The Media Loves a Good Gaffe


Much has been made this past week of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) political gaffe in which she wrongly identified her hometown to be that of movie star and American icon John Wayne.  The concern brings with it a looming question: Does the electorate really care about political gaffes? As campaigns unfold — specifically presidential and congressional campaigns — the media is quick to pounce at any misstep, unleashing an excessive news cycle to accompany it. Contrary to what this might suggest, however, it seems that the majority of the electorate — particularly the voting youth — does not take gaffes into account when declaring its political allegiance.

Bachmann's statement that Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa, was an attempt to highlight her American spirit, patriotism, and roots. In actuality, he was born and raised in Winterset, Iowa, a town 150 miles away. Bachmann's blunder raided national headlines; the press framed the story and subsequent news cycle as her confusing Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who had lived and worked in Waterloo.

The press, however, is not the only party to blame for the endless news cycles and distractions caused by a gaffe. Time after time, politicians show a propensity for downplaying the incident instead of admitting their mistake and getting back on message. Many let the opportunity to reverse the news cycle pass, allowing the gaffe to grow into a vicious cycle. Political analysts thus love to view gaffes as a lapse in the candidate’s credibility and use the faux pas as an attempt to write off a candidate’s chances to win. In doing so, analysts forget the forgiving nature of voters. By admitting their mistakes, candidates can put them in the past and return to their respective message of the week, winning points with voters in the process for exemplifying brevity and trust. 

In my conversations with colleagues and acquaintances across the political spectrum, the discussions tended to have one striking similarity. Though representing a variety of political stances, they all believed that gaffes are quite simply a part of human nature, and say little about the candidate. Gaffes are the result of hours of strenuous campaign events, gripping and grinning with hundreds of voters daily, and delivering numerous daily oratories. Furthermore, the electorate wishes to see a candidate stand up, admit their mistake, and make a joke of it to push past it. A gaffe serves as an embarrassing moment for each respective candidate, but the number of gaffes one makes should not be used as a litmus test for the legitimacy of their candidacy.

With the Republican presidential primary campaign in full throttle, there is no doubt that the number of gaffes by the heavyweight field will continue to rise until a nominee has been selected. With such a qualified field seeking the nomination, it may be in the candidates' best interests to utilize gaffes to their advantage. Saying, “My bad, I’m human, I made a mistake,” could be just enough to win over the voter’s hearts in such a crowded field.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons