischaracterizations like yours. Whether the damage is irrevocable, time will tell; we have a long way to go.
I enjoy your site and analysis!
Thank you for your comment – you’re astute to point out that word, since I wrestled with whether or not “suggested” was a fair characterization.
In the end, I decided that it was. Let’s say, for example, that a woman approached Ms. Bachmann and told her that her child turned into a space alien after receiving the HPV vaccine. I doubt very seriously that she would have passed that along. Therefore, it’s safe to presume that she gave the woman’s comment that Gardisil causes “mental retardation” enough credence to repeat it to a national television audience. By passing along the rumor, I’d argue that she is bestowing plausibility onto the rumor, therefore “suggesting” it could be true.
Even if you disagree with my logic, Ms. Bachmann is guilty of passing along medically dubious information that can negatively influence the decisions parents make regarding giving their daughter the HPV vaccine. That’s why I rated her as the worst disaster of the month — her rumor-mongering may be life-threatening.
Thanks for your respectful disagreement and debate – that’s exactly what I hope for on the blog!
If I felt it correctly, the ‘tacit acceptance’ of Hoffa’s words by Obama are implied here to be the rough equivalent of the Republican field’s ‘ tacit acceptance’ of the crowd’s boos. I think this is unfair on two counts: the former was asked to respond while the second was not; and the former had time, while the second was in the must of a live debate. I would have liked to have heard a positive statement rejecting the boos, but can’t abide the equivalence given those factors.
Great month of errors!
Thanks for your comment and your respectful disagreement.
Even if I accept the premise of your disagreement, there’s no excuse for Mitt Romney’s refusal earlier today – a full two weeks after the debate – to criticize the boorish behavior of the booers at the debate. If he didn’t want to scold them in the moment, he certainly failed to take an obvious opportunity to do so when asked today. On the other hand, the three hosts of Fox and Friends immediately disavowed the comments of guest Hank Williams Jr. yesterday when he compared President Obama to Hitler. It was the right thing to do, and the same approach I would have liked to have seen from the candidates.
Thanks again, and please don’t be a stranger!