Political Animal


June 27, 2011 8:35 AM Wallace to Bachmann: ‘Are you a flake?’

By Steve Benen

On “Fox News Sunday,” Chris Wallace interviewed Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, and towards the very end of the discussion, the host broached a subject that much of the media establishment generally prefers to ignore.

Wallace noted that “the rap” on Bachmann is that she has “a history of questionable statements.” After noting just a couple of recent examples, Wallace paused, thought about how best to phrase the question, and asked the right-wing congresswoman, “Are you a flake?”

As you can see in the clip, Bachmann said she found the question “insulting” because she claims to be “a serious person.”

Wallace quickly clarified that this is what others might be saying about her. Bachmann responded by making the case for why she’s not crazy: she’s married, she has lots of children, she’s a lawyer, and she’s been a lawmaker.

The host added, “[D]o you recognize that now that you’re in the spotlight, in a way that you weren’t before, that you have to be careful and not say what some regard as flaky things?”

Bachmann replied, “Well, of course, a person has to be careful what statements that they make. I think that’s true. And I think now, there will be an opportunity to be able to speak fully on the issues. I look forward to that.”

Wallace apparently faced some criticism from the right over this, and he apologized, telling Fox News viewers, “I messed up. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any disrespect.” Bachmann is apparently still offended, adding yesterday afternoon, “I think that it’s insulting to insinuate that a candidate for president is less than serious.”

It’s a shame Wallace felt the need to apologize for this, because he accidentally asked a good question, even if he regrets it now. Societal norms apparently dictate that unhinged candidates who have no business running for president be shielded from such unpleasantness, but Michele Bachmann is arguably the most ridiculous person in Washington. She proudly embraces bizarre conspiracy theories; she routinely says crazy things on national television; she pretends to grasp public policies she doesn’t understand; and her worldview is comparable to someone who’s suffered a serious head trauma. Even as the Republican Party leaps off a right-wing cliff, Bachmann stands out for her unique brand of madness.

Given this, of course response hosts should ask whether she’s a serious person. Bachmann doesn’t deserve deference; she deserves ridicule. I thought “are you a flake” was actually a rather polite way of asking a legitimate question about an unqualified candidate.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Todd for VT House on June 27, 2011 8:37 AM:

    As others have pointed out elsewhere, there's at least a tinge of sexism in the question. I've yet to hear Wallace et al ask Santorum or Gingrich if their flakes...

  • j on June 27, 2011 8:44 AM:

    Every time a right wing person makes a mistake by getting close to the truth they have to back track after pressure from the right, I think it is hilarious!

  • Alli on June 27, 2011 8:45 AM:

    Hey Steve you forgot to add, "stark raving mad". LOL. Indeed the American people need to know that potential presidents may be lunatics.

  • Mr. Serf Man on June 27, 2011 8:46 AM:

    Remember last election when they were all abuzz about Obama going on Faux.
    I will wait for Ms Bachman and the rest of the Crazies to go on Rachel Maddow... and wait annd waaaiiit.

  • DAY on June 27, 2011 8:47 AM:

    The Internet has delivered a new paradigm to the political world (cf Weiner's weiner)

    But it is not really different than the old world of entertainment-"I don't care what they say, as long as they spell my name right!"

    It is early days, and the public is not paying attention- unless you scream "You LIe" or run naked through the halls of congress. (You may take that as a challenge, Ms. Bachmann. . .)

  • Danp on June 27, 2011 8:48 AM:

    It was a stupid question. I suspect he intended it as a softball, but I hate the format, "Some people think you..." since in most cases "some people" is just a disingenuous way of legitimizing the claim. That said, I'm surprised Bachmann didn't point out that she was on the intelligence committee.

  • amorphous on June 27, 2011 8:58 AM:

    It was a reasonable question, but you have to show why it's a reasonable question. Wallace should have shown a couple of clips of her making "flaky" comments, and then been ready for her responses with follow-up questions. And afterwards, you say "Look, I'm just doing my job as a reporter."

  • Nelson on June 27, 2011 9:00 AM:

    He could have been a little more artful but it was a valid question. Bob Schieffer did it more skillfully, reading a couple of her statements and then asking what she made of them; and then calling her out when she provided talking points instead of a response. She's exceptionally good at the "pivot" -- her handlers must have thought both performances were knockouts. I think she's taking a note from Reagan's playbook, using the telling anecdote to signify a larger policy point. But Schieffer punctured one of those with "surely you're not equating the number of limousines in the Obama Administration with the cost of healthcare!?" She glided past that, but I wonder whether she can keep gliding among a group of other candidates.

  • MikeBoyScout on June 27, 2011 9:06 AM:

    It was a stupid question. When does a flake admit to being a flake?

    If Wallace wanted to give her the opportunity to defend her repeated flakey statements he should have done so.

  • Rochester on June 27, 2011 9:13 AM:

    Everyone is missing the point.

    Sure, she's a flake. No one seriously believes otherwise. But it was incredibly rude of Wallace to do that on national television.

