On Sunday morning, while scrambling to finish editing a manuscript, I turned on Fox News to catch Chris Wallace’s interview with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
Most of the interview went well. Bachmann gave off the air of a person who is becoming very comfortable in her skin as she articulated her positions and demonstrated a growing gravitas. Then, at the very end of the segment, Wallace flat-out smeared Bachmann with one of the most deliberately defamatory questions I have heard in a long time.
“Finally,” began Wallace with a smirk, “let’s talk about Michele Bachmann because — and you say — it’s interesting. You say that people saw in the debate, saw you as a serious person. I don’t have to tell you that you have — that the rap on you in Washington is you have a history of questionable statements, some would say gaffes … Are you a flake?”
Are you kidding me? Did Wallace just go there?
Indeed he had, and Bachmann immediately came back at him by calling the description “insulting.”
Bachmann further defended herself by saying, “What I would say is that I am 55 years old. I’ve been married 33 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 have worked in the Unites States federal tax court. My husband and I have raised five kids and 23 foster children. We’ve applied ourselves to education reform. We started a charter school for at-risk kids. I’ve also been a state senator and member of the United States Congress for five years, leading actively the movement in Washington, D.C., with those who are affiliated with fiscal reform.”
Make no mistake: the question asked by Wallace was much more than just “insulting.” It was Machiavellian in its intent, as Wallace understood full well before flinging that dollop of mud that his callous affront would live on forever on YouTube. That, in fact, was the entire point of the exercise.
Wallace also understands that when he says “the rap on you in Washington is you have a history of questionable statements,” he is parroting the attacks of liberals in the mainstream media and far-left bloggers. Again, the “rap” on Bachmann as far as many conservatives, independents, and Tea Partiers are concerned is that she is a serious candidate who is speaking to their issues.
Many conservatives have long seen Chris Wallace as the spoiled rich kid who leans left in his political beliefs and seems to be trying to score points for the liberal elite on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That particular demographic will surely be pleased with his gratuitous taunt of Bachmann.
Of course, the obligatory question here is: Would Wallace ask Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, or Jon Huntsman if they are flakes? Has Wallace ever accused a certain former first lady and current secretary of state, who for months while in the White House sought out the counsel of a well-known psychic, if she is a flake?
While the question posed to Bachmann by Wallace is indeed chauvinistic and “insulting,” it also reeks of snobbery and class warfare.
The last time I checked, Michele Bachmann has earned every success to come her way.
Can Chris Wallace (who has since apologized) honestly say the same thing?
Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and an author. His memoir, entitled “Rolling Pennies in the Dark,” will be out in early 2012 with Simon & Schuster.