On "Bullshitter"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 25 2012 1:49 PM

On "Bullshitter"

THE SKY -- The great Chris Moody, embedded with the Obama campaign for a bit, writes about the white-knuckle follow-up to a Rolling Stone interview in which the president implied that his opponent was a "bullshitter."

"What is true is that trust is a very important part of the election," Pfeiffer, who said he had not yet seen the article, told reporters during Obama's campaign swing through Florida, Virginia and Ohio Thursday. "The president is someone who says what he means and does what he says and Gov. Romney's answers in the debates on domestic issues and foreign policy raise real questions about that." ... Listeners should not be "distracted by the word," but to "focus on the issue," Pfeiffer added.
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Oh, but they will be distracted! The late-game presidential cuss word is a factor with some precedent. In the last week of the 1968 campaign, Richard Nixon slipped and said that the campaign was "getting down to the nut-cutting." In 2000, most famously, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were unaware that a mic was picking up their conversation about New York Times reporter Adam Clymer. "Major league asshole," said Bush. "Big time," said Cheney. And Politifact wasn't even around to discuss whether this was true.

And, hey, look! Both Nixon and Bush won close elections.

If you want an example of how frothy the late-game coverage of an election can get, you can do no better than Bullshittergate. I'm a reporter. I know some reporters. We are as shocked by cursing, personally, as we are when a Ron Howard makes a disappointingly bland movie. We were as shocked when Tagg Romney said he wanted to take a swing at the guy debating his dad. These people are human, basically, if overflowing with ego, and the only reason to wonder whether a curse word will hurt the campaign is if voters say they're switching because they heard the curse word. Let's read that story, maybe, rather than watch another round of "Campaign Flack SLAMS Campaign Flack Over Basically Nothing."

(Apologies to the headline -- all credit due to Harry Frankfurt.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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