Barack Obama’s campaign has a lot to answer for today. After a rally in Pittsburgh on Friday, one of the Illinois senator’s surrogates was filmed, by a CBS News embed, making a passing reference to Hillary Clinton: “She’s not my mommy,” said Sasha Obama.
“Not my mommy.” Pundits were appalled by Sasha’s negativity. On Countdown last night, Keith Olbermann named her his Worst Person in the World for the comment, declaring, “Ms. Obama, I beg you, can’t we rise above this kind of attack? As the great Edward Murrow might say, good night—and good luck regaining the public trust.”
CBS footage of Sasha uttering the incendiary words was linked on The Drudge Report last night—with a banner headline—and its YouTube clip has, since then, been cycling on each of the major cable networks. On today’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough called the comment “appalling.” Mika Brzezinski agreed. “Speaking as a mother myself,” she said, “I can’t help but find her comment horribly hurtful.”
The Clinton campaign concurred. On a conference call this morning, campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson declared, “This kind of defamation cannot stand—from Senator Obama or his surrogate. We demand that Senator Obama decry, denounce, reject, and renounce his daughter’s hateful words. And repudiate them, too.”
In a primary season pocked by surrogate gaffe on all sides, Sasha’s blunder may prove to be among the worst. Not only is this particular surrogate especially close to the candidate, but her words were also particularly cutting, digging into the issues of gender and family values that Clinton’s candidacy brings to the fore. And they may, at this crucial lull before the Pennsylvania vote, prove fatally harmful to Obama’s campaign. According to a Pew poll released this afternoon, 59 percent of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania said that hearing Sasha’s words makes them less likely to vote for Obama, while only 28 percent said it made them more inclined to do so. “I’m just sick of all the negative campaigning,” Nancy Randall, of Pittsburgh, told the Times. “All this harsh language is such a turnoff.”
As for the surrogate in question, Sasha has yet to comment publicly on her gaffe. When asked about her incendiary words by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Michael O’Donnell, the six-year-old demurred. “I’m thirsty,” she said. “Can I have some juice?”
Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.