How not to respond to legitimate questions

As you’ve probably heard, former aides to Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have said she suffers from migraines that could, on occasion, “incapacitate” her “for days at a time.” In response to reporters’ questions today, the right-wing congresswoman said her headaches are controlled by medication and don’t interfere with her official duties.

Reasonable people can disagree about the relevance of this story, but given the scrutiny modern presidential candidates are subjected to, if a presidential hopeful has an ailment that occasionally leaves her “incapacitated,” it’s probably fair to ask for some relevant details. Bachmann said medication has this under control, and I have no reason to believe otherwise.

At this point, I’d be inclined to move on, were it not for the way in which the Bachmann campaign responded to reporters’ inquiries today.

At at event in South Carolina, ABC’s Brian Ross asked Bachmann if her ailment ever led her to miss a congressional vote. She refused to answer. As Michael Crowley reported, matters quickly took a turn for the worse.

Ross dashed after Bachmann, repeatedly asking whether she had ever missed a House vote due to a migraine. She ignored him. Ross pursued her into a parking area behind the stage. Her aides grew alarmed. When Ross made a beeline for the white SUV waiting to carry Bachmann away, two Bachmann men pounced on him, grabbing and pushing him multiple times with what looked to me like unusual force. In fact, I have never seen a reporter treated so roughly at a campaign event, especially not a presidential one. Ross was finally able to break away and lob his question at Bachmann one more time, but she ignored him again.

Afterward, I asked Ross — a hard-nosed pro who nevertheless seemed slightly shaken — whether he’d ever been treated so roughly. “A few times,” he told me. “Mostly by mafia people.”

In general, I don’t much care about the headaches. If the condition is managed through medication, this would rank at the bottom of my list of concerns about Bachmann’s political ambitions. It’s a legitimate area of inquiry, but the candidate seems to have a perfectly reasonable answer. Fine.

What isn’t fine is roughing up a journalist because he’s asking a question the candidate doesn’t like.

As Crowley concluded, “Running for President, at least in its early retail stage, requires a willingness to answer inconvenient questions in settings more chaotic and unpredictable than the cable television interviews to which she is accustomed. The trail is a messy place, reporters will swarm you, it’s definitely not always fun — and, well, it’s enough to give even a seasoned candidate a migraine. The question raised this afternoon is whether Bachmann is ready for it.”