What Makes a Gaffe So Sticky

Friday, August 19, 2011


Politicians make mistakes all the time.  Only a few of them, however, are deemed “gaffes” and even fewer get replayed over and over in the press and online.  Paul Waldman argues that some gaffes stick more than others because reporters’ coverage actually just reinforces conclusions that have already been drawn about the politician.  He talked to Brooke about how these so-called gaffes don’t really tell us anything new, but rather justify what we’ve been thinking all along.

Comments [20]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Oh, wait; that's Flubber! I meant it meant whale fat. My gaffe.

Aug. 25 2011 02:53 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

That's what the word meant before Disney, Fred McMurray & Eddie Movie got a hold of it!

And how did Ms. Hengerer get so much space? My limit sure seems shorter.

Aug. 25 2011 02:49 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

What Ms. Rawson said, for certain. And, yes, I too waited for Dean's scream which was the most non-gaffe gaffe in history. Only people listening on televised audio even heard as the majority in he world did. In the room, it is reported as a non-event.

Speaking of gaffes, odd isn't it that a few tears ended Ed Muskie's political future but John Bohner can blubber away?

Aug. 25 2011 02:44 PM

I kept waiting to hear the "Dean Scream"???

Aug. 25 2011 08:04 AM
Diana Hengerer from Lake Oswego, OR

Mr. Waldman,

Let me try to guess what has inspired "such contempt" for Ron Paul.

Could it be that he has been trying for years to educate the American public about the perils of the Federal Reserve, fiat money and the fractional reserve banking system? That unfolding events are proving him right on every count?
By default I have to assume that "more of the same" is what you advocate, and in your infinite wisdom, seek to deprive Dr. Paul of a platform in which to let people make up their own minds about this issue.

Could it be that his opposition to the degradation of the Constitution - for instance, the Patriot Act is contemptible, also? Maybe you find the Constitution contemptible. Maybe you think it is "quaint" like the Geneva Conventions. I don't know, I'm just guessing here. Maybe you endorse torture, extraordinary rendition and assassination and endless undeclared wars in the name of “national security.”

Maybe you think the Federal government is within its’ legitimate power by authorizing armed raids on farms and food co-ops enforcing “food safety” regulations that involve destruction of private property and depriving individuals of the right to choose for themselves what they want to consume.

Maybe you find his propensity to actually answer questions in a thoughtful and cohesive manner, and his consistency for over 30 years in public life worthy of your contempt.

For an example, see this:


I could go on, but I believe this illustrates my point.

You come across as a close-minded and mean spirited individual with a very shallow understanding of your subject matter. I hope you will take the time to
broaden your horizons before you go spouting off again. The media wants to perpetuate the belief that Ron Paul supporters are a small, fanatical group,
but the truth is that his base is growing exponentially and those of you who
depend on the status quo for your paychecks are scared to death of him.

This sort of editorializing is why I stopped contributing money to NPR years ago.

Aug. 23 2011 02:15 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

The latest Gallup Poll has President Obama, idol of the press, running almost evenly with not only Romney and Perry, but with Bachmann and Paul. Who's this 'we' who are doing the perceiving?

Aug. 23 2011 12:25 PM

Way to go OTM! You like to laugh every time conservatives whine about liberal bias, then you do a piece about political gaffes and talk to two individuals from liberal organizations and none right-of-center. Only one gaffe by a democrat is played, at it's probably one of the easiest to explain away. The list of Obama gaffes is as long as your arm, and that doesn't include all the insane things Congressional Democrats say on a daily basis. But, hey this is NPR so what should I expect?

It's nice to know NPR's media watchdog is just as biased as the rest of the media.

Aug. 22 2011 12:20 PM
Irene from Texas

If reporters hold Dr. Paul in "such contempt" as you say, then it must mean they hold the U.S. Constitution in contempt. He has always measured any legislation he has ever voted on by the rule of law embodied in the Constitution. This is "contemptable?"

Aug. 21 2011 11:35 PM
Crickett from ar

I do not see how anyone can say Ron is an ineffective "never done anything" member of Congress. Another worthless comment. In fact, in only the past few months almost everyone in Congress signed on to his Audit the Fed bill, same as last year. As chair of the Financial Services Committee he has made huge strides in making the Fed become more transparent. Most of the Republican candidates are parroting his talking points from his last and this election. If you do not know the facts about Ron, why open your mouth to disparage him?

Aug. 21 2011 11:03 PM
Cliff Wattley

I believe this segment showed a clear bias of the press to report on the most minor miscues made by Republican candidates and a bias to let the President claim he would contest in all 57 states without comment. Candidate Obama declared we would graduate more engineers than the Chinese, that we would hve 3 to 4 million jobs from windpower (dwarfing the domestic car industry at is peak), and when discussing cutting Federal excise taxes on gasoline, he said a 30 cent a day saving over 90 days would only amount to $9.00. I fully believe the President is numerically challenged, and 57 was another indication.

Aug. 21 2011 06:31 PM

Ron Paul hasn't passed a lot of legislation because he's a proponent of limited government and that's just not popular among the elites, including the media handmaidens to power. His efforts buys their contempt instead. Paul's two main issues are: reeling in the USA's aggressive foreign policy and the resulting military bloat, and cutting welfare to corporate fat cats. The uber-brainy journalism crowd should love that! Instead they give their stamp of approval only to candidates who will continue the policies that are driving us to third world status.

