A Second, Chance Interview With Subject Of Controversial First Lady Remarks
During the Republican National Convention last month, I traveled with Mitt Romney's campaign from Tampa, Fla., to the American Legion conference in Indianapolis.
Romney delivered a speech about foreign affairs and national security. Among the thousands of attendees from around the country, I interviewed one woman from Virginia whose quote sparked a conversation among NPR's audience and staff.
"I just — I don't like him," Bobbie Lussier said of President Obama. "Can't stand to look at him. I don't like his wife. She's far from the first lady. It's about time we get a first lady in there that acts like a first lady and looks like a first lady."
After the story aired on Morning Edition, NPR listeners started a debate on Twitter, Facebook and in the comments section at NPR.org about what Lussier meant, whether her quote indicated racism, and whether I should have broadcast the comment at all.
NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos later wrote a column about the story reflecting some of the discomfort that listeners felt. He also suggested that it was "wrong to let [Lussier's] interview run without clarifying what she meant."
Then, this Thursday morning, Romney held a much smaller campaign event at an American Legion post in Springfield, Va. A few hundred people attended. I was once again in the audience as a member of the press corps. After the speech, as I was packing up my equipment to leave, a man tapped me on the shoulder:
"You were in Indianapolis, weren't you?"
I had to think a minute.
"At the national American Legion convention," he said.
Finally it clicked. "Oh! Yes I was," I responded.
"You interviewed my wife," he said.
"Bobbie Lussier?" (I would never have remembered her name if her quote hadn't been the subject of so much dialogue. Also, the Web transcript of my earlier story misspelled her name as "Lucier" ... one peril of being a radio reporter.)
I then walked over to speak with her.
I was dumbfounded that among the hundreds of voters I've interviewed over this election season, I had somehow collided a second time, in an altogether different part of the country, with the one person who had spurred the most conversation.
Bobbie Lussier was very cordial. She knew that she had been quoted on the radio but was completely unaware of the discussion that her quote prompted.
She agreed to talk on tape with me again. Here's audio and a transcript of that conversation:
"Introduce yourself again for me. ... "
"Bobbie Lussier from Manassas, Va."
"And last time we spoke was in Indianapolis."
"Right, at the national convention."
"Do you remember what you said then?"
"A little bit."
"You said something to the effect of, you were very unhappy with the president and first lady."
"And you said she doesn't look like a first lady. ..."
"No, she doesn't. She doesn't look or act. I mean, can you imagine you know, Kennedys or the Bushes or anybody doing pushups on the floor? I mean you know. That's just not a first lady."
"A lot of people wondered if there was a racial undertone to your comments."
"No it's not. I don't care what color she is. It's just she just doesn't act and look like a first lady. I mean she's more about showing her arms off. ... I think that's very inappropriate for a lot of functions that she goes to."
"So do you mean it's an issue of modesty?"
"Yeah. It's respect and ... for being in the White House."
"Fewer sleeveless dresses, fewer pushups ..."
"They talk about more like her dresses and how she looks and stuff and her arms and whatever."
"People talked a lot about the dresses that other first ladies wore for sure."
"You look a little frustrated."
"I am. I just hope Romney wins."
"Tell me more about what it is that bothers you about the president and first lady ... in terms of their demeanor."
"You see her walking around in shorts, and you know, just real casual wear. And to me ... I mean when I go to functions I kind of dress up other than today, but you just gotta look the part."