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July 19, 2011 3:45 PM How not to respond to legitimate questions

By Steve Benen

As you’ve probably heard, former aides to Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have said she suffers from migraines that could, on occasion, “incapacitate” her “for days at a time.” In response to reporters’ questions today, the right-wing congresswoman said her headaches are controlled by medication and don’t interfere with her official duties.

Reasonable people can disagree about the relevance of this story, but given the scrutiny modern presidential candidates are subjected to, if a presidential hopeful has an ailment that occasionally leaves her “incapacitated,” it’s probably fair to ask for some relevant details. Bachmann said medication has this under control, and I have no reason to believe otherwise.

At this point, I’d be inclined to move on, were it not for the way in which the Bachmann campaign responded to reporters’ inquiries today.

At at event in South Carolina, ABC’s Brian Ross asked Bachmann if her ailment ever led her to miss a congressional vote. She refused to answer. As Michael Crowley reported, matters quickly took a turn for the worse.

Ross dashed after Bachmann, repeatedly asking whether she had ever missed a House vote due to a migraine. She ignored him. Ross pursued her into a parking area behind the stage. Her aides grew alarmed. When Ross made a beeline for the white SUV waiting to carry Bachmann away, two Bachmann men pounced on him, grabbing and pushing him multiple times with what looked to me like unusual force. In fact, I have never seen a reporter treated so roughly at a campaign event, especially not a presidential one. Ross was finally able to break away and lob his question at Bachmann one more time, but she ignored him again.

Afterward, I asked Ross — a hard-nosed pro who nevertheless seemed slightly shaken — whether he’d ever been treated so roughly. “A few times,” he told me. “Mostly by mafia people.”

In general, I don’t much care about the headaches. If the condition is managed through medication, this would rank at the bottom of my list of concerns about Bachmann’s political ambitions. It’s a legitimate area of inquiry, but the candidate seems to have a perfectly reasonable answer. Fine.

What isn’t fine is roughing up a journalist because he’s asking a question the candidate doesn’t like.

As Crowley concluded, “Running for President, at least in its early retail stage, requires a willingness to answer inconvenient questions in settings more chaotic and unpredictable than the cable television interviews to which she is accustomed. The trail is a messy place, reporters will swarm you, it’s definitely not always fun — and, well, it’s enough to give even a seasoned candidate a migraine. The question raised this afternoon is whether Bachmann is ready for it.”

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.

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  • Anniecat on July 19, 2011 3:52 PM:

    I too get migraines, and mine are "controlled by medication." All that means is that some of the symptoms are controlled. My head still hurts, any light hitting my eyes is painful, and I'm still nauseated -- just not so much. Even after the medicine works, and the pain and nausea pass, I am very drained amd so exhausted I'm a bit dizzy. I actually try to avoid making any serious decisions during or after a migraine -- and I'm not running for President.

    I'm not voting for Bachmann anyway, but I can't imagine doing the President's job with migraines, especially because one common trigger for the headache is stress.

  • Get it right! on July 19, 2011 3:55 PM:

    IOKIYAR, beeee-atch! This will never be an issue.

  • Anniecat on July 19, 2011 3:55 PM:

    For those of you who don't get migraine, imagine how it would feel if the monster from the Alien movies was chewing its way through your head. Slowly.

  • DAY on July 19, 2011 3:55 PM:

    Much more of this, and I am going to have to raise the debt ceiling on my popcorn budget!

  • Texas Aggie on July 19, 2011 3:55 PM:

    The question that isn't asked that is more important than migraines is how much she buys into the "wives should be submissive to their husbands" bit that she at one time, at least, advocated. If she still believes it, I want to know a LOT more about the guy who will be the de facto president in the case she's elected.

  • zeitgeist on July 19, 2011 3:56 PM:

    i have never known anyone with recurrent severe migraines whose medication has ensured that they wont hit. they may hit less often, they may be more severe, but they provide no certainty of a "cure."

    and that is not necessarily disqualifying. it does make it a very fair set of questions, however, to ask how often, what her views would be on turning authority over to the VP, and who that VP might be.

    and in Bachmann's case we should probably make sure that no voices accompany those migraines that tell her to nuke Iran, declare martial law, or order the gold standard.

