That's what SHE said...

Chris Wallace of Fox News Network has gotten attention for asking Michele Bachmann the type of hardball, cutting-edge question that defines good journalism.

"Are you a flake?" he asked.

Shocker --> he's gotten some criticism for posing this question to the Queen of the Tea Party.

I actually don't watch Wallace (or Fox), although I did catch his sparring with Jon Stewart a little more than a week ago. Wallace apologized via vidblog the next day, but it seems his apology was not accepted (or acknowledged?). Snap

Can we say "exploitation of circumstances for free publicity?" All together now.

So why do I mention the flap? Well, I'm not a Bachmann fan myself (for many reasons, but this post is not about that), and the "Tea Party" movement in general makes me want to punch kittens. (I know. Sorry.) 

Still, as I heard the quotes from the interview - particularly in the absence of context for WHY he might ask such a question - I wondered two things:

1) how likely it was for another (male) candidate to get the same question

and - a question I've seen asked less frequently than the first - 

2) Is the fact that Bachmann is female (and thus a possible victim of a sexist slight) a distraction from asking if there is legitimate basis for Wallace's question - ie, is she a flake

And then I thought about the way our perceptions color our behavior - as voters, as commentators, as journalists, and as consumers of news and politics and economics. 

The truth is, one can get angry about Wallace's question, or about the way women have slogged through political races in a way that is not required of their male counterparts (thanks to Sarah Says for that book recommendation). Or one can get angry about how racial commentary often colored aspects of the 2008 presidential race (and continues to do so in Obama's presidency - but that's another post). 

This cuts both ways. I can even get angry - although the more accurate term is flabbergasted - at a Myrtle Beach Tea Party co-founder's endorsement of Bachmann.

Gerri McDaniel, one of the founders of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party group, said she has heard people are coming from all over the Pee Dee region, not just from Myrtle Beach.
Bachmann, she said, is someone you "just have to meet. She's got what I like to call the 'fire in the belly' for the people.

"She's not the ordinary female," McDaniel said. "She's very intelligent. She's an attorney - a tax attorney." 

Read more: http://www.thesunnews.com/2011/06/27/2244452/bachmann-venue-changes.html#ixzz1QVpemBex
[Emphasis mine]

Come on, people.

It's idealism to hope that one day sexism and racism will disappear. I'm not sure that will ever entirely be the case. We categorize things (and people). It seems to be how we work, with some wiggle room - I found the PsychToday article pretty interesting in that regard. 

More realistically, the trick might be increasing awareness of that tendency, and asking how that categorization influences our behavior before we act. 

Or at least, not letting it creep into the way we define, challenge, or praise our presidential candidates.


  1. Hear hear. And we've already got a good example on the guy side-- Herman Cain. You think he's been called a flake?

    I hadn't heard the second one... love the backhanded comment like the rest of us just try so hard but alas, fail.

    I generally don't like it when people who use the word "female" as a noun as opposed to an adjective when referring to humans.

  2. A flake is a flake whether man or woman.

  3. @ Sarah - I think Cain will disappear shortly, when Perry jumps in (and after Palin declines to run, which is my general prediction for the summer/fall)

    @ Duane - Aw. Politicians are super when they teach science.

  4. But yeah, bringing up points where she'd seemed "flaky" before posing the question might have helped Wallace out a bit.

  5. Trump was called a flake.

    Trump, Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich... They're all just running screen defense for the RNC's real candidates like Romney and Huntsman. The goal is to absorb all the crazy, appease the wingnuts, and draw the attention of the media, allowing the legitimate guys time to raise money out of the limelight.

  6. @ Mediaprophet - good points - although do you think there's a danger one of them might get legs enough to detract from the mainstream candidate? Also I'd use stronger language for Trump, I found his behavior offensive and the entire amount of attention the media was willing to give him ridiculous.