Look, a candidate for President of the United States who tells audiences that the Lion King is a gay conspiracy; or that hundreds of scientists, including Nobel Prize winners, believe in intelligent design; or that Iraq looks like the Mall of America, deserves to be called a flake, and Wallace should not have apologized.
Steve Benen has a good post on this:
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.
Doug Mataconis says, about Bachmann’s rejection of Wallace’s apology, “Of course, it makes sense because playing the perpetual victim is something that works well for a politician like Bachmann.”
Conor Friedersdorf thinks Wallace’s apology was misdirected:
But it seems to me that Wallace owes an apology to a different constituency too: Americans who aren’t sure how we’ll be voting in the 2012 primaries or the general election, and count on TV journalists to pose tough questions to candidates.
In fairness, the bulk of his interview was strong.
But the controversial segment was weak. Disrespectful or not, “Are you a flake?” is a question I’d call amateurish if so many broadcast journalists didn’t habitually mistake faux-confrontation for toughness. Disrespectful or not, it is a softball question, because the answer is, “I am most certainly not — here is a list of my accomplishments that I’ve rehearsed hundreds of times in my life.”
How could Wallace have done better?
For starters, he could’ve refined his terminology. Making “questionable statements” is unnecessarily vague. The problem with some of Bachmann’s statements is that they are factually inaccurate, intemperate, or both. And a flake is someone who commits to something but doesn’t follow through. That isn’t the knock against Bachmann. Her critics think that she’s a right-wing nut job. Or else that she plays one on television to pander to the Tea Party base. Then there’s the first example Wallace chose. Bachmann’s remark about civilian casualties in Libya is the sort of forgivable misstatement people make all the time during off-the-cuff interviews.
And he knows it.
His other example — the time Bachmann suggested that the media should launch an investigation into anti-Americans in Congress — does exemplify some of Bachmann’s flaws. Alas, she isn’t forced to explain herself, because Wallace, having ended the question with “are you a flake,” thinks it’s a “strong answer” when Bachmann replies that she is an accomplished attorney. An appropriate followup would’ve been, “So why did you imply that your colleagues are anti-American?”
I would add that Bachmann’s trotting out of her credentials — that she is an attorney, has an advanced degree in federal tax law from William and Mary, has served in the House of Representatives for five years — far from helping her, only makes her penchant for assertions that are not just uninformed, but stupid, and often downright disconnected from reality, more appalling. It’s clear as crystal that Bachmann is not qualified to be POTUS, and challenging her as Wallace did is the least that the media can do.