  • c u n d gulag on July 19, 2011 3:57 PM:

    Anniecat, maybe it's the Alien's that's causing the migraines?

    Either or that, or maybe an infestation of dung beetles in between her ears.

  • zeitgeist on July 19, 2011 4:01 PM:

    (in the 3:56 that should be "less severe". duh. i'm blaming the midwest heatwave.)

  • Grumpy on July 19, 2011 4:03 PM:

    ...this would rank at the bottom of my list of concerns about Bachmannís political ambitions.

    Or the list of concerns about what's wrong with Bachmann's head. Agreed.

    Reminiscent of the reporter handcuffed at a Joe Miller campaign event in Alaska last year. Although, was Brian Ross trying to induce a migraine by his own behavior?

  • Ray Waldren on July 19, 2011 4:11 PM:

    One wonders whether Sharon Angle lost in Nevada last year because she didn't have a pair of stormtroopers to protect her from inquiring minds or was she just faster in out-running them (and in heels, too?)

  • kindness on July 19, 2011 4:15 PM:

    Steve, you seem to think that Republicans play by the same rules as everyone else. What a quaint & dated notion.

    Don't you remember reporters getting arrested in Alaska last year for asking questions in a hallway? Don't you remember any other President having to go through this for a vote to raise the debt ceiling? No? That's because it never happened before.

    Republicans simply changed the rules. IOKIYAAR.

  • Diane Rodriguez on July 19, 2011 4:16 PM:

    I'm with Zeitgeist. I'm more concerned about her responding to internal stimuli. Little else would explain her consistently bizarre behavior. No, I'm not being snarky - she appears to be rocking some mental illness. God love the ACLU, but the Presidency is not the place for an ADA accomodation.

  • FRP on July 19, 2011 4:17 PM:

    Nortriptyline a second generation tricyclic antidepressant (whatever) . It took about four years of dealing with GP's directing neurologists to attend my migraines , finally coming up with nortriptyline . It has reduced all my headaches in general and I only get about one migraine a season now .
    ***** although rated Yippee over exuberant language describing the relief of missing a weekly human style cotyledon .

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 19, 2011 4:19 PM:

    This idiot woman thinks she will conduct her campaign from the Faux Nooze studios.
    Wrong Michelle. You will run out of talking points sometime soon .
    Your Katie Couric moment awaits you.
    Gol Durn Firnickity Lamestream Media

  • DZ on July 19, 2011 4:21 PM:

    So, in the last few months, the most aggressive questioning from our political media has been about what pictures Anthony Weiner tweeted and the nature of Michele Bachmann's migrane headaches? Do I have that right?

  • AtlasMugged on July 19, 2011 4:26 PM:

    On one hand, the way this story came out is pretty silly. On the other hand, there's a reason why JFK and Roosevelt kept their respective health conditions secret from the American people. The public's confidence in the President would evaporate if they knew that he or she suffered from chronic severe pain. And that says nothing about what foreign adversaries and allies might think.

  • N.Wells on July 19, 2011 4:38 PM:

    Crap, now you've got me feeling sorry for Bachmann. (However, not nearly enough to vote for her, even if she is a fellow migraine sufferer.) She could have two a week and still get way more work done than Bush, so of all the many reasons to vote against her, this isn't one of them.

  • Stephen Stralka on July 19, 2011 4:41 PM:

    There was this little flurry of articles and blog posts from various liberals--Matt Taibbi, for instance--telling us we'd better take Michele Bachmann seriously, but I never bought it.

    Really the only difference between Bachmann and Sarah Palin is that Bachmann isn't as well known. A lot of people were impressed with Sarah Palin at first, too, and McCain even gained a lead in the polls after he announced her as his running mate. But that of course was the peak of her popularity. Same with Bachmann--the more people get to know here, the more they're going to hate her.

  • John Dillinger on July 19, 2011 4:48 PM:

    Brian Ross a hardnosed pro? He got used by the Bush admin to suggest Saddam was tied to the anthrax attacks. And after today and last week (investigating the husband's "gay cure" therapy), it is clear he is being used by the Republican powers that be in an attempt to drive the Congresswoman from the race. Don't let our glee at her plight blind us to the true story here. We cannot let the Republican voters right to choose a nominee next year be usurped in this fashion.

