October 15, 2010

The spectacle of serial, circles-within-circles statements, emitting from various leaders of the National Organization for Women about the use of the word “whore” within Jerry Brown’s inner sanctum, illustrates the ability of Krusty’s campaign to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Against all odds, Brown has somehow managed to keep a one-day story up and running for eight days (and counting!), effectively rescuing Republican rival Meg Whitman from the travail of her own self-inflicted error.

In his most selfless act, Jerry helpfully supplanted press interest in eMeg’s problems with her undocumented housekeeper by stumbling through a defensive answer to a Tom Brokaw question in Tuesday night’s big debate about the, uh, salty language used behind closed doors at Camp Krusty.

His politically awful response completed the transformation of Whoregate from small-bore kerfuffle into Topic A about the biggest event of the campaign, as almost every MSM lede included a mention of whoredom, and a surly Brown faced further questions about it at a post-debate press conference which spokeshuman Sterling Clifford wisely and quickly truncated once he noted the no-good-can-come-of-this direction in which it was heading.

With a major assist from an aggressive Team eMeg, which kept blowing and blowing on the smoldering little story until it finally got lit, and aided by the lackadaisical nonchalance of his own handlers, Brown in the 10 days between the Oct. 2 Fresno debate – when he dominated eMeg with a righteous scolding of her dealings with Nicky Diaz – and the Brokaw event, lost his firm grip on the narrative and momentum of the campaign.

In the end, the bizarre whore story may still not matter much to the outcome of the race. However, it is is inarguable that Brown’s mishandling of it not only allowed Whitman to instantly change the subject, but also enabled on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-minded members of the press corps to begin drawing a false equivalence between a person in his orbit blurting a rude word in a closed door campaign klatsch, and the more serious matter of Whitman’s employment of an undocumented worker for years.

It didn’t have to be that way.

No Can Say: “Jane, you ignorant slut.”

Going into the last debate, Brown obviously should have been well prepared for a hostile question to be raised about the flap; quite obviously, he was not. Half an hour before the event started, in fact, one of his strategists was still expressing certainty that the word “whore” would not pass Brokaw’s lips.

When it did, Brown instantly started sputtering on all cylinders, beginning with his rejection of the premise of Brokaw’s question – that “whore” is equivalent to the “N word.”

I don’t agree with that comparison…This is a five-week old private conversation picked up on a cell phone with a garbled transmission, very hard to detect who it is. I don’t want to get into the term and how it’s used. But I’ll say the campaign promptly apologized and I reaffirm that apology tonight.

Even after eMeg cuffed his ears a little, Brown amazingly kept the issue going even longer, seizing on a widely-referenced (but seldom-credited by the MSM) Calbuzz report about Whitman campaign chair Pete Wilson’s enthusiastic use of “whores” in the past.

While we appreciated the notice, it just seemed a little…excessive…on Krusty’s part. What Brown should have said, and what he should have been well prepared to say, was something like this:

Sometimes in the heat of a campaign, partisans get excited and say things they shouldn’t, which is what occurred in this case.

I’ve already apologized for the use of that word but (turning to eMeg) Ms. Whitman, I want to personally apologize to you tonight.

[PIVOT] I do think, however, that the voters are more interested in what each of our policy ideas mean to the real lives of real women than in this matter, so in that regard, I’m proud to have the support of the National Organization for Women, which has endorsed me because of my record of substantive accomplishment on issues of importance to women.

Laundry list of world changing political feats to follow.

Instead of slamming the door on the story when he had the chance, however, Brown just kept making it bigger, opening up at least three new avenues of press inquiry: 1) the perilous political question of the equivalence of racial and gender slurs* (the ground on which NOW’s internal conflict is playing out in public); 2) the comparative importance of the Brown camp’s use of the word measured against that of other politicians (to be sure, it was entertaining to see conservative types, who would have been caterwauling about “political correctness” if the offender was a Republican, going all smelling salts and fainting couch about Brown); 3) the legal question of whether the cop union that handed the L.A. Times a copy of Brown’s moronic call represented a case of illegal taping (an issue he would be much better off avoiding altogether).

*(As we argued earlier, we don’t think the “N word” and “whore” are really equivalent, if only because Brokaw felt free to say the latter but obligated to obliquely reference the former. In terms of gender, we think the “C word” is much closer to the “N word” as a form of hate speech than is “whore”).

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