Aug. 21 2011 04:57 PM
Jerry Smetzer from Juneau, Alaska

Political gaffes. On the Romney comment about "...corporations being people." This was not a gaffe. Romney was speaking the full truth according to a decision of the supreme court of the US in 1869. That corporations are people is the basis of the Court's decision to allow unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns as an exercise in free speech. Exxon/Mobile has the same right to free speech as I do, but Exxon/Mobile can buy a far larger audience across the globe than I can. The biggest audience I can afford is you. How about covering this issue on one of your programs.

Aug. 21 2011 02:20 PM
Naomi from Philadelphia

Romney's 'gaffe' was more significant than you said, insofar as corporations are 'persons' under the law. Unlike human persons, successful corporations are transgenerational (i.e., they can live forever), and so can accumulate wealth and power that even John D. Rockefeller no longer wields. That view of corporations as people is very relevant to Mitt Romney as well as the Republican supporting corporate persons above human persons.

Aug. 21 2011 12:31 PM
dave jolley

those crazy republicans are off the chain ! next thing we know one of them will refer to when emperor hirohito surrendered to macarthur or refer to the three branches of government as the house , the senate and the presidency . oops! the gem of ignorance regarding the japanese surrender was by our president , a harvard man and self-described student of history and the one regarding the branches of government belongs to the great chuckie schumer , a member of the senate judiciary committee .
i can see your left-wing bias from my front porch .

Aug. 21 2011 11:34 AM
aka_ces from Dallas

Find the Gaffe !

Aug. 20 2011 04:54 PM

I'd like to know why, as this guest claims, reporters hold Ron Paul, "in such contempt."
No qualification, no reasoning, just contempt. When "reporters" won't talk to the only candidate who wants to end our wars and bring our troops home, i am made a bit sick.

Aug. 20 2011 01:30 PM
Kristy Rawson from Ann Arbor, MI

Wait a second. We need to distinguish between “gaffes” and dangerously incoherent rhetoric. I guess OTM went to production before the more serious Bachmann gaffe got out... the one where she is worried about “the rise of the Soviet Union.” Here it is:

"It really is about jobs and the economy. That doesn't mean people haven't [sic] forgotten about protecting life and marriage and the sanctity of the family. People are very concerned about that as well. But what people recognize is that there's a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward. And especially with this very bad debt ceiling bill, what we have done is given a favor to President Obama and the first thing he'll whack is five hundred billion out of the military defense at a time when we're fighting three wars. People recognize that."

The problem with laughing this off is that, even if you gave Bachmann the benefit of the doubt, and generously substituted "Russia" for "the Soviet Union" in her verbiage, Bachmann's rhetoric remains utterly and dangerously convoluted. She conflates economic and military threats (a cold war mentality). This is not merely an “in-artful comment.”

We need reporters that worry less about “gaffes” and focus on analysis. Bachmann’s ridiculous claim, that the S&P downgrade validated her position against raising the debt ceiling, went largely unchallenged in the media.

At an Iowa debate, when Bachmann was asked if, as president, she would submit to the biblical doctrine of "wifely submission”––to which she has publicly avowed her belief––the question was shouted down. Apparently any inquiry made on "religious grounds" was deemed inappropriate.

This kind of inanity has got to be confronted, unequivocally, by a media that takes political discourse seriously and devotes sustained attention to critical analysis.

Aug. 20 2011 12:36 PM

Betty Ford's comments weren't treated as a gaffe because they weren't a gaffe. They may have cost her husband with some voters who disagreed, but there was no factual error. There was nothing offensive about her statement in the sense of insulting or demeaning anyone.

Being outspoken isn't the same thing as being stupid. I don't believe Mrs. Ford was thinking about winning elections when she made those statements. She was thinking about encouraging open lines of communication in families. I think she may have been very successful in that. Betty Ford helped a lot of people in her lifetime by bucking all that political wife crap. I'm sure that her outspokeness about her substance abuse problems resulted in many lives being saved, to this day. Does anybody really think she ever regretted it? I don't think she did, and I don't think her husband did, either. Any woman who'd rather be Preident than be married to a woman like that is a fool.

Aug. 20 2011 08:31 AM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

Sometimes a 'gaffe' is not treated as such because of conventional journalism's own culture. I always thought Betty Ford's statements in 1976 about her daughter and pre-marital sex were a 'gaffe' whether I agreed or not. Her husband was running against a self-proclaimed born-again Christian, Carter. In the election, which was fairly close, Carter carried the Bible Belt in spite of its politically conservative outlook. Mainstream journalism did not treat the statement as maladroit because it agreed with her relaxed outlook - but from a strictly strategic standpoint, it almost certainly cost her husband more votes than it gained him. Mrs. Ford probably should have told her interviewer that such matters were private.

Aug. 19 2011 07:24 PM

Could it be that some members of the media have a political agenda and deliberately seek to embarrass candidates they don't like by amplifying their gaffes and protect candidates they do like but downplaying or ignoring their gaffes and thus unfairly influencing public opinion?

Aug. 19 2011 06:36 PM

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