Yesterday’s lead story in the N&O about NC Governor Bev Perdue’s latest “gaffe” is a case study in what’s wrong with modern journalism. The lede:
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has long had a reputation for shoot-from-the-hip remarks that leave her audiences shaking their heads, part of her folksy, I’m-just-a -coal-miner’s-daughter persona.
But none of her previous comments hit a political nerve like her startling suggestion this week that Congress suspend its elections next year to concentrate on fixing the economy. Listen to the governor’s remarks.
Ummm, this is only “startling” if you somehow think she seriously meant this. If you listen the audio– it’s linked in the story– Perdue doesn’t vary her cadence, tone of voice, etc., to make it sound like she’s aiming for sarcasm, satire, etc. Nonetheless, we are left with two choices:
1) Democrat Bev Perdue is smart enough to be the governor of North Carolina, but actually dumb enough to think this is a political possibility with greater than a 0.0% chance and that it would be a good thing to lock in a Republican House majority for two more years and that it would be politically smart to suggest this in a serious manner.
2) Bev Perdue is a poor extemporaneous speaker (there’s plenty of evidence for that) who failed to properly convey through tone, cadence, etc., the quite obvious interpretation that she’s using a hyperbolic version along the lines of “just throw them in a room and don’t let them out until they’ve solved this.”
How any half-intelligent political observer could truly believe choice #1 is beyond me. Yet, apparently this statement has been all the rage in conservative circles, as the article points out. What the article fails to do, is fully point out just how absurd this interpretation is. It does, however, nicely undermine itself–especially its prominent placement, with some excellent quotes from Duke Poli Sci professor and 2008 Libertarian candidate for NC Governor, Mike Munger:
Michael Munger, who as the Libertarian candidate ran against Perdue in 2008, said it was clear that Perdue was not serious and that even if her proposal was nonsensical, she had a valid point.
“The reaction proves her point,” said Munger, a Duke University science professor. “Is that what we should all be arguing about? An off-the-cuff remark instead of what we need do to improve the economy and the situation of the country and the state?”…
“She is perfectly bright,” Munger said. “But she is not quick on her feet. George Bush had the same problem. He was a smart guy but he would sometimes come across as: What in the world is that?”
To enter politics today, one has to have “an absence of self-doubt” and both Perdue and Bush have that, Munger said, allowing them to say whatever is on their mind, when other people might hold back.
The article then goes through a tortured history of Perdue’s gaffes. And why are these gaffes, because it’s got to fit the narrative of the story. There’s some bizarre story about a bad joke with a sheep, but other than that, neither I, nor my students whom I shared this with yesterday, saw these as gaffes at all. Leading the list:
For Perdue this was not her first gaffe. In fact, it was not even her first gaffe that day. Earlier on Tuesday, at an appearance in Raleigh, she referred several times to Raleigh Denim co-founder Victor Lytvinenko as “David.”
Seriously? Just getting someone’s name wrong at a public event is a “gaffe”? Or this:
Or there was the time, when a television cameraman, offered a lascivious “All Right,” after Perdue said she would “undress” from the TV microphone that was clipped to her jacket. ” I’m an old woman,” Perdue said. “You are a pervert.”
Strikes me as a pretty sharp comeback, not a gaffe. You get the point. But, the story is about her “gaffes” so whatever can be construed that way, will be. Perdue does say a lot of fairly stupid things, but her comments about the current Congress are not among them. This whole episode speaks poorly of both the conservatives who ginned up a “controversy” over this and the mainstream media that pretended that this controversy was actually based on something real.