MSNBC's Matthews, NY Times' Seelye pondered whether Biden will "help" Palin "with her chair" at debate

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

MSNBC's Chris Matthews and The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye asked whether Sen. Joe Biden will "help" Gov. Sarah Palin "with her chair" at the beginning of the vice-presidential debate. The question is one that presumably would not be asked if the two candidates were the same gender, and the premise of the question itself is false, as the debate format rules state that Biden and Palin will be "standing at podiums" -- a fact Seelye later acknowledged.

During the October 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, while discussing the upcoming October 2 vice-presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, host Chris Matthews asked if it would be appropriate at the start of the debate for Sen. Joe Biden to "dare reach over and help" Gov. Sarah Palin "with her chair." In addition, on October 2, New York Times reporter Katharine Q. Seelye asked on the Times blog The Caucus, "Will Mr. Biden help Ms. Palin with her chair?" The question is one that presumably would not be asked if the two candidates were the same gender. In addition, the premise of the question itself is false; according to the debate format rules on the Commission on Presidential Debates website, Biden and Palin will be "standing at podiums," a fact Seelye later acknowledged in an update to her post.

During Hardball, Matthews said: "Here's a great question. It's not in the Brooks Brothers' book of etiquette. I'll ask you, Michelle, but here's the question. As they're sitting down -- it's going to be a sit-down debate -- and she's having trouble with her chair -- you know how people sit down, they have to pull them in." After Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women's Forum, said "Yes," Matthews continued: "Does he dare reach over and help her? I gotta go to [Salon.com editor-in-chief] Joan [Walsh] with this one. Does he dare reach over, instinctively, or well-trained, or whatever, and help her with her chair from behind?"

In a blog post titled "The V.P. Debate: What to Watch for," Seelye listed "some things we'll be watching for," including: "How do Ms. Palin and Mr. Biden greet each other on stage?" She continued:

"This is a sit-down debate. Will Mr. Biden help Ms. Palin with her chair? If Mr. Biden does not make some gentlemanly gesture, it may be a tip-off that he's preparing mentally to clobber her. Or maybe he'll just be recalling the observation from Chairman Mao, that a revolution is not a dinner party."

Seelye has since updated her post to read:

We were mistaken and reported earlier in this space that the debate would be a sit-down affair, which is something the McCain camp wanted because the more intimate setting might have made it harder for Mr. Biden to attack Ms. Palin. But it turns out the two will be standing at separate lecterns.

[...]

The stand-up format avoids the awkward moment that could arise if the two were seated and Mr. Biden had to decide whether to pull out Ms. Palin's chair for her, a gesture that could in this context appear patronizing.

From the October 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Here's a great question. It's not in the Brooks Brothers' book of etiquette. I'll ask you, Michelle, but here's the question. As they're sitting down -- it's going to be a sit-down debate -- and she's having trouble with her chair -- you know how people sit down, they have to pull them in --

BERNARD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- does he dare reach over and help her? I gotta go to Joan with this one. Does he dare reach over, instinctively, or well-trained, or whatever, and help her with her chair from behind? Or is that kind of --

WALSH: Hey, I get two --

MATTHEWS: No, I want to know.

WALSH: I get two hard questions and --

BERNARD: No --

WALSH: I get two hard questions in a row? I think he helps her. What do you think, Michelle?

BERNARD: I think he helps her. There's absolutely no reason not to do so, and she's not somebody who's going to complain or think that she's been assaulted --

MATTHEWS: Right.

BERNARD: -- because he's being chivalrous.

MATTHEWS: Suppose she pulls that number and helps him with his chair?

BERNARD: She'll get the laugh of the night, yeah.

WALSH: Because he's so old? He's old, you know.

MATTHEWS: Oh, you are tough. You are tough. He did -- she did say that she's been listening to his speeches since 1972 --

WALSH: Nice -- that was a nice one.

MATTHEWS: -- when I believe she was in second grade.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Gender, Elections
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, The New York Times
Person
Chris Matthews, Katharine Q. Seelye
Show/Publication
Hardball, The Caucus
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Joe Biden, 2008 Elections
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