How to handle hecklers

By Eric Boehlert
January 21, 2004 9:00PM (UTC)
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Congratulations Dale Ungerer, Iowa retiree. You're responsible for Howard Dean's dismal third place showing in Iowa. At least that's what some pundits are saying.

Ungerer is the card-carrying Republican who, just days before the caucuses, stood up at a town hall-style meeting and lectured Dean on being "pompous" and too hard on President Bush. Dean answered him, but Ungerer continued his harangue. When Dean told the retiree to "sit down," his supporters cheered and Ungerer scurried out with a large press contingent in tow, anxious to detail the mysterious man who had tapped into Dean's much-talked about anger.


This morning in the Wall Street Journal, both John Harwood and Fred Barnes pointed to the Ungerer episode as a telling example of how Dean turned off Iowa voters. Harwood called Dean's action's "graceless," while GOP-friendly columnist Barnes insisted candidates Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards or Rep. Dick Gephardt might have simply ignored Ungerer's outburst. Interestingly, Barnes didn't mention Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark, although a nearly identical episode happened to him recently; a Bush supporter lectured Clark, and Clark told him to sit down and be quiet. The press never made a peep though, because there is no established narrative about Clark being "angry." The anecdote was of no use to the political press corps.

Nonetheless, here's a warning for Democratic candidates: If a Republican partisan stands up at one of your events and starts to lecture you, turn the other cheek and let him ramble on. The etiquette police in the press may be watching.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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