Matt Flegenheimer Is Not Amused: NY Times Reporter Rolls Eyes at Jeb’s Dry Wit

December 26th, 2015 7:25 PM

In Saturday’s New York Times, reporter Matt Flegenheimer took a hostile tone in an ostensibly light-hearted story about Jeb Bush’s surprising reserves of humor in Saturday’s “Bush Camp Suggests (Very) Secret Weapon: Its Candidate Is Funny.” Turns out Jeb! has a decent line in dry wit, but the Times resolutely refused to be amused by the struggling Republican candidate: “Who says @JebBush doesn’t have a sense of humor!” his top adviser, Sally Bradshaw, asked on Twitter....The list is long: allies, foes, former aides."

The hints of irreverence can be traced to a private meeting in Coral Gables, Fla., with the soon-to-be presidential candidate and his rapper acquaintance.

Jeb Bush had grown fond of Pitbull, the Miami performer gone global, who seemed to share his zeal for education policy. But Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, had a question: Why the stage name? The artist replied that a friend had suggested it years ago while they were en route to a pit-bull fight.

“Well,” Mr. Bush replied at their meeting early this year, “good thing you weren’t on the way to a cockfight.”

As his campaign has struggled to rejuvenate a languishing bid, some close to him have suggested the existence of a (very) secret weapon: It is at least possible that Jeb Bush is funny.

Oddly for a paper that relishes liberal “nuance,” Flegenheimer mocks Bush for being too subtle in his wit:

He is a candidate so dry that flights of wit can become indistinguishable from a sober default setting.

“Irony doesn’t work,” he said last month aboard his bus in New Hampshire, “in the world of digitized campaigning.”

Playful misfires have included an observation that the star of the new “Supergirl” television show “looked pretty hot” and a quickly abandoned groaner, in one Republican debate, about a town in Iowa with a curious name.


For months, Mr. Bush’s aides have strained to highlight his humor, ever hopeful that it might lend a bit of verve to his self-serious reputation. (Mr. Bush does not make their task easy: He is perhaps the only presidential hopeful to use the phrase “actuarially sound” while trying to charm an Iowa audience.)

His team has posted videos of the candidate musing on the “Sharknado” films and struggling to pull a hooded sweatshirt over his face, labeling the clips #JebNoFilter. Staff members cheered a faux striptease at campaign headquarters when Mr. Bush dispensed with a smart white button-down to reveal a “Reagan-Bush ’84” campaign shirt underneath.


“Who says @JebBush doesn’t have a sense of humor!” his top adviser, Sally Bradshaw, asked on Twitter, sharing the article about her boss’s index finger.

The list is long: allies, foes, former aides.


Largely spared the rituals of retail politics since his re-election as Florida’s governor in 2002, Mr. Bush can have difficulty making his references connect, occasionally losing himself in an analogy.

“What’s the expression?” he asked a New Hampshire audience in September, describing his hard-charging overhauls in Florida. “I’m the bacon in the breakfast experience, not the egg?”

Alas, that was not the expression, at least not one any voters seemed to recognize.


In certain settings, though, Mr. Bush has displayed a disarming irreverence. He has eagerly related the Pitbull conversation to friends and donors. (Pitbull, describing the interaction to Howard Stern in May, rated Mr. Bush’s humor as “pretty slick.”)

Two weeks ago, Flegenheimer took pains to portray the Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz as an unlikeable, socially awkward “bomb-thrower” ideologue on the Times front page and compared Cruz to George Wallace on December 21.