State Sen. Daylin Leach denies that his 15-year-old daughter, who asked a “softball question” to Hillary Clinton at a town hall meeting last week, was planted in the audience.
Though it was hardly as scabrous as Oct. 9th’s town hall debate, a town hall with Hilary Clinton that took place in Haverford last week has generated its own controversy, this time for Jewish lawmaker Daylin Leach, a state senator from Montgomery County.
At issue was a question that was asked during the town hall meeting by Leach’s 15-year-old daughter, Brennan. She said:
“Hi Madame Secretary. I’m Brennan, and I’m 15 years old. At my school, body image is a really big issue for girls my age. I see with my own eyes the damage Donald Trump does when he talks about women and how they look. As the first female president, how would you undo some of that damage and help girls understand that they are so much more than just what they look like?”
Certainly, at the very least, the question was a softball for Clinton, who has taken pains during the campaign to draw attention to Trump’s questionable view of women. But was the question planned in advance through some kind of collusion between the Clinton campaign and Sen. Leach, who supports Clinton’s candidacy?
That’s the question conservative pundits raised almost immediately afterward, particularly in light of a New York Times article that noted that Brennan’s dad, an unnamed state senator, helped her craft the question.
What followed was “a wild 72 hours,” according to Sen. Leach’s spokesperson Steve Hoenstine.
“When this conspiracy started going around the alt-right with Trump supporters, we experienced a deluge of phone calls and social media posts that were just pure hate. Vile stuff. References to prostitution and incest — a huge amount of sexual references and innuendo via tweets and emails and Facebook messages. The phone calls to our office were incessant and sort of crazed.” Many of the reactions were anti-Semitic, said Hoenstine — “too many to count.”
The media frenzy was bolstered by a Fox News segment that Megyn Kelly introduced this way: “New questions about whether the Clinton campaign may be planting questions at her events.”
She then interviewed two political strategists to ask if they thought the question was planted, and allowed them to speculate at length. What she did not do, however, was simply call Sen. Leach directly.
“No one bothered to ask us,” Hoenstine said. “Megyn Kelly asked two people to debate whether it was true. They don’t know us; we don’t know them. It was bizarre for a journalist. It’s a dereliction of duty.” He said Kelly had the responsibility to contact Sen. Leach before she issued charges against him, “at least get [his] side of this.”
CNN’s Michael Smerconish seemed to agree. Last weekend, on his show, he spoke about the hysteria that erupted after Brennan’s appearance: “The outrage and backlash overwhelmed the original story and all but obliterated its actual content, part of the endless inside politics narratives that turn the whole process into a circus. But here’s the thing: Everybody did this without ever asking the girl or her father. So I’m about to rectify that.”
Brennan was poised and unequivocal on Smerconish’s show.
She said, “In no way was I approached by Hilary’s campaign or asked to ask a question. She didn’t know I was going to ask a question. She didn’t know what I was going to say at all. It was by chance.”
Smerconish asked, “Did Dad write it for you? Did he prod you in any way?”
She replied, “Not at all. I mean, this is an issue that’s really important to me. Body image is something that’s really relevant to girls my age and when a public icon like Donald Trump is calling women fat and ugly pigs and, you know, judging them based on how they look, it really does affect us. So I wanted to write this question, I came up with it. Obviously, if you think you’re going to speak in front of the future president, you have your parents look over it and help you edit it, and I practiced it a couple of times, and he definitely helped me sort of compose myself and fix my wording, but other than that, it was my idea and I came up with it on my own.”
“The implication that she couldn’t have come up with that question herself is pretty insulting,” Hoenstine said.
The issue of women’s body image is actually something of a family concern: Sen. Leach has had a bill pending since 2009 that would require insurance companies to cover treatment for eating disorders. But Hoenstine also noted that it’s inevitable that such concerns would preoccupy Brennan, with or without a dad who was politically invested.
“A 15-year-old high school student [deals] with that reality every day at school in her social circles,” he said. “If people don’t realize that is happening, they need to get on the ball.”
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