Bachmann's Fragility Problem

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 18 2011 12:40 PM

Why Bachmann's Rough Aides Make Her Look Weak

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Presidential candidates: It’s a bad idea to have your campaign aides rough up reporters. But not for the reason you think.

Politico is out with a story today tying together a series of troubling incidents experienced by reporters covering Michele Bachmann’s campaign. An ABC News reporter was grabbed and pushed with “unusual force” for following the candidate and trying to ask her questions. CNN’s Don Lemon was pushed into a cart by staffers and Bachmann’s husband, causing Lemon to bang his head. A Norwegian reporter says he was told that if he got too close to Bachmann a staffer would break his arm. A local TV cameraman says a staffer covered his lens and shoved his camera down. And the list goes on from there.

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Conventional wisdom dictates that candidates should try to maintain civil relationships with the media because the media is, after all, covering them. To do less is to seem unprofessional and to risk provoking questions about what the candidate is trying to hide. Even as a candidate’s spokesperson may publicly criticize the media to drum up support among voters, it is generally understood that behind the scenes the relationship between press and presidential hopefuls  is – if not exactly healthy – at least mutually parasitic. The two sides need each other, and to that end they strive for a kind of strained civility. The reporters want access and stories and the campaigns want only certain kinds of access and certain kinds of stories, and while these two desires may at times clash, there is generally no need for violence.

So that’s the conventional wisdom. But I submit that there’s a far more potent reason why candidate Bachmann in particular may not want to be surrounded by aides who shove cameras and threaten to break reporters’ arms. It suggests fragility. No presidential candidate wants to be seen as weak, and the stakes are even higher for female candidates, who are battling perceptions that they don’t have the guts and the fortitude to occupy the highest office in the land. Bachmann’s small stature is already underscored by her burly husband, who tends to follow her closely and steer her through crowds like a guard dog. She does not need an army of sharp-elbowed staffers to reinforce the sense that she could shatter with the slightest wind, titanium spine or no.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.

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