Did Journo's Joke Cause Obama Fistbump Kerfuffle?
MIKE PESCA, host:
Hey, welcome back to the Bryant Park project from NPR News, online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. News, it happens, and when it does and everyone pays attention, we don't think of a subcategory. We just call it news. We go with it. But when it diverges and diverts, it's a whole 'nother thing. Could be news of the weird or the strange or why is this news, news? They are all viable parts of The Ramble.
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PESCA: And today, a special Ramble follow-up. For days on The Ramble, there was this story that would not die. Today, it can be put to rest, thanks to NPR's Robert Smith, via a chat he and I recorded yesterday.
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PESCA: So, a constant refrain on The Ramble the last couple days has been this story about Barack Obama and the fist bump. Apparently, some kid in Ohio said, hey, Barack, will you fist bump with me? And Barack turned away. People couldn't figure it out that was two days ago. Yesterday, the story was the media got it entirely wrong. They actually have tape of it.
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(Soundbite of kids talking)
Unidentified Child: Mr. Obama, can you sign my hand?
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): If I start that - plus Mom may not be happy when she comes home. She'll be like, what is the dirt on your hand?
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: No fist bump was offered. It was Mr. Obama, will you sign my fist? And Mr. Obama said, I don't think your mom would like that. Well, we thought the story ended there, until I was out to lunch with Robert Smith, and he was there, and from what I gleaned, you are telling me you caused this whole confusion?
ROBERT SMITH: I think that I caused the confusion. Now, you have to know, I'm an NPR reporter, and I was traveling with Barack Obama.
PESCA: And therefore, it's your job to cause confusion.
SMITH: It's my job to cause confusion, and I was on something called the pool. Now, when Barack Obama goes into a place where a thousand reporters can't fit, they pick, like, five or six people to get in these tiny rooms with him and listen to everything he says and tell everyone else about it. So, I was the radio pool. I was recording it. There's a TV guy who had a little lavaliere mic hooked to Barack Obama and a couple print guys.
SMITH: So, Barack Obama is going through this school room. He's talking to kids and joking around, and I am supposed to be quiet at this time, but I turned to the other reporters and I said, I wonder if anyone's going to give him a fist bump, because I had been making fist bump jokes, terrorist fist bump jokes, the entire time. And everyone's just like whatever, whatever. And about a minute later we see this little kid up to him with his fist out, and I'm like, look, it's going to happen, he's going to get a fist bump!
PESCA: So, you're, I think, what a psychiatrist would say, you're framing it.
SMITH: I think that I framed this thing. He's coming with this fist bump. Now, I am listening in. I have a microphone pointed at this.
PESCA: A shotgun mic? A really sensitive one?
SMITH: A shotgun mic, and the TV guy has an even better mic, but it's kind of hard to hear, it's in a big classroom, and I think I hear Barack Obama say, well, you know, I don't think so, and then I hear him say something about, your mother wouldn't like it, it would look like a smudge of dirt. And at that point in my head I'm, like, oh, he must be talking about something else.
PESCA: So, you had the mic, the TV guy had the mic, but the people who could hear this least of all were...
SMITH: Were the print press pool. What they do is they write everything out, and they send it out in email to all the other reporters. Now, what probably happened is I might have set up the idea of a fist bump. It looked like the kid was going to get a fist bump. It's a little bit confusing what Barack said. It's a little hard to hear, and then they write that it was a fist bump, and that, of course, goes out in emails to all the reporters, it goes to all the blogs, and all of a sudden, it looks like Barack Obama is turning his back on the fist bump, and he's no longer willing to do that, and he's disappointing the kid and all of this stuff.
PESCA: I think it might have been the biggest political story of that day. I'm not kidding.
SMITH: It is a sad state of affairs, but when you're on the pool, you spend so much time looking at these tiny things and saying, are they emblematic of something bigger? Like, the other big story when I was on the pool was, how long did he talk to President Bill Clinton for? Was it a 20 minute conversation? Was it a 17 minute conversation? What did they talk about? These are the things that dominate because, frankly, you are watching a guy shake people's hands, say thank you very much, sign an autograph, and you have to make it something bigger than it is. Because, otherwise, what's your job really? Watching someone say thank you, nod his head and shake people's hands.
PESCA: Yeah and you know, here's the coverage of July 1st Washington Post, "Obama Shunned the Fist Bump." New York Mag, "Barack Obama Refuses to Share Fist Bump with Little Boy." CNN, "Is Obama Ditching his Signature Fist Bump?" And then the next day, it's all, did Obama refuse fist bump? Nope. Barack Obama refuses fist bump, corrected.
SMITH: I guess I should formally apologize at this point.
PESCA: To America.
SMITH: I am supposed to be an observer of the process, I'm not supposed to interfere in anyway, but as you know, Mike Pesca, I cannot help but make little joking asides, and if my joking aside about a fist bump in some way changed the course of this election, and hence the American empire, then I am officially sorry.
PESCA: OK, thanks. Thanks, Robert.
SMITH: You're welcome.
PESCA: And let that conversation between Robert Smith and myself stand as your Ramble.
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