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Meg Whitman Week -- Monday: Meg Actually Gives an Interview

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First I wondered why Meg Whitman announced that she was running for Governor of California two years before the election. Then I wondered why she wasn't giving any interviews. But now it all makes sense: She wants us to have plenty of time to not get to know her.

It's not just journalists she's ducking. She won't even talk to other Republicans. The other two GOP hopefuls, Tom Campbell and Steve Poizner, offered to debate next week's ballot propositions, but Whitman declined.

(Maybe a debate is asking too much. Maybe it's enough that she's voting this year. She doesn't always do that.)

But not giving interviews seems... weird.

As Poizner's campaign points out:

"Meg's refusal to debate Campbell and Poizner is part of a pattern. Meg Whitman is doing her best to avoid the press and questions from the public. She is only attending private events or ones which are carefully scripted and, if questions are even allowed, they are written and pre-screened in advance."

She's sort of the political equivalent of Angelyne, the weird old blonde lady who circles LA in the pink Corvette and no one knows why she's famous or what she wants. The difference between Meg Whitman and Angelyne is it's kind of fun when you see Angelyne.

Whitman gave two disastrous interviews back in February, to the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and then went so silent you didn't know if she was running for governor or having John Edwards' lovechild.

But now she's back in the ring. This time, though, they're bringing her up slow, and she's only fighting bums and tomato cans. On Wednesday, Fox's Neil "Smart Like Prosciutto" Cavuto. On Friday, talk radio's Hugh "Which One Are Hugh Again" Hewitt.

These are not tough interviews for a Republican.

Meg Whitman has spent her life in fairly high profile business positions. There's evidence that she's spoken to groups. So why is she only engaging in interviews that are the journalistic version of pity sex?

The answer, I think, has a lot to do with Caroline Kennedy and her botched New York Times interview, the one where she said "you know" too much, and the Times didn't clean it up.

The answer is that Meg Whitman can't stop saying "actually."

In her sit-down with Cavuto, Whitman told him things in California where "far worse, actually, even than nationally." She said there was "actually some small rationale" for closing tax shelters and that she could reach minority voters because, "I actually think through talking about jobs and the economy."

Which wasn't so bad. But on Hugh Hewitt she explained that her hometown was actually Cold Spring Harbor, her parents actually met as children in Boston, (Their families were friends actually) and her uncle was actually killed in the Philippines. She actually went to Princeton for women's sports. She sat beside a guy at Harvard Business who actually fought in the Vietnam War. Her husband was actually a friend of her older sister's, who was actually a PhD.

One of the first products she launched at Procter and Gamble was actually Ivory Shampoo. Then she got the chance to work for Bain & Co. and actually moved to L.A. for four years where she decided to actually join the Presbyterian Church.

Mitt Romney was actually her first boss at Bain.

Then she actually started Hyperion Press for Disney and reorganized FTD florists, which was very challenging, because member-owned associations actually exist for different reasons than for profit companies. She learned a lot because it was the first time she was actually a CEO. It also got her interested in the Internet because she actually experimented with FTD.com.

Then she went back east, and that's how she ended up actually at Stride Rite. Luckily, her husband was actually loving being back in Boston.

And all this business experience is applicable to governing because actually you have to focus and actually ask: "What is the most important thing?"

Does Meg Whitman actually have nails in her head?

Fowler says using the word "actually" all the time is "a phenomenon perhaps more suitable for the psychologist than for the philologist." He puts "actually" in the same category of useless words as "you know" and adds, trying to remain calm, that "any meaning they had ever had was soon rubbed off them, and they had become noises automatically produced."

I think "actually" is even more politically off-putting than "you know" because "you know" can sound vaguely apologetic but "actually" sounds like you're talking to either an imbecile who doesn't get distinctions at all, or a hayseed who might be amazed by practically anything.

It makes you dislike her, actually.

The interviews also reminded me of a certain out-of-her-depