‘Sweetie’ leaves bad taste for Obama crit­ics; Detroit re­porter miffed

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

Amer­i­cans weary of “bit­ter­gate” can re­joice. It’s time for “sweet­ie­gate.”

The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion has veered onto an­other odd tan­gent, cour­tesy of Sen. Barack Obama, who ut­tered not an ep­i­thet nor in­sult against blue-col­lar work­ers — but a term of en­dear­ment.

On May 14, the Illi­nois Demo­crat called a fe­male broad­cast re­porter “sweetie,” the mo­ment recorded for pos­ter­ity on video. In 24 hours, the three-sec­ond ex­change had in­spired global news cov­er­age, fol­low-up sto­ries from the of­fended correspondent and a de­bate on both fem­i­nism and news cred­i­bil­ity. Oh, the drama. Peggy Agar, a re­porter for ABC af­fil­i­ate WXYZ, had been trail­ing Mr. Obama dur­ing a morn­ing cam­paign ap­pear­ance at a Michi­gan auto plant, de­mand­ing to know what he planned to do for Detroit au­towork­ers.

“Hold on one sec­ond, sweetie, we’re go­ing to do — we’ll do a press avail,” he said, ca­su­ally im­ply­ing that he would take care of the ques­tion dur­ing a for­mal ques­tion-and-an­swer pe­riod with other re­porters.

The promised mo­ment never hap­pened. A vexed Mrs. Agar went pub­lic with the tape and her an­noy­ance, not­ing that “this sweetie” never got a story.

By 3:16 p.m. — the ex­act time care­fully noted by WXYZ — Mr. Obama was in ma­jor mea culpa mode with his en­tire apol­ogy ei­ther broad­cast or posted on­line by the sta­tion.

“Hi, Peggy. This is Barack Obama. I’m call­ing to apol­o­gize on two fronts. One was you didn’t get your ques­tion an­swered, and I apol­o­gize. I thought that we had set up in­ter­views with all the lo­cal sta­tions. I guess we got it with your sta­tion, but you weren’t the re­porter that got the in­ter­view. And so, I broke my word,” the can­di­date said on her voice mail.

“Sec­ond apol­ogy is for us­ing the word ‘sweetie.’ That’s a bad habit of mine. I do it some­times with all kinds of peo­ple. I mean no dis­re­spect, and so I am duly chas­tened on that front. Feel free to call me back. I ex­pect that my press team will be happy to try to make it up to you when­ever we are in Detroit next,” Mr. Obama said.

Mrs. Agar — a mother of a tod­dler who nor­mally cov­ers nit­tygritty lo­cal is­sues and crime — made cameo ap­pear­ances on the evening news in the same bright suit she wore dur­ing her now in­fa­mous Obama en­counter. Ea­ger an­chors de­manded to know whether she was “shocked” and re­vis­ited the video clip.

“Frankly, I have been called worse dur­ing in­ter­views than just ‘sweetie,’ so that re­ally didn’t take me aback right then,” Mrs. Agar said.

“I felt more of­fended that he didn’t an­swer the ques­tion,” Mrs. Agar added, not­ing that she hadn’t even lis­tened to the mes­sage un­til the morn­ing of May 15.

“Now here’s a lit­tle gaffe from Barack Obama that will en­er­gize the ‘I Am Wo­man’-hum­ming folks in Hil­lary­land,” Tim Gra­ham of the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter said May 15.

“As gaffes go, this seems mild. ‘Sweetie’ is a very nice word, es­pe­cially if used with a per­son you find to be sweet, like a wife or daugh­ter or niece. It beats ‘Hold on one sec­ond, you pushy broad.’ If Obama ever said that, Hil­lary would have a party,” Mr. Gra­ham added.

Sweet­ie­gate marks the third “gate” mo­ment for Mr. Obama this spring. The law­maker’s 34-word the­ory about em­bit­tered small­town folks be­came “bit­ter­gate” last month. He also be­came the cen­ter of “waf­fle­gate” af­ter mak­ing a plea to eat his waf­fle break­fast in peace af­ter a re­porter in a Penn­syl­va­nia diner asked him a ques­tion about ter­ror­ism.

Things re­main de­cid­edly sac­cha­rine.

The “sweetie” video footage is now on YouTube, in­spir­ing more than 6,000 sto­ries and blog men­tions, ac­cord­ing to a Google News count.

Mr. Obama has a rep­u­ta­tion for flir­ta­tion on the cam­paign trail.

He has used “sweetie” on wait­resses — in­clud­ing at a diner in Robeso­nia, Pa. — on chil­dren, and even on some au­to­graph seek­ers. While tour­ing an Al­len­town, Pa., cloth­ing fac­tory last month, he grinned as fe­male work­ers swooned over him and took his photo, hug­ging some of the women and call­ing one “sweetie.”

A few min­utes later, he winked at a re­porter fol­low­ing him inside the fac­tory.

He also told dance-wear man­u­fac­turer Marisa Cerveris, a for­mer New York City Bal­let mem­ber, that he thought she looked like a dancer.

Ob­serv­ing an old photo of her on the stage, he said, “You’re gor­geous.”

“I was,” she replied, prompt­ing Mr. Obama to counter: “You still are” and to ask the crowd, “Isn’t she beau­ti­ful?”

Later that day, Mr. Obama of­fered a kiss in ex­change for a vote from Denise Mer­curi, a phar­ma­cist from Dun­more, Pa., who sup­ported Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton. She wore a “Hil­lary” cam­paign but­ton and held an Obama but­ton in her hand. As Mr. Obama greeted her, he asked what he needed to do to get her to wear his but­ton in­stead of his ri­val’s.

“What do I need to do? Do you want me on my knees?” he asked.

He then con­ceded: “I’ll give you a kiss,” and he planted one on her cheek.

In nearly all of his speeches, some­one will shout, “I love you,” prompt­ing him to grin and re­spond, “I love you back.”

Mr. Obama has fawned over New York Times colum­nist Mau­reen Dowd when she rode aboard his press plane.

The Cau­cus, a New York Times blog, had drawn close to 300 com­ments in the af­ter­math May 15 — in­clud­ing one vis­i­tor who felt that the Michi­gan “sweetie” in­ci­dent re­flected a “petty me­dia” and an­other who urged, “rise up O’ Amer­i­can sis­ters and stand up for your rights.”

Christina Bellantoni con­trib­uted to this re­port.


On hold: Re­porter Peggy Agar went pub­lic with video of Sen. Barack Obama’s gaffe.

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