by David Safier
For people who like drinking games, I have a new one for you. Watch Huppenthal's complete 30 minute press conference and take a sip every time you hear the words "hurtful," "renounce," "repudiate," "apologize," "love" and "heart." Only a sip, mind. Otherwise you won't make it past the first five minutes. And be sure to have a designated driver on hand, because you players won't be able to walk, let alone drive by the time the presser is over.
I must have read a dozen articles about Huppenthal's tearful Wednesday press conference. They reported the event accurately, but they didn't convey Huppenthal's carefully conceived strategy. If you watch the whole thing, with or without libation, here's what you'll see.
Huppenthal had a few memorized statements about his blog comments he repeated throughout the press conference. His comments were hurtful. He apologizes for them. He repudiates them. He renounces them. They don't reflect what is in his mind or the love that is in his heart. That's it, over and over. The rest was him praising the wonderful work he's done as Ed Supe.
Only once did Huppenthal's carefully built facade crumble, but before he could say anything that might have genuinely come from the heart — and therefore might have been hurtful to his career — he teared up, an official said, "All right, guys, we're gonna cut it off," and it was over. That was the potentially genuine moment, the golden moment when Huppenthal might have revealed what he really felt, kind of like he did in those "hurtful blog comments" of his. But it never happened, because he walked out.
If one statement sums up the entire presser, this is it.
"I'm here to apologize for my hurtful blog comments, but also, we have an incredible body of work over the last three-and-a-half years. It's a solid, solid body of work."
This is a sampling of what Huppenthal said when he wasn't going through his hurtful/apologize/repudiate/renounce/love/heart mantra.
"I came from poverty. Education saved my life. A public school teacher saved my life."
"My entire public policy life has been dedicated to rescuing people who face challenges in life."
"I believe all of us are children of God, and that we are all created equal."
"I have been relentless about how do you create that opportunity."
"We, to an extent that people can never fully grasp, are turning ourselves inside out to be servants . . ."
"You can't believe the amount of time we spent working on improving students' English."
"We've fashioned one of the, if not the nation's leading English Language Learner program."
"We are doing incredible things in this agency, and I'll just go through a few of them . . ."
Here's a transcript of Huppenthal's last comments where his measured, distanced, self-serving presentation fell to pieces. It began with stutters and stumbles, then attempted a recovery, and ended with the final meltdown.
A reporter asked Huppenthal how his blog comments affected his staff. After a repetitive non-answer, the reporter said,
"My question was simply, What do you say to your Latino staff if they were offended by your comments?"
Huppenthal tried to find his way back to his pre-packaged statements.
"The, the, the, the answer is, the same thing that I'm doing here. I am here today to apologize for my hurtful blog comments, and I have apologized to my staff too, because as I said, all of my actions need to bring honor to the work teachers are doing every day, for teachers in the classroom, and my actions need to bring honor to the employees of this agency."
A reporter followed by asking if Huppenthal understood how his comments hurt people. Huppenthal replied,
"The question is, understanding that hurtfulness. That hurtfulness is a number of ways. It's um, um, it is in all variety of ways. I've thought about it deeply, um, um, especially given my comments about bringing honor to the system. Obviously, my hurtful blog comments didn't do that. And we can imagine the emotional impact. I've talked to people, um, y'know, who have, who have been hurt by the hour. Um, the person I feel most, y'know, to the point of my own tears, is my assistant Merle [Bianchi]. She's been with me, for . . .
There was a long pause, then a very quiet follow up question from the reporter.
"Did you hurt her, do you know?"
Huppenthal stood perfectly still for 15 seconds, then looked down, closed his eyes and wiped away tears.
An official said, "All right, guys, we're gonna cut it off." Huppenthal walked out of the room.