    The right and proper thing would have been *NOT* to invite her on an actual news show... which is why she was on FOX.

  • Kenneth D. Franks on June 27, 2011 9:14 AM:

    Showing past comments and then asking about them would have been better. I can't believe anyone on Fox asked her any serious questions at all unless they were instructed to because their bosses favor another candidate.

  • c u n d gulag on June 27, 2011 9:20 AM:

    They're ALL flakes!

    OK, maybe not Romney or Huntsman.
    But, to a lot of people in this country, being Mormons makes them bigger flakes than the rest of the candidates.

    They chose the wrong flavor of God & Jesus Ice Cream.

  • Ron Byers on June 27, 2011 9:23 AM:

    My off hand reaction is that Wallace's boss told him to ask the question as a way of (1) reestablishing his serious cred after Stewart and (2) to favor another of the crazies. After the interview, Roger Ailes decided that he didn't want to cut Fox ties with Bachman just yet and called Wallace's boss and told him to tell Wallace to apologize. My guess is this morning the Bachmann handlers are still trying to figure out what they have done to offend Fox.

    The wrong assumption here is that Chris Wallace has any authority to ask his own question.

  • FRP on June 27, 2011 9:25 AM:

    There is a sort of numbificationing of the both sides do it here that will essentially zero out the point Todd for VT House makes . Yes , yes I do , by an eery process of paying attention flush the sense deadened , and their allies daily , early and often .
    The serious point that Danp is making gets lost in the deep bush of entangling and hanging metaphors . With the brightly coloured and persistent inboard chuckle machine hand made , and then , built into the first representative to strive beyond walking moron , to Walking Talking Oxymoronski .
    We live in great times . Where else would the achievements of the "just another guy" be celebrated when , he , she , or it , merely provideth the metaphor for the bathtub our brave stern oligarchs need to literally drown the the Don Quixote's of stuffy , and old fashioned governmental rhyme and reason .
    In an age of one for me and none for thee , who needs people who can , or will , count . In fact Khmer Rouge may have established just what to do with those poor sods .

  • Lifelong Dem on June 27, 2011 9:27 AM:

    I'm still waiting for Bill O'Reilly to apologize for the disdainful attitude he showed the President of the United States during his Super Bowl interview.

  • Rochester on June 27, 2011 9:34 AM:

    The wrong assumption here is that Chris Wallace has any authority to ask his own question.

    Good point. You don't have to have a PhD in psychology to observe how hard it was for Wallace to get that question out.

    He was forced to ask that question, in exactly that manner.

  • paul on June 27, 2011 9:44 AM:

    Hey! your comparison is unfair to people with serious head trauma. Bachman seems more like a classic paranoid with a side of megalomania.

  • Gov't Mule on June 27, 2011 9:57 AM:

    As to why someone might ask this question of Bachmann as opposed to Gingrich or Frothy Santorum is that she is the only one currently holding an elected office. Moreover, she has a penchant for saying outrageous unsubstantiated things (see FEMA reeducation camps). Bachmann is Palin w/o hiding behind the ridiculous filter of Facebook postings. You can dislike Bachmann. You can say she's crazy, but compared to most of the other GOP candidates, she is downright candid and unafraid — to her detriment — of saying exactly what she thinks.

  • Han's Solo on June 27, 2011 9:59 AM:

    Bachmann was also on Face the Nation where Bob Schiefer repeated some of her quotes, pointed out that Politifact had rated her statements as pants on fire or false quite a bit and then, and this part really rocked, asked her if she thought she owed the American people an apology.

    That the Fox uproar over "shaky" got more press surprises me.

  • Steve on June 27, 2011 10:04 AM:

    I find it curious that while Michele Bachmann is criticized, rightly, mind you, for spinning conspiracy theories, there are commenters here (Rochester and Ron Byers above) who spin their theories of FOX manipulation out of similarly diaphanous thread.

    Just sayin'.

  • Celui on June 27, 2011 10:29 AM:

    For a fun, insightful, and somewhat unnerving perspective on Bachmann, read this recent article from Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/michele-bachmanns-holy-war-20110622?print=true

  • beejeez on June 27, 2011 10:36 AM:

    Chris Wallace is one of the lamest excuses for an interviewer on TV, and that is saying something. There isn't a cop reporter on the tiniest newspaper who'd be caught dead asking a question that so easily exposes a disinclination to do any research. And I'm sympathetic to the idea that sometimes reporters have to ask dumb questions: "How does that work?" "What's your reasoning behind that?"
    But what enlightening response was Wallace hoping to gain from asking "Are you a flake?"
    "Yes, Chris, I am. You know what, I shouldn't be in Congress and I'm quitting my presidential campaign."
    Jeez, I expect right-wing bias and willful stupidity at Fox, but who expects it to be this blatant?

