The Gaffe

We have zero tolerance for gaffes, slips and misstatements

I remember my first day on the job as the press secretary for the Johnnie Byrd for U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

Byrd was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, a Republican, and loathed by the daily newspapers (not to mention the many politicos who hated him, even those in his own party). He told me he had an invitation to meet with the Tampa Tribune's editorial board, and I recommended he go, that he lay out his conservative agenda, make no apologies for it but promise that he would be accessible to the press to discuss the changes he thought needed to be made in the state.

When he got back from the meeting, he said everything went OK.

The next morning, I awoke to the front-page story headlined: "Byrd Likens Colleagues To 'Sheep.'" Byrd told the editorial board of his efforts to give more power to make decisions lower down the rungs of House leadership, attempts that often failed, he insisted, because members wanted to be led. "They're like sheep in a way. They're looking for someone to tell them what to do."

Leaving aside that he spoke an ugly truth, in one moment was born a media bonanza, the end of any remaining cordiality Byrd had with his troops and the beginning of the end of his Senate campaign.

I was reminded of those glory days as I read about the latest 36-hour news cycle dissection of a politician's too-loose tongue: Joe Biden's gaffe that Barack Obama was, finally, a "clean" African-American presidential candidate. Biden has spoken with racial insensitivity before, but his point this time was meant to be laudatory of Obama, not critical of past black presidential candidates such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Providing the full context of a gaffe doesn't suit broadcasting or the Internet. We want quick and funny. Alternative fuels? Diplomacy in the Middle East? No thanks. Give us George Allen's "Macaca." Howard Dean's "Yeaaaaaahhhhhhh!" Michael Dukakis riding the tank. Muskie crying in the snow in 1972.

The availability of cell phone video and constant camera surveillance makes gaffes even more likely. Political consultants call it "getting George Allen-ed," according to The Politico website.

Is this the way we separate the wheat from the chaff? Or does it only serve to drive good people into the ground while the real problems of our nation, state and communities go without substantive debate?

It remains to be seen whether Biden's gaffe will sink his campaign. John Kerry's bungled joke last year about intelligence (or lack of it) in our military sunk his 2008 hopes when it became the focus of the news cycle.

Then again, maybe that's a good thing.

Miss USA: Fuck this nation's obsession with celebrities' private lives and our hypocrisy that they live up to our expectations.

Take Tara Conner. I don't ever pay attention to beauty pageant crap, and I didn't pay attention to this story even when The Donald was flogging a second chance for Conner as a desperate means of publicity for his awful TV show, The Apprentice. But my limited attention span was sucked into the story last week when Conner sat down with the glib Matt Lauer for a grilling about her cocaine use, alcohol addiction and rumored sexual habits.

Let's review what this beauty queen is supposed to have done "wrong:" She did her day job traveling the country and providing hope to all the wannabe beauty queens and performing other do-gooder jobs. At night, off the clock, while living in a Trump-supplied apartment in New York, she sneaked out and partied. She drank, underage. She did some coke. She was extremely indiscreet. She kissed another girl.

I may be a provincial suburbanite from Florida, but I'm guessing she is not the first honey in N.Y. who kicked out the jams a little bit.

Where did it get her? Sitting in front of Lauer blathering such programmed sentences as, "When I was in active addiction and active alcoholism I, um, I was very manipulative, and I was a very dishonest person, and I ... I don't know, it was basically insanity, and now, I have a really good feel for who I am, and, you know, I've faced some of the things that may have brought some of these things on."

I don't know Conner. It's conceivable she was a full-blown addict. It's conceivable she needed rehab. (Hell, it's conceivable I need rehab.)

But it's more likely that Conner's beauty-queen-gone-to-seed-but-given-a-second-chance story is merely a morality play for the benefit of television ratings and political fodder for those who want less government — except in our bedrooms and pubs.


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