"Gosh, I Know Candidates Are Always Supposed to Have the Great Ten-Second Clip"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 16 2011 3:53 PM

"Gosh, I Know Candidates Are Always Supposed to Have the Great Ten-Second Clip"

When you interview a politician, you have some options about how to report their quotes. You can clean them up; you can leave them messy. And you're more likely to leave them messy if the messiness says something about the candidate. When Caroline Kennedy briefly put herself out as a New York U.S. Senate candidate, newspapers recorded how many times she used the phrase "you know?" (More than 200 times in 30 minutes, according to the Daily News.) When Joshua Miller profiled David Weprin for Roll Call, he noted that the fumbling candidate "uttered the phrase 'you know' more than 40 times" in five minutes.

Jason Zengerle's big profile of Elizabeth Warren gives her a version of the Kennedy-Weprin hammerlock to make a point about how much of a political naif she can be.

When I recently asked her to make the case against Brown, the sure-footedness she’s displayed on so many occasions suddenly deserted her. “This race is about America’s future, it’s about a choice,” she began confidently, before settling into a long, uncomfortable pause. She eventually continued, “Uh, uh, gosh, I know candidates are always supposed to have the great ten-second clip on how this works. Kyle”—she said, referring to her spokesman, Kyle Sullivan, who was sitting in on the interview—“is probably gnashing his teeth right at this moment. But”—she paused again—“it’s about whose side you stand on. Scott Brown is one of Wall Street’s favorite senators. Um, that’s not what I—I want to go to Washington—let me say it differently. Scott Brown’s one of Wall Street’s favorite senators. I want to go to the United States—I want to go to Washington to be the middle class’s favorite senator. Or the favorite senator of the middle class. Maybe that’s easier without the possessive.”
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This is revealing! Had Zengerle put it all on camera, it might have had the same corrosive, viral impact on Warren that Herman Cain's bumbling chat with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had on him. The Warren campaign, not offering extra comment, isn't bothered by the way this appears in print. But there's something about Warren that encourage a reporter's ooh-how-to-make-this-look-raw instinct. See also: The Newsweek interview in which Warren's praise of Occupy Wall Street was squished into a headline about her claiming she created the movement.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.