Once in a while, a politician slips up.
He forgets the presence of his PR handlers. He wanders off his carefully-prepared script. He gets so angry at reporters that he does something he would never otherwise do.
He blurts out the truth–about what he actually intends to do, or how he actually feels about an issue.
For at least a few days, the news media converges on the politician–who rushes to the safety of his PR reps.
They, in turn, quickly issue press releases to “explain” what the politician “really meant to say”:
- He was “misunderstood.”
- He was “misquoted.”
- He’s the victim of a press “vendetta.”
Perhaps the most famous such “here’s-what-I-meant-to-say” statement was issued by Ron Ziegler, press secretary for President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
Starting on June 17, 1972, the Washington Post had investigated a series of crimes committed by Nixon operatives to ensure his re-election.
For the next 10 months, Ziegler and other Nixon administration officials denied any wrongdoing–and viciously attacked the Post as waging a vendetta against Nixon.
Then, on April 17, 1973, Ziegler once again stood before the White House press corps to offer yet another prepared statement: “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”
By which he meant: “The statement I’m making now is the truth. All the previous statements were lies.”
In 2012, the Republican party once again faced a “truth-will-out” scandal.
On August 19, 2012, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) justified his opposition to abortion by claiming that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant.
During a TV interview, the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate was asked if he supported abortion in the case of rape. He replied:
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
“But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
Akin won the Republican primary on August 7–but then lost to incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). in November, 2012.
McCaskill was quick to issue a response.
“It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape. The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive.”
This was not the first time Akin “misspoke” on abortion.
On August 8, 2012, he said during a radio interview: “As far as I’m concerned, the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, and I think we just shouldn’t have abortion in this country.”
But the firestorm of outrage that greeted his “legitimate rape” comment caught Akin by surprise. So he did what politicians do when they’ve mistakenly told the truth.
With the help of his PR handlers, he “clarified” his previous statement:
“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.
“I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue.
“But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”
Mitt Romney, awaiting his nomination as the Republican Presidential candidate, also bitterly opposed abortion and wanted to make it illegal once again.
But Romney also didn’t expect a firestorm to erupt over Akin’s truth-blurb. Thus, on the day Akin revealed his true feelings about women, Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, told the Huffington Post:
“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
Clearly, Romney believed that would be enough. The press would move on to another issue and he would be off the hook once again.
Only the press didn’t move on to another issue.
Akin’s comment obviously recalled to voters the libelous statements made earlier in 2012 by Rush Limbaugh against Georgetown University Law student Sandra Fluke.
In these, Limbaugh–America’s porcine version of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels–called Fluke a “slut” and “a prostitute” because she had urged Congress to make insurance companies cover contraception expenses.
Desperate to make the issue go away, Romney told National Review Online: ”Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong.
“Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”
What Romney and his fellow Republicans truly found offensive was this: Akin’s statement threatened to deny them the power they sought to rule Americans’ lives.
And, on November 6, 2012, Aiken’s unintended truth-telling cost the Republicans the White House.