“Are You a Flake?”

Wallace’s bad question an announcement-day gift for Bachmann

Michele Bachmann officially launched her campaign today in Waterloo, Iowa, the onetime hometown from which—according to a speech Bachmann gave on the eve of her announcement—her mother dragged her, crying, in 1968.

The past week has been a doozy for anyone after material for their “Media’s mean to Bachmann” PowerPoint presentation. First, there was Matt Taibbi’s excoriating and entertaining—but, it turns out, poorly attributedRolling Stone profile of the candidate. Taibbi’s piece was judged as unduly harsh by a number of readers for saying, among other things, that Bachmann is, “Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy…” I liked the brashness of the writing, but fair enough.

Then, on Sunday, an unexpected “attack” came from Bachmann’s very own deeply red corner.

During an interview on Fox News, anchor Chris Wallace asked the candidate, point blank, “Are you a flake?”

Here’s the section of the interview, courtesy of Mediaite:

And here’s a transcript of Wallace’s question and Bachmann’s rather dignified answer (our emphasis):

Wallace: I don’t have to tell you that you… that the wrap here in Washington is that you have a history of questionable statements, some would say gaffes, ranging from talking about Anti-America members of congress, to, on this show a couple of months ago, when you suggested that NATO airstrikes killed up to 30,000 civilians. Are you a flake?

Bachmann: Well I think that would be insulting to say something like that, because I’m a serious person…

Wallace: But you understand when I say that, that that’s what the wrap on you is.

Bachmann: What I would say is that I am fifty-five years old, I’ve been married thirty-three years, I’m not only a lawyer, I have a post-doctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary. I’ve worked in serious scholarship and in work in the United States Federal Tax court. My husband and I’ve raised five kids, we’ve raised twenty-three foster children….

The exchange caused a stir. (Okay, a five-minute, media-interest-only, top-of-Memeorandum stir). Wallace apologized to the candidate, via his show, later in the day. When asked about the interview on ABC, Bachmann wisely dismissed the matter as a small issue. Here’s Wallace’s apology, again courtesy of Mediaite.

A couple of things. At the risk of being accused of huge double standards, the Wallace question did come across just as insulting as Bachmann clearly found it (and yes, again, I enjoyed the Taibbi profile). The line of inquiry was legitimate—Bachmann has said some flakey-sounding things in the past and I suspect will continue to do so well into the future; asking her to combat a calcifying impression seems fair game, and frankly helpful to her cause.

But outside the pages of an avowedly liberal magazine with a rep for stylistic flourish, or a lefty website that makes daily sport of Bachmann’s candidacy, the framing of the question irked. It wasn’t the bluntness, it was the “flakiness.” I can’t imagine a similarly dismissive and gender-loaded word shot at Herman Cain, though there may be greater reason for it. Or for that matter, at Mitt Romney, whose loveknot-like arguments about Obamacare often read as just as ridiculous as hiding behind a bush. On a serious network, with “fair and balanced” coverage, Bachmann deserves the level of respect accorded to her rivals.

That being said, the incident will likely be of use to Bachmann, who got to give a smart answer, and who is every bit as effective as Sarah Palin at playing the media victim card; perhaps even more effective because she doesn’t play it so explicitly. She doesn’t need to. With every Bachmann caricature that comes out and every “flake” that is thrown, Bachmann’s supporters are further galvanized.

And to Wallace and Taibbi—and as a reminder for myself—“the wrap” on Michele Bachmann is not purely that she is a “flake,” as one might put it. The narrative overriding that increasingly outdated one in D.C. is that she is an increasingly serious contender for the GOP nomination. The latest Des Moines Register polling shows Bachmann only one percentage behind frontrunner Mitt Romney among the state’s likely caucus-goers. A Rasmussen poll ranked her second among the debaters at the recent CNN-sponsored GOP primary debate during which she made her first announcement. And she’s a climber.

Flakiness can apparently get you quite far these days.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , , , ,