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Posted by on Nov 15, 2007 in Media | 8 comments

John McCain, Hillary Clinton: Media Trust and -itchiness

The story as it came down on air and on TV was this: Old woman said, How do we beat the bit–? McCain laughed.

The actual story is different.

And you can see the clip (several more are on YouTube) and other persons’ ideas about what should and should not have happened here at Outside the Beltway
Also here at Wonkette

And, a transcript of the verbatim ‘after’ discussion of the incident on CNN in which we see how a moment in a candidate’s life is rewoven by some.

As an analyst of photos, film footage, and written documents for attorneys and judges, I looked at the recent Senator McCain film clip during which an older woman ‘supporter’ apparently t-boned him by asking McCain, “How do we beat the bit–?” supposedly referring not only to Senator Clinton, but also using a now-hackneyed piece of pop screed that’s been circulating on the internet for weeks, and has gone to ink on t-shirts and mugs as well.

Senator McCain does laugh. But not then, and not at the woman’s remark. Here is what actually happened.

Watching the film, you see he goes into the Q& A with a furrowed forehead and a slight smile on his face to begin with. Then comes the older woman and her question, “How do we beat… et al,” which bears down hard on the word ‘do.’ Her theatrical tone and body posture make it seem that the question was practiced / pre-planned if even a few moments before, by the woman. It was spoken with no hesitation, with a kind of arch tone.

There is a beat, then the audience laughs, but McCain is not laughing. You see that McCain seems a bit taken aback. Two of the indicators: He looks down at the ground several times. He blinks several times in short duration then… often the cue that a person is trying to focus or comprehend what was just said, sometimes asking themselves, ‘Did I just hear what I thought I heard? Perhaps too, ‘Oh man, how am I going to respond to this in way that will do no harm?’

Also, for many persons, blinking is like clearing the hard drive, trying to reset one’s mind, to regroup and redefine what just occurred. The Senator next said, “May I give the translation….?” meaning he would not repeat the vulgarity. He would reframe the question. He did what all experienced speakers do: he took the part of the question he could answer and answered it. When he said ‘excellent question’ he was referring to how does one beat Hillary in a presidential election.

I am not interested in being an apologist for any politician’s bad behavior. But, this wasn’t bad behavior on McCain’s part. His response veered decidedly toward the respectful, even gallant, that is, not calling out the woman for her behavior.

Next in the clip, a man not on camera, called out with jocularity that he thought the woman’s question was really referring to the man’s ex-wife, at which Senator McCain finally does laugh.

He next puts his hand over his face as though again, trying to clear his mind. This hand gesture is one we make when we are trapped in a social situation, for instance. It can signal either ‘get me out of here,’ or even a kind of social prayer, such as “Please dear God, don’t let anyone else say anything else in this vein.”

He pulls out of the quicksand laid for him by

speaking about his regard for Senator Clinton. It’s a code of conduct tone. It befits the situation.

Speaking to large audiences means a pol knows that people in an audience in the majority are there to listen and dialogue. However, no matte how much experience with meeting the public, every now and then comes a comment that sometimes seems more ‘look at me’ class-clown kinds of comment, meant to make others laugh, than a serious comment/ question about the issues at hand.

The story about him laughing, as though in agreement about someone calling Hillary a name… well, that’s not the story.

But. The story I’d be a bit more interested in, would be understanding better what a ‘supporter’ of Senator McCain thought she was doing, knowing full well cameras were rolling. Did she really think such words would help her candidate, and if so, how, and for how long?

Preposterous monkey-wrenching and shenanigans can go on from all sides during a campaign. As a testifier before legislatures I’ve rarely seen in nearly 40 years of doing this work…a hearing before a legislative committee that hasn’t also been complete with several ‘plants’ in the audience posing questions as ‘ordinary citizens,’ but who are really from the professions who will be affected by said bill

I’d add too, that some news media’ recent take on ‘plants’ in Senator Clinton’s audience was spun as though we just discovered that Scotch tape is sticky. News media has known about “plants’ in politics for eons. Why do you think good journos often question beyond the first, second and third pass… they are looking for what is authentic vs. what is planted.

Explaining the strange and odd ways of the process of politics: good. Make it seem like shock and awe when it isn’t, including Representative Tancredo’s recent money-solicitation ad… then the public loses trust in the very ones who are entrusted with ‘the public’s right to know.”

Which brings us back to the story regarding Senator McCain. McCain’s laughter appeared to be elicited by the man’s remark about the ex-wife, rather than the older woman’s remark about Hillary.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder, what is it with these old women cussing? I mean, I’m not náive… you can’t be after being married to a vet who put in 21 years USAF and who throughout ‘speaks Blue French” around hammers.

