On Tuesday, Pam Bondi’s interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper provided some in the LGBT community with a sliver of smug satisfaction as they watched the Republican Attorney General squirm uncomfortably under what some must have thought was a righteous beatdown. The interview generated headlines across the internet like: “Watch Anderson Cooper destroy Florida’s Attorney General.” Other outlets described Cooper’s interview with words like, “Cooper grills,” “Cooper confronts,” “Cooper reminds,” and “Cooper berates.”
The key in all of these headlines is that Anderson Cooper is the prime mover, while Pam Bondi is on the receiving end of the smackdown.
It needn’t have been this way. For the past six years, Pam Bondi has been a champion for many of the principles conservatives hold dear, even if ultimately unsuccessful, on issues ranging from ObamaCare to gay marriage. But despite a resume steeped in conservative rhetoric, on Monday with Anderson Cooper, she looked unprepared, or perhaps worse, unconvinced of the very principles that propelled her to two terms as Florida’s top law enforcement officer.
Her first mistake, even before the appearance with CNN’s Cooper, was in issuing a statement that instantly framed the Orlando shooting not as a terrorist attack on Americans, but as an attack on the “LGBT community”, as though it were some isolated geographic region somewhere off the coast:
“Anyone who attacks our LGBT community, anyone who attacks anyone in our state, will be gone after to the fullest extent of the law.”
Anderson Cooper seized on this statement, intentionally twisting Bondi’s past defense of traditional marriage into an attack on the LGBT community:
“You’ve basically gone after gay people, said that in court: That gay people, simply by fighting for marriage equality, were trying to do harm to the people of Florida. To induce ‘public harm,’ I believe, was the term you used in court. Do you really think you’re a champion of the gay community?”
That’s what Bondi should have done, right there. Held up her hand to Anderson Cooper’s face and said, “I’m gonna have to stop you right there, Anderson, because even though we’re both emotional about these attacks, we both have a job to do. My job is to enforce the laws of Florida and do what I can to keep our citizens safe. Your job is to conduct impartial interviews and make sure you get the facts right, and you’ve already screwed up by falsely claiming I’ve gone after gay people.”
But instead of rejecting Cooper’s disingenuous framing of the issue, and in doing so, gaining control of the interview, Bondi offered a disappointing excuse for her role in the lawsuit she filed in defense of traditional marriage. It turns out she didn’t really believe in the lawsuit in the first place. Someone else argued the case, which she was obligated to file because that’s her job (or at least that’s how she came across):
“When I was sworn in as attorney general, I put my hand on the Bible and was sworn to uphold the constitution of the state of Florida. That’s what I was defending. Had nothing to do — I’ve never said I don’t like gay people. That’s ridiculous.”
From there, Cooper continued the public flogging, and Bondi was forced into more ham-handed excuses for why she “attacked” the LGBT community, which only further underscored the tactical error in accepting the narrative trope that this terrorist attack is only about the sexual preferences of the victims.
Then, Cooper attempted another rhetorical rope-a-dope, to which Bondi again fell victim:
“The hotline that you’ve been talking about on television, which allows family members and spouses of the dead to get information… had there been no gay marriage, had there been no same-sex marriage, you do realize that spouses…there would be no spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends of the dead would not be able to get information and would not be able, probably even to visit in this hospital. Isn’t there a sick irony that you, for years, were fighting that very idea?”
Watch the exchange here, and Bondi’s fumbled response:
To be fair, she did make an attempt at batting away Cooper’s false premise, by pointing out that partners who aren’t married are having trouble getting information, and that her office is helping those people anyway – regardless of their sexual preferences or marital status. But Cooper knocked that aside and again pressed her on her opposition to gay marriage.
Bondi had multiple opportunities to put Anderson Cooper in his place, but instead she chose to debate him on his terms, to answer his questions, instead of asserting herself as the state’s top law enforcement officer. By appearing on CNN in the first place, Bondi was doing him and his network a big favor. She could have easily shut down his politically charged line of questioning by telling him to stop the divisive rhetoric and focus on the facts.
She forgot one of the most important rules of doing media interviews: there is no obligation whatsoever to answer the question one is asked.
Imagine how much different the interview could have been had she simply fired back with: “Nobody bothered to ask the victims’ sexual preferences or gender identities before the police and SWAT teams rescued those hostages. You know why? Because it doesn’t really matter, does it? They are human beings, period, and we want them all rescued from the clutches of jihadist terrorism. We can disagree about sexual identity politics later. Right now, all I care about is those victims. I’m not the enemy, Anderson, radical Islamists are the enemy.” [DROP THE MIC]
That’s the point Bondi should have made, taking Cooper to task for his indignant attempt to politicize the deaths of nearly 50 people, by focusing on their sexuality, rather than on the fact that they are human beings, just as deserving of protection from Islamist terror attacks as anyone else.
Compare and contrast Bondi’s pandering with that of Governor Rick Scott’s refusal to even mention the phrase “LGBT” in his public statements since the attack. Instead, Scott is holding fast that this was a terrorist attack on American soil – on Florida soil. He steadfastly refuses to make the issue about one particular subset of the population. Of course, the LGBT community is giving him hell for it, but to Rick Scott, that’s called “Tuesday afternoon.” He’s used to it, and he knows no amount of pandering will win them over to his side.