Bachmann's Fragility Problem

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

Why Bachmann's Rough Aides Make Her Look Weak

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.


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



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.