But, remember too?… Speaker Newt Gingrich’s aged mother and her own cuss-blossom: Connie Chung leaning in close, saying ‘Shhhhh, you can tell me what you really think of Hillary Clinton…’ and Mrs. Gingrich resisting at first, but then telling the camera in one word. Guess which word.

Maybe that’s where it all was first unleashed. Not Mrs. Gingrich really, but by her being promised her inner thoughts would remain just between her and the gatepost… but ‘sweeps’ being valued over troth anyway.

Yet, the B word is so ubiquitous in private and public culture, its genesis may no longer be important enough to track. Most every woman –and man– who has ever walked this earth has been called thusly, in one language or another, including no doubt, Mrs. Gingrich and Miss Chung. Including you, me, and the old woman who made her utterance at McCain.

In one of my books twenty years ago, I wrote about a ‘scapecoat’ I once sewed… a long cloak writ all over with all the words I’d been called by others in life that meant to demean, ridicule, harm or destroy.

I think we all have a scapecoat. Not a scapegoat, as a victim, but a scapecoat that requires a person to have real steel to in order to wear it with some dignity and maybe a little dash too.

Harsh words perhaps more than honors, are evidences of the contretemps and dreck we have managed to row through, one way or another, with bravado sometimes, bedraggled other times. But we’re SOM: Still On Mission. SS: Still Standing. We’re SGS… Still Going Strong.

And in the matter of words and words– with regard to name-calling for laughs, or to boast that one really knows how to call a spade a spade, or confusing preferences with dislike, or confusing useful critique with degradation– it may be time to just say ‘enough said’ for now.

Media trustworthiness, as well as that of individuals… including politicians, often depends not only on how quickly they can start on a story, but as importantly, how quickly they can also stop.

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • George Sorwell

    I agree that McCain deserves no blame for the question, and that he handled himself reasonably well.

  • spirasol

    I like the wave you weave your point of view, going from the public and name-calling to the personal, more inward. We have all been name-callers and we have been the one called out. And we have had our ears whispered to about another, and sometimes we took a stand. And we have have had to learn when to let up and when to bear down.
    And yes we bear the marks on our Scapecoats, and we are SOM, SGS, AND SS.

  • Pete Abel

    Great post, Dr. E. Very fair. Very balanced.

  • Pandra

    My dear Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, what do you think we are going to believe? Your erudite analysis, or our own eyes? McCain acted like a goofy teenager on the playground, not a seasoned politician. I expect more statesmanlike conduct from a man who wants to be the leader of my country.

  • Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

    Dear Pete Abel, Spirasol and George Sorwell, I think you’re on point; balance. Balance seems only a vapor in media sometimes. I appreciate that we all keep rowing. I think, in these times, an outrigger is the most efficient and most seaworthy… the most enduring. Just my .02, comparing Sen. McCain’s response in this particular situation with that of various other candidates on the road or in hearings… who have faced sudden unusual comments or contretemps (I’m thinking at the moment of a particular Representative on the Katrina Hearing panel who shamefully demeaned a black woman survivor’s sincere comments), in this situ the Senator made the effort to pull up against a strong downward squall. I think we’ve all seen quite a few ‘leaders’ who don’t try. At all. Disgracefully, they join in with the least.

    Dear Pandra, welcome. Your point; well taken. For now, I’d bow to others who have broader overviews of Senator McCain’s gifts and foibles re office. Covering this brief piece of film to see what actually seemed to have occurred on the clip, is part of a larger inquiry I’m interested in: how news is shaped with perhaps intent to evoke passions or polarize groups or teach us useful things individually and collectively, etc. Lastly, don’t know for certain, but had you or I been in Senator McCain’s position, I hope we’d be able to sort and think quickly… and say something useful too… perhaps more… or different.


  • Pandra

    Dr. Estés, thank you for the welcome and for responding to my comment. I don’t know if I would have handled such a question any better than McCain, but after all, I’m not a politician. I was surprised that he was taken off guard like that-I would think a person in his position would be more prepared to deal with inappropriate remarks in public. On the other hand, it is hard to think what an appropriate response would have been-after all, the person who asked the question was a nice looking older lady. That she would use such a vulgar expression was shocking in itself, but if McCain had admonished her, it might have looked like he was picking on somebody’s grandmother. I’m a high school teacher and sometimes the kids will ask things that are VERY inappropriate-I just say, “Next question.” Do you think a high school teacher’s approach might have worked better?

  • Dr. Omed

    Perhaps McCain is just going senile, Clarissa.

  • Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

    Pandra, that’s a great segue, “next question.” That would be a great reply.

    Dr. Omed, If you mean senile as in senex, knowing
    your knowledge and love of words… yes, maybe.
    If you mean senility as in the medical
    pathology sense, he’s too young. Only 71 or 72. A
    mere whippernapper, int’e?


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