  • c4Logic on June 27, 2011 10:43 AM:

    He is singularly inarticulate, for an interviewer. The question should have been, how do you respond to highly qualified critics who claim your worldview is not based in reality; that you frequently express a complete misunderstanding of complex policy issues; that you make public statements are that often factually incorrect and misleading? You claim to be a serious candidate--yet your critics complain you sound like you chewed through your leather restraints and climbed over the wall of the insane asylum.

  • sparky on June 27, 2011 10:50 AM:

    It looks like most of us are forgetting that we no longer have actual news broadcasts when it come to politics--we have reality shows and right now we're viewing "The Real Candidates of the Republican Party", which could be subtitled "Snow White and the Seven (or eight or nine) Dwarfs". Bachmann is good TV, so we can expect to see a lot of her unless Sarah Palin (the wicked step mother) starts rolling poison apples her way. This little drama is simply a summer fill in as we wait for Rick Perry to toss his ten gallon (four gallons of head and six gallons of hair) into the ring which is what the media is pushing for. Meanwhile, there's no drama in the democratic race since Obama seems to have that nomination locked up as much as I personally would like to see a real no compromise progressive challenge him in a primary or two--no drama, no coverage. Keep in mind, it's not about the candidates; it's not about policy; and it's not about who really has a vision for this country's future. It's all about who will be best for the media because we Americans love our TeeVee.

  • emjayay on June 27, 2011 10:57 AM:

    Plus, he said the "rap" in DC about her...not the factual record of continual ridiculous exaggerations and whole cloth inventions and completely erroneous statements. Like it's just some easily shot down random groupthink opinion.

    And she answered (the "pivot" mentioned above) by reciting her credentials, which is not an answer but a different topic. And she lied there too. She did not raise 23 foster children, unless by "raise" you mean she was paid by the government to take care of them for varying and often short periods of time. And the charter school for disadvantaged children or whatever she called it, I don't remember (no doubt in the RS article) but I bet it was a way to get state (evil socialist) money for a fundamentalist Christian Jesus Camp academy. (Someone correct me on that please).

    Bachmann is way more dangerous than Palin because she is not just an attractively coiffed and made up fundamentalist self promoting grifter, but a an attractively coiffed and made up SUPER fundamentalist zelot LAWYER.

  • biggerbox on June 27, 2011 10:58 AM:

    Silly Wallace.

    Doesn't he know the first rule of Flake Club is that you don't talk about Flake Club?

  • Grumpy on June 27, 2011 11:20 AM:

    Just like the time Dear Ol' Dad asked Ayatollah Khomeini, "Are you a lunatic?"

  • SYSPROG on June 27, 2011 11:37 AM:

    I think that its insulting to insinuate that a candidate for president is less than serious.

    REALLY??? What have YOU been doing for the last 2 years and counting??? She is bats@#t crazy, no matter if she has 10 degrees. Absolutely bats#$t!

  • Citizen Kitteh on June 27, 2011 1:08 PM:

    What no one's pointed out yet that being "a flake" is not incompatible with being "serious".

    flake - a crazy or eccentric person

    serious - of the many meanings, the one that fits the best is "acting or speaking sincerely and in earnest, rather than in a joking or halfhearted manner"

  • SARGE on June 27, 2011 1:18 PM:

    Come on, this is nothing more then the main stream media causing trouble where there is none. This is a softball question that she should have knocked out of the park. This is what people are saying about you, are you a flack? it was a chance for her to set them straight. She did a fair job of the answer.

    Time to move on, next question please.

  • toowearyforoutrage on June 27, 2011 1:27 PM:



    Ditz? Sure.
    Dizbo? Def.

    Flake is unisex.

    I hate the question though.

    What does he THINK the answer is?
    "Yes, I am a flake."????

    An NPR interview would have asked:
    "In light of the controversy surrounding some of teh conspiracy theories you've found credible, what would you like to say to those that suggest you're a flake?"

    Fox is folksy and doesn't do nuance.
    Such an attitude has its downside as Wallace has found.

  • Drewsifer on June 27, 2011 2:21 PM:

    "The wrong assumption here is that Chris Wallace has any authority to ask his own question."

    As someone familiar with the industry, I would say this: It is highly likely that was, indeed, a question from Chris Wallace and not induced. It is true, producers often work side by side reporters and anchors, but A) I wouldn't think this would be a case where the producers were heavily involved and B) The basis for the questions almost always come from the journalist themselves. People are very mistaken, often, about how the news industry works.

  • Mark M on June 27, 2011 4:25 PM:

    Citizen Kitteh is right-she's a serious flake.

  • T Jefferson on June 28, 2011 2:08 AM:

    I'm still waiting for her to answer the question of whether if she'll debate with the 15 year-old girl from Louisiana regarding the US Constitution. {Among other things} *Just a note for a few...Michelle would lose and it would be evident after the first minute.

  • Diane Hoffman on August 29, 2011 11:56 AM:

    I don't believe that Wallace meant anything insulting to Bachmann. There was no reason to apologise. If she is serious about running she is going to have to toughen up a bit. This was just a drop in the bucket compaired to whats ahead. Look at what Palin had to go through and she perservered.