Analysis of media issues, politics and current events.
On a radio show, Michele Bachmann warned listeners about “the rise of the Soviet Union” (which doesn’t exist as the Soviet Union anymore). And the press and much of the public laughed as they considered it a gaffe. A moment that reveals a media celebrity’s true intelligence or ulterior motive. Michele Bachmann is certainly building up a collection of gaffes. So much it’s creating an economy of scale. Confusing John Wayne Gacy’s birthplace for John Wayne’s, confusing Elvis’ day of death for this birthday and many, many more. But as sexy as it is for the media to do a collective “Gotcha! You’re an idiot/socialist/stupid/etc.,” they and we as viewers really do need to distinguish between condemning people for gaffes that really do show a weakness in thinking. And statements that are more like brain farts.
We all have brain farts. I have a friend I’ve known for years. And when bringing her name up, I always call her “Beth,” Her name is Debbie. It’s gotten to point when I say “Beth” my friends know I mean “Debbie.” President Obama once said that he’d been to “57″ states during a leg of his campaign tour. He meant cities. Even though Republicans tried to push his misstatement as a gaffe that showed he is not the bright, it didn’t stick with the press. It’s a mistake too far off the perception of the man as “professorial.” Even if you don’t like the man, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t know there are 50 states. We know what he was trying to say. “I’ve been to 57 cities.” And that difference between a gaffe and something else. “We know what they are trying to say.”
Back to Bachmann. In the mentioned radio interview, she clearly meant the rise of “Russia” as the Soviet Union collapsed as was renamed Russia in the late 80s. But for person who grew up in during The Cold War, “The Soviet Union” was the term she grew up with, internalized and likely, like the same way I call my friend Deb, Beth, might use the wrong term by habit.
We know what she meant. She’s concerned that Russia will become a strong, possibly sinister, opposing force in world politics. If you get past her brain fart, what’s she’s saying it not all that crazy (this time). If you get too hung up on the world error, you can end up ignoring an valid message it’s trying to express. That’s the danger of completely focusing on a mistake in a candidate’s message. And too often, the media focuses on the word said at the expense of ignoring the message underneath.
In this political season, the gaffes seem to be coming fast and furious. Providing fodder for the news networks and late night comedians. And nothing wrong with getting a chuckle or getting a water-cooler moment out of them. But in real evaluations of candidates, it’s important for us and the news media to know what’s really a bad sign of political leader’s thinking and not just the brain farts we all have. And to see past the mistake to ask “what did they really mean?”