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