October 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Florida Governor Rick Scott failed to take the stage for several minutes during a live gubernatorial debate earlier this month against his opponent, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Why? According to the moderators, Scott refused to debate due to a small fan placed beneath Crist’s lectern, which may have violated the debate’s prohibition against “electronic devices.”

Charlie Crist Lectern

 

For four minutes, Crist benefitted from the optics of appearing on stage alone and an opponent who refused to show up due to the presence of a small fan. Sure, he may have broken the debate rules, but the specific violation struck many people as petty and unimportant. The sublimely ridiculous political moment instantly became the stuff of ridicule, launching a #fangate hashtag on Twitter that trended nationally. 

 

When he finally walked onto the stage and was asked why he refused to join the debate for the first four minutes, Governor Scott gave an answer that bordered on incomprehensible.

 

”Well, I waited until we figured out whether he was going to show up. He said he wasn’t going to come to the uhhh, he was, he said he was going to come to the debate, so why come out until he’s ready?”

That not-ready-for-primetime response solidified the moment, confirming for many viewers and members of the press that Mr. Scott was the victim of his own intransigence.

But that storyline, compelling as it was, may also be false. According to CNN:

“[Scott’s] campaign said later that it was actually Crist who was in the midst of intense behind-the-scenes conversations with debate organizers over whether his fan would be allowed — and that Scott was just waiting to see what happened. He hadn’t realized that Crist had gone on stage.

Scott said on CNN’s ‘The Situation Room’ with Wolf Blitzer on Thursday that he had been waiting in a trailer for debate officials to tell him to head to the stage. ‘They said he wasn’t going to show up, that he was balking about his fan,’ Scott said, adding that he didn’t care if Crist had a fan, a microwave or a humidifier.

The organizers of the October 15 debate backed up Scott’s version of events Thursday, saying Crist clearly broke the rules — and ignored instructions given an hour before start time — by having an aide place the fan on stage.”

Charlie Crist Fan

 

It’s worth reading the entire CNN story; the timeline suggests that Mr. Scott’s version of events is true and that he had never told event organizers he wouldn’t debate.

Assuming that’s true, the quickly formed narrative about this debate—that Rick Scott refused to debate due to a fan—was false.

But political watchers know that facts and narratives don’t always line up, and it’s the responsibility of Mr. Scott and his advisors to ensure that he’s where he’s supposed to be at the moment he’s supposed to be there. That reporters predictably latch onto these types of stories is obvious; it’s the campaign’s job not to give them the opportunity. 

“Fangate” was not a failure borne of stubbornness, as the media suggested. But it did represent disorganization and a lack of vigilance (did no one have a television monitor on behind the scenes, on which they would have seen Crist standing alone at the lectern?), and as a result, this debate will be remembered as the debate at which Mr. Scott appeared to refuse to debate because of a fan.

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