  • T2 on July 19, 2011 4:49 PM:

    Frankly, we'll be the ones getting a headache if Bachmann was to somehow get elected to the Presidency. But having to rely on prescription meds to make it through the day doesn't sound like a good idea for a president. It certainly might explain some of her more "colorful" outbursts. I mean, being a diabetic and taking insulin is one thing, taking pills to control cholesterol is one thing. But taking meds to counter severe migraines could be troublesome, say, if the order to take out Bin Laden was on the table.

  • yellowdog on July 19, 2011 4:58 PM:

    Right-wing insulation from serious questioners is absolutely necessary and by design. Keeping kooky candidates in front of adoring crowds is a must for the kookiness to seem acceptable to more skeptical voters. Those voters are often surprised when a Rick Scott turns out to be a lot more bizarre and radical as governor than he seemed as a candidate. If only we had known...

    Keeping questioners away? That's a tip-off that a candidate does not want scrutiny. One has to wonder why. Contrast this with the more common kind of candidate behavior: Candidates love attention, they take questions (and become skilled at 'answering' them to their own advantage), they talk to average citizens, they expect scrutiny. Think of Bill Clinton, who just would not quit talking. The old political adage was that all media attention was good. Even bad press kept your name in the papers.

    What has changed? Why are politicians now literally running away from media? It's part of a bigger trend. Call it the narrowing of political participation. The GOP seeks to shape the electorate rather than respond to it. If your basic positions on issues are out of the mainstream, even a little bit, you have to find ways to keep the mainstream from biting back. What do you do? You cover your tracks. You mislead the public. You distract them. You gerrymander. You limit the ability of people to participate in elections or even know what the government is doing. You gut election finance laws. You seek everywhere to shape the playing field to your own advantage. You become a ruthless master of the game of politics. You develop the art of holding power while sticking to unpopular issue positions, or positions popular with only narrow groups of citizens.

    Thanks to Rachel Maddow, Steve, and others, we know GOPers are clamping down on voting rights. At the same time, they are also driving a great wedge between the public and its elected leaders. If candidates can buy and/or control their own media coverage, they can present any face they want to the public. (Cue Monty Burns for Governor tape here.) Those persons who are still allowed to vote end up voting for ciphers, for holographic candidates that, once elected, turn out to be far more radical than those voters would really choose. Expect this to continue until the mainstream catches on to this act and answers. One has to wonder about the health of our little-d democratic values at this moment.

  • the seal on July 19, 2011 5:18 PM:

    Bachmann's staff and supporters have always leaned toward the heavy handed. In 2005 I was videotaping a town hall type meeting regarding education funding at a church in Stillwater MN. 3 or 4 other elected officals were there as well as Bachmann who at the time was in the state senate. I had cleared taping the event with the head minister, who wanted to know if I was a resident of the district before giving permission, and then told me I would have to stay in the back and be unobtrusive, to which I agreed.
    As I was setting up the camera and tripod, a Bachmann staffer got up in my face , trying to intimidate me, telling me he would not allow me to tape. I informed him I had permission to tape the event by someone who actually had the authority to stop me if there was a problem, andf if he tried to interfere, I would call him out on it in a loud way. He backed off.

  • Objective Dem on July 19, 2011 5:23 PM:

    It was not a good question. It was a "gotcha" question. Maybe she missed a vote on congratulating someone on their 100th birthday or the other nonsense that gets voted on by Congress. If Brian Ross was asking about a specific important vote that she missed it would be a good question. But that would take work on his part.

    Frankly part of my reaction is I really don't like self-important reporters screaming questions at people. Particularly, when most have a habit of never asking hard questions to people in power. I don't watch ABC, but I would guess that Brian Ross never asked Paul Ryan any hard questions about his proposed budget.

  • T2 on July 19, 2011 5:31 PM:

    Hummmm. seems Michelle may also have a little anger management problem to go with her headaches. Maybe the hubby can hook her up with some pills for that.

  • slappy magoo on July 19, 2011 5:32 PM:

    What's the big deal? It's not like being President is a stressful occupation that demands the person who has that title work at the top of his or her game on a constant basis. It's like Miss America, you smile, you pose for pictures and you assign asswipes to do the heavy lifting. Presidents have no responsibilities.

