“Hold on a second, Sweetie,” said the Democratic front-runner to the female reporter. And Barack Obama says John McCain has lost his bearings! What’s next, for crying all night, “How’s it going, toots?” “Be right with ya, doll?”
The Reasonable Reporter is not particularly sensitive about misplaced terms of endearment from men. Most men mean well. And let’s face it, some of the things they say are just plain funny.
One former boss actually said, in the context of a formal review, “You know, you’re a very sharp gal.” That’s some damn funny material, and why squelch it? God knows, there’s little enough humor in the workplace.
But in politics, the guys who blast beyond the level of, let’s say, Commissioner of Traffic and Parking — they need to mind their manners when it comes to interactions with women. That’s because lots of women are touchy as hell about the way you treat them.
(And this is ironic, considering how an association to any sex-related misstep by just the right man can pay off in spades for a sharp gal. Consider Eliot Spitzer’s call girl, whose singing ambitions were discovered, and who racked up thousands of downloads from people curious to sample her music after the former New York governor’s prostitution scandal broke.)
Now Detroit TV reporter Peggy Agar has national profile as a result of having been double-dissed by a presidential candidate, who simultaneously ducked her question and addressed her as “sweetie.” Agar was presented with an interesting dilemma. Let it pass, and become the heroine of local newsroom folklore, or report it, which would inevitably put her at the center of the story.
Agar recorded her now-famous news package, in which she focused on campaign issues. She included audio of her own shouted question to Obama and the sweetie response, and tagged out of her report saying, “This sweetie never did get an answer to that question.”
This was not necessarily the wrong choice, given our American fixation with fake respect in politics, and given that Mr. Obama is beating the socks off of a classic 1970s feminist. The blunder needed to be reported, and by the way, it was reported by other outlets, something any first-year journalism student could have predicted.
But Agar took a cheap shot, which was the easy way out. When she decided to make herself part of the story, she put herself on the hook for pursuing the interesting question: Shouldn’t a law professor- Democratic politician- minority presidential candidate who came of age in the 1980s know better?
She might have been justified in breaking with protocol to chase down Obama and his entourage like a bunch of dogs, and throw a righteous fit — off camera — in order to end up with a great step-back piece about gender and power and elitism, topics which have become central to this race.
Of course, the Reasonable Reporter has no idea what Agar was up against in that particular situation. Sometimes it’s impossible to push, sometimes there are physical constraints, sometimes you really do need a moment to think. She may have lost the opportunity by pausing to ask herself, um, did he just call me sweetie?
As for Obama, he later called her and more-or-less owned up losing his bearings. He made a very skillful apology, and that’s why he’s the front-runner.