Anyone who has read this blog over the past year knows I am no fan of Rick Perry. But there’s no way I would delight in what he experienced in Wednesday’s Republican debate when he forgot that the third agency he would abolish is the Energy Department. There is nothing to compare to the humiliation a person can experience when losing it on the public stage. The Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh laid out his “Rick Perry moment” in this morning’s paper.
I am no stranger to this experience. Back in 1991, at the beginning of the first Gulf War -Desert Storm – I was airing regular editorials on WCVB-TV, Channel 5. Usually we taped the editorials, which ran three times a day, right after the news. But our then-news director Emily Rooney, my friend then and now, decided that, given the significance of the wartime situation, it was important for the editorials to be broadcast live. I agreed. Early afternoon, she handed my script to the producer of the six o’clock news to input on the teleprompter. At the prescribed time, I joined the anchors on the news set.
Natalie Jacobson said, “And now, with a Channel 5 editorial is editorial director Marjorie Arons-Barron.”
“Thanks, Nat,” I said and turned toward the ‘prompter. Alas, there was nothing there. The producer had neglected to input the script. And I didn’t have within reach my own typewritten version. The seriousness of the content meant it was not a time to vamp. After seconds, which seemed like hours, I lamely turned to Natalie and mumbled something about “the content isn’t there.” She deftly acknowledged there was a technical problem and led into the network’s nightly news program.
I was mortified, and everyone knew it. Reporters and producers poured out of their cubicles to console me, telling me of their own horror stories. Jim Boyd, with his script pages getting scrambled. Jorge Quiroga caught on camera taunting Tom Ellis on location at a chemical spill. Emily sent flowers the next day. But their kindness could not eliminate the fact that my “Rick Perry moment” was a little like skating in Rockefeller Center only to look down and discover I had no clothes on.
Rick Perry is lucky. He has ways to do damage control. Witness his quite funny appearance on David Letterman’s show, outlining the top ten reasons for his brain cramp.
The next night we went at it again. Natalie led off to me, saying “If you were with us last night, you know we had technical difficulty with our editorial. Here again is Channel Five’s editorial director Marjorie Arons-Barron.”
I thanked her and added, “And Nat, after that happened, the newsroom got a call from a viewer of the previous night’s lapse who said he’d “never agreed more with the station’s editorials.” I then turned to the camera, and this time all was well. I have the tape of the editorial that wasn’t there, but in 20 years, I’ve never had the stomach to look at it. Perhaps now I will.
Meanwhile, the media should spend more time focusing on the potential impact of eliminating the departments of commerce, energy and education and less time on the stark moment of the candidate’s inability to name the third department that would face extinction.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.