    Right?

  • bardgal on July 19, 2011 5:44 PM:

    She made this a story. A BAD one.

    Instead, she refused to answer and RAN. She is a coward. I am no fan of the insane, but she should have just stood her ground, and answered yes or no. Then waited for a followup if there was one, and answered that.

    (Has their ever been a member of Congress who has made every vote? I'd love to see a study - especially on who has missed the most votes in the current Congress, and in history...)

    The fact she ran speaks volumes about her character, and not in a good way.

  • Jimo on July 19, 2011 6:14 PM:

    I'm fairly sure Vice President Palin would disagree with your presumptiveness about "having to answer questions" about anything.

    I'm also fairly sure the press will, in general, continue to play stenographer in lieu of journalist.

  • Joanne Roll on July 19, 2011 6:28 PM:

    I do not like reporters to be manhandled; however, if the reporter is perceived as approaching an elected official or a candidate in an aggressive manner, then the reaction is understandable.

    The more important question to me, is the name of the medication and the dosage. Then, reporters and the rest of us can look up side effects...particularly with long term usage. That is a very real concern. The medication for migraines can be powerful, incapacitating the patient. Her medicated state is of concern and it might explain her strange "affect." She doesn't blink frequently and her responses sometimes are robotic.

  • Gregory on July 19, 2011 7:15 PM:

    It's a legitimate area of inquiry, but the candidate seems to have a perfectly reasonable answer.

    To the contrary, Bachmann seemed to have no answer at all, reasonable or otherwise, to the question of whether her migraines had already interfered with her ability to do her job in Congress. That's why she clammed up and ran.

  • gailcolorado on July 19, 2011 7:15 PM:

    But...but...who will answer the 3:00am phone call?

  • bardgal on July 19, 2011 7:19 PM:

    Joanne - exactly! WHAT medication???

  • Doug on July 19, 2011 8:31 PM:

    I'm with Gregory @ 7:15 PM.
    If Rep. Bachmann's medical condition has prevented her fom doing her job, that definitely needs to be known. If the medication she is taking produces symptoms such as those recounted by Anniecat @ 3:52 PM, then that ALSO needs to be known. We've already had one President, Ronald Reagan, quite possibly physically and mentally incapacitated by an illness unknown to the public, we do NOT need another.
    Especially when's the candidate is already approaching certifiability...

  • navamske on July 19, 2011 10:01 PM:

    "In response to reportersí questions today, the right-wing congresswoman said her headaches are controlled by medication and donít interfere with her official duties."

    Is Bachmann aware that the "offical duties" of a Member of Congress (e.g., voting on legislation, sending a constituent a flag that flew over the Capitol) differ significantly from the "official duties" of the president (e.g., commanding the armed forces, taking care that the laws be faithfully executed)?

    avermate Triplet to you, too.

  • Sam Simple on July 19, 2011 11:09 PM:

    BRAIN TUMOR!!!

  • victory on July 20, 2011 6:29 AM:

    Would Mrs. Bachman be able to handle a "2 am" phone call?

  • JW on July 20, 2011 2:27 PM:

    I've known a few people afflicted with migraines attacks, including my mother who suffered from them for many years. Most recently, a plant manager in a high stress job at a place I worked was prone to attacks during working hours. I didn't like the SOB, but felt genuinely bad for him during the times he was laid low. The poor guy battled heroically, even appearing briefly on the plant floor in the midst of an attack to make a decision. For all intents and purpose, however, he was down and out until the attacks passed.

    I'm inclined to think migraines most certainly do disqualify a person from the presidency. It's certainly a godawful thing to witness someone incapacitated by an attack.

  • Old Uncle Dave on July 20, 2011 8:47 PM:

    So Michele Bachmann is occasionally incapacitated?
    How can they tell?

  • ameshall on July 20, 2011 8:53 PM:

    Migraines or no migraines, she's incompetent to be president. What does matter is the fact that she uses her government-provided health care benefits to pay for her treatment. As the queen of the Tea Party, she should forgo these benefits and seek out a private health insurance company willing to cover her despite her age and pre-existing conditions. She is a passionate advocate for denying millions of American women with pre-existing conditions the ability to purchase private coverage with their own money, so she ought to be prepared to live by the same rules.

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