The clip above comes from How's Your News: Election 2012, the latest film from this traveling group of people with disabilities who report on various events. We posted about the movie last week, but this scene bears its own examination as it is a literal illustration of the way that people with disabilities are ignored in this country, especially by grandstanding politicians. It's particularly important for showing the resulting frustration: Jeremy Vest (who has Williams Syndrome) actually calls out to Bachmann, "What's your problem?"
Early in the clip, we see footage from the day before Vest's attempt, when Bachmann engaged with another HYN reporter Bobby Bird. I asked Arthur Bradford, who's directed this and every other How's Your News movie/show/special, if there was something missing from the film—if, in fact, Bachmann did talk to them that day, as she claimed to Vest. Here is what he said in an email:
She made herself very available to the media and each time we saw her we approached for an interview. She was always open to hugging the [HYN] reporters or squeezing their cheeks, as you see in the clip with Bobby, but whenever we tried to ask her a question she acted as if that was an unreasonable request. Her handlers shuffled her away and we'd find her talking to some blogger across the hall. Her statement that she had "talked to us before" was kind of true, but also seems to me disingenuous. We wanted to be treated like reporters, not children. I fully understand that someone like Michele Bachmann gets approached by many people, some with the intention of hassling her or making her look bad, and I don't blame her for being cautious. But we gave her every opportunity to see that we weren't taking that angle. Any politician that takes the time to speak with us in a genuine manner will most often come across in a positive light. For someone who claims to be a champion of the disabled community, I found Bachman's attitude, and that of her handler, disappointing.
For as much as How's Your News films are about its reporters (whose numbers, by the way, are down from five to three, after the 2010 death of Ronnie Simonsen and the 2011 death of Larry Perry) and how hilarious and charismatic they are, the moves are also very much about people's reactions to the reporters. Bobby Bird is particularly revealing — his speech is rarely intelligible and watching people like Mitt Romney attempting to figure out how to react is a terrific Rorschach not just for these people's kindness but also their quickness on their feet.
Some people come off looking terrible in this movie — Condoleezza Rice refuses a picture but thanks Susan "Obama Mama" Harrington "for working" as she hurries past. Some end up redeeming themselves — Barney Frank initially ignores the group and but then ends up having a conversation about tolerance with Vest. You get a sense from a lot of these politicians that they'd rather turn a blind eye but then realize the implications of doing so in this age of surveillance, that any perceived slip-up could mean nationwide ridicule via viral video.
I asked Bradford about the overall treatment of his group at both conventions. "In general I'd say the 'handlers' took their job of protecting their politicians a little too far," he wrote. "A convention is a media event and politicians shouldn't act like they are being tasked with something unreasonable when a person with a disability asks for 30 seconds of their time."