Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Gaffe that Almost Wasn’t

The smear campaign against Cain continues 

By now the internet, radio, television, and wagging tongues everywhere are all abuzz over the latest campaign blunder by Herman Cain. But is it really the gaffe everyone says it is? Or was it a selective editing job a la Ed Shultz? Well, call me cynical, but I’ve seen enough media shenanigans to be suspicious of anything taken out of context and this definitely tripped my radar.

In the clip that has gone viral (below), Cain does appear to be caught off-guard by a question on Libya, a topic he ought to have been ready for.

My first reaction was to wonder how many clips like this land on editing room floors instead of online. In a world used to hyper-slick video and equally slick candidates, a moment of thought gathering can seem disastrous. Still, this isn’t about a some candidate’s “senior moment.” Rather, it is about a hatchet job gone awry.

This clip was released by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel along with the entire half-hour interview it was taken from. For my part, I think the whole interview is worth watching as Cain performs admirably. But for those who just want to get to the goods, skip ahead to about the 20 minute mark.

What a difference a little context makes!

The clip that went viral begins with one reporter asking, "So, you agreed with President Obama on Libya or not?" Seems like a follow-up to a related question. But in the full length video, one can clearly see that Cain was responding to a question about Bush’s policy of promoting democracy abroad. Suddenly, the interviewer tosses up the question, turning it into one about Obama. He didn’t even ask a complete question.

Whatever Cain might have said would have been placed in context of his previous answer. No doubt to make some bizarro equivocation between Bush and Obama. Cain wasn't about to let himself get drawn in and instead tried lay down a different context before answering. When Cain says, “I just wanna make sure we’re talkin’ about the same thing before I say ‘Yes I agreed’ or ‘No, I didn’t agree,’” he is establishing the framework for his answer, not struggling to remember where Libya is on the map.

Did Cain fumble? Of course, he was lobbed a rotten toss. Could he have done something better with it? Hindsight usually tells us "yes." But does this so-called "gaffe" reveal a woeful lack of knowledge of foreign policy on Cain's part? Hardly.

Rather, it seems that this group of reporters thought they were setting up a clever “gotcha” moment that didn’t pan out. One reporter asks the Bush question and another suddenly shifts gears to Obama without touching the clutch. But their little "gotcha" setup didn't produce the desired results. So, robbed of the gaffe they thought they had so cleverly set up, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was forced to run with Cain's pause as the next best thing.

The video is very amateurish, with lots of shuffling and ambient noise. MJS is a newspaper, so I'm not faulting that. But it does explain why the so-called pregnant pause was there at all. In the full interview, Cain can be seen and heard speaking freely and knowledgeably about Libya and a range of other topics, including collective bargaining, the economy, finance, ObamaCare, his support among women and African Americans, Occupy Wall Street, and much more. He is shown deftly fielding questions from at least four separate reporters and demonstrating that he is readily knowledgeable about every area he is quizzed on.
But when it comes to Libya, the reporters repeatedly try to put words into Cain’s mouth, (“So, you are saying…”) which he resists. When Cain seeks clarification to the Libya question, the reporter explaining even seems to have some difficulty. That's because Bush never got involved in Libya, so the supposed connection made no sense.

Besides, given how much attention was paid to Libya in the press, it’s downright ridiculous to think a presidential candidate would be so woefully prepared for the topic. Even prepared, the reporter’s vague inquiry would be difficult to answer. After all, in spite of how the story ended for Colonel Gaddafi, the Obama position on the matter changed almost daily as the late-colonel’s days were running out. Which of Obama’s positions was being referred to? That should set off buzzers in most people’s minds.

All the same, pundits of all stripes were quick to pounce in an attempt to ensure that the prophecy which states “no outsider shall be nominated” shall be fulfilled. Cain’s pause—routinely billed as being eleven seconds, but I time it at only eight—was taken as evidence that the presidential candidate doesn’t have a firm enough grasp of foreign policy issues to be commander-in-chief. Others used is as an excuse to drag up the sexual harassment allegations that went nowhere. One of the odder claims was that the entire GOP lineup is now toast. (Aren’t they even going to take a swing at Newt?)

Some conservative talkers declared the Cain-Train derailed, calling his flub an unforgivable embarrassment for the movement. Harder hits suggested that his campaign’s initial response—that Cain was tired—only indicates that Cain wouldn’t be able to handle the proverbial “4 am phone call.” Old attacks on the 9-9-9 plan were dusted off, though sounding hardly more convincing than before.

Of course, none of this would get the slightest credence if it weren’t for the fact that the media knows the electorate prefers appearances over substance. The question of context ought to be a natural one, but it’s not. Instead, a moment of thoughtful reflection, taking the care not to answer an important question blithely, gets contorted into evidence of shallowness and unpreparedness—precisely the opposite!

Cain, ever the gentleman, seems to be taking the event in good humor, saying he is flattered that the media now scrutinizes his pauses since they cannot attack what he actually says. He may be the first candidate to actually be above the finger-pointing and name-calling that the current gaffe-master-in-chief so bemoaned four years ago.

The fact remains that Herman Cain is an intelligent and qualified outsider that the media, liberal and conservative alike, feels it is their duty to destroy. If it takes a few lies and misrepresentations to do it, so be it.


Joel Farnham said...

Cain is too cool for school.

I wonder when the media will get the realization that we only listen to them for their smears and innuendos? It is all they are good for anyway.

tryanmax said...

