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Obama dismisses a female TV reporter as 'Sweetie'

May 14, 2008 | 11:52 pm

A small but very surprising gaffe by the leading Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, Wednesday during a visit to an automotive plant in Michigan. These photo ops are staged by every presidential campaign for the precise purpose of having TV cameras film their candidate walking, looking and learning something somewhere.

But although the media are absolutely essential to the staged event's success, the campaigns really don't want them messing up their political plans with interruptions or questions. If the cameras only have pictures, that's all the stations can broadcast.

Answering reporters' questions distract from the pleasant photos and could change the subject away from the day's political message. What if they ask him/her about West Virginia or doing poorly among blue-collar Democratic workers like those waiting to shake his hand up the line?

Peggy Agar of Channel 7 TV news in Detroit was with her cameraman at the Sterling Heights, Mich., plant jockeying for position as Obama walked around the facility, trying like all the others in the invited press mob to lob a question in and get the candidate actually talking on-camera instead of merely looking.

Suddenly Obama was walking right toward her. "Senator," Agar addressed him, "how are you going to help the American auto worker?"

"Hold on one second, sweetie," the presidential candidate said, sticking out his right arm as if to ward her off. "We're gonna do a press avail."

Sweetie?

"This 'sweetie,'" Agar noted acidly in her broadcast report, "never did get an answer to that question."

Later, the station said Obama had left an apology on the reporter's phone, admitting he had a problem calling women "sweetie" and saying he intended no disrespect.

If there's no disrespect intended, why wouldn't he have used it during, say, one of his debates against Sen.  Hillary Clinton? "Now, Sweetie, you're not describing my health care plan accurately." How would that go over?

Alas for Obama, his comment was already captured on tape. Here it is.

--Andrew Malcolm

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