The networks finally notices the presidential candidacy of Libertarian Gary Johnson, when it can show him stumbling. The New York Times jumped on to his "Aleppo" flub with two left feet -- only to fall flat on its face as well.
MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle asked Johnson, “What would you do if you were elected, about Aleppo?” The city of Aleppo has certainly been in the news, although “Syria” would have been a more straightforward term and more encompassing of the whole conflict. Johnson's reply: "What is Aleppo?"
On Friday, Times reporter Alan Rappeport filed the giddily hostile “‘What Is Aleppo?’ Libertarian Presidential Candidate Asks in an Interview Stumble.” The text box was unyielding: “Gary Johnson revealed a lack of foreign policy knowledge that could hurt his campaign.” The same campaign the paper has barely acknowledged. Rappeport even suggested the flub was disqualifying, and played the unlikely role of conservative prude by bringing up Johnson's "acknowledged use of marijuana."
Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and Libertarian Party presidential nominee, revealed a surprising lack of foreign policy knowledge on Thursday that could rock his insurgent candidacy when he could not answer a basic question about the crisis in Aleppo, Syria.
(So did the reporter, Alan Rappeport, as it turned out.)
“What is Aleppo?” Mr. Johnson said when asked on MSNBC how, as president, he would address the refugee crisis in the war-torn Syrian city.
When pressed as to whether he was serious, Mr. Johnson indicated that he really was not aware of the city, which has been widely covered during the years that Syria has been engulfed in civil war. After Mike Barnicle, an MSNBC commentator who is often part of the “Morning Joe” program panel, explained that Aleppo was the center of Syria’s refugee crisis, Mr. Johnson struggled to recover.
The stumble could be a serious blow to Mr. Johnson’s campaign, just as he is making a final push to improve his standing in the polls. His support needs to reach 15 percent in a series of major national polls to be included in the presidential debates.
Some leading Republicans who oppose Mr. Trump have said openly that they are giving the Libertarian ticket a serious look. On Wednesday night, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, publicly called for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Weld to be included in the presidential debates.
The stumble could derail such hopes and it was widely mocked on social media.
On Twitter the question “What is Aleppo?” was trending, with many critics arguing that Mr. Johnson had disqualified himself from the presidency.
The Times even attacked the libertine left with social conservative language just to take another shot at Johnson, who polls suggest is sapping more votes from Hillary Clinton than from Donald Trump:
Some even attributed the flub to Mr. Johnson’s acknowledged use of marijuana. He is a proponent of legalizing the drug and he was previously the chief executive of a business that marketed and sold recreational marijuana products.
Mr. Johnson expressed disappointment about the Aleppo lapse in a brief follow-up interview that was broadcast on MSNBC and canceled some of his other scheduled interviews that had been planned for later in the day.
As for the impact the matter would have on his presidential prospects, Mr. Johnson said that would be up to the voters to decide. In a separate interview on ABC’s “The View” program, Mr. Johnson said that he was just trying to be as forthright about the situation as possible and made no excuses.
Yet in a case of karma that’s made the rounds of amused media critics, Rappeport and the Times correction staff have their own problems with geopolitics, as shown by a correction made to the online story -- followed by a correction to the correction. And unlike Johnson, they had the time and wherewithal to research the question and didn't have to answer live. (Sean Davis had an amusing take at The Federalist.)
Correction: September 8, 2016
An earlier version of this article misidentified the de facto capital of the Islamic State. It is Raqqa, in northern Syria, not Aleppo.
Correction: September 8, 2016
An earlier version of the above correction misidentified the Syrian capital as Aleppo. It is Damascus.