A second to both sentiments. Cain really is the class act that both politicians and the media have claimed to be looking for. (ha!)

As to the media, that's all I use them for. I hear a smear and then I go looking for the real story. (As seen here.)

Joel Farnham said...

Nice job t.

Too often we are bombarded by the media as to what we want, when in fact we know what we want and the media tries to hide the truth. Either hide the truth about their candidates or hide the truth about ours. It still comes out as hiding.

patiti said...

I likey! Gonna link you too (at notawonk)!

tryanmax said...

UPDATE: Andrew Price has linked to my article on Commentarama! You should check out his article, too. He has a broader take on the event and provides some nice food for thought. Thanks, Andrew!

tryanmax said...

patiti, thanks for the link! I'm an official Badass. (Who woulda thunk?) Yay!

patti said...

pow! now if i can only learn how to spell my name correctly...

tryanmax said...


AndrewPrice said...

Excellent article tryanmax! Sorry it took so long to get here, but it's been a busy day today.

I think your analysis is spot on. The question was a strange question that implied several things that had not been said, essentially switched to a new topic and relied on facts that didn't quite mesh (e.g. Bush's "Libya policy"). So Cain's pause entirely makes sense. He is pausing to make sure he understands the question, as we all would, and to gather his thoughts for this new topic.

Then he confirms with the reporter that he is indeed answering the question the reporter intended and hasn't gone off on some tangent.

This is no gaffe.

Sure, he could have said this better, but keep in mind that this was 20 minutes into an informal/conversational interview on a wide range of topics. Think about the last 20 minute conversation you had and ask yourself if you made sure each response was crystal clear before you spoke. No way, because that's not human.

And for the MSM to try to pretend that he somehow is a moron because he didn't provide a perfect soundbite is simply garbage... it's a smear.

tryanmax said...

That interview was crappy all-around. If it weren't for the opening intro, I would have assumed this was only filmed as source material for a print story--not meant to be seen.

I really was struck by the multiple interviewers. Maybe I haven't been around, but I don't think I've ever seen that before.

AndrewPrice said...

Multiple interviewers isn't uncommon in this type of situation where a candidate can't give the time to everyone who wants an interview. What they do is handle groups at once -- like a press conference only smaller and usually with the visual appearance of being a one-on-one interview. So it wouldn't surprise me to learn that each of them was from a different newspaper from the region.

Hollywood actually does these group interviews all the time. They call in whole groups of reporters and then line them up and give them 30-60 seconds each to ask their questions as the actor pretends this is actually the only interview they are giving. When you an actor interviewed on Fox or E!, that's what's happening -- about a dozen other reporters are standing behind them waiting for their 30-60 seconds.

tryanmax said...

You're right. I guess what really struck me is how they had Cain surrounded so that he had to keep shifting in his chair to face different people. I probably wouldn't have noticed it otherwise.

USS Ben said...

Good work Tryanmax!

You rooted out the truffle of truth!
Wait, that sounds better than it looks in print so ignore any possible implications you might be led to think I meant because I don't mean it that way.
I just don't know how to say 'rooted out the truffle of truth' without that possible visual inferrence happening.

That comment in no way means I think you are a pig. There, I said it because someone would probably think I meant that.
Not to call attention to it but to be clear.

Perhaps it would've been easier to simply not use that analogy but how often does one getr the chance to say "rooting for the truffle of truth?"

Besides, I'm sure that we are both bacon lovers here, am I right?

tryanmax said...

I'd rather be likened to a swine that whatever creatures are running the media!

Ralyn Speerly Schraceo said...

So, what I'm hearing is that 9-9-9 does not allow payroll to be deducted as an expense for businesses except for special circumstances of area poverty? That IS a business expense and businesses not being allowed to use it as such in fact discourages employment.

tryanmax said...

The term "payroll deduction" actually gets used in two ways.

The more appropriate use of the term refers to the amount withheld by an employer from an employee's paycheck to be held against that person's income taxes. This is what the 9-9-9 plan would eliminate.

What you are referring are more appropriately called labor costs, and their deduction goes into calculating a company's gross income (receipts and gains less cost of goods sold (material, labor, allocated overhead)). Sorry for the double-parenthetical.

To be fair, the juxtaposition of bullets on Cain's website under the "9% Business Tax" heading is somewhat confusing:

- Gross income less all purchases from other U.S. located businesses, all capital investment, and net exports.
- Empowerment Zones will offer deductions for the payroll of those employed in the zone.

Taken together, I can see where the confusion arises. The first bullet seems to imply that the listed items are the only things deductible. The second bullet then makes the first seem to exclude "payroll deductions."

But for that to be true, the bullet would have to say "Net income less..." What this bullet really says is that these would be additional deductions to those normally used in determining gross income.

I honestly don't know what is meant by "deductions for payroll" in the 9-9-9 plan. My guess is that it is something similar to "employment credits" that are currently awarded to companies operating in empowerment zones.

I imagine that people outside of EZ's were not largely aware of them until Cain started using the term, but they are not his invention.

Scott Ballinger said...

Excellent analysis! You give me confidence enough to watch the full interview now. Wouldn't be the American media if they weren't trying to destroy Herman Cain, though...

Post a Comment

Chime in, disagree, ask questions, or go off on a tangent. I try to get back to everyone, but be patient. The occasional expletive is understood, but try to keep the conversation polite. I prefer not to moderate comments, so don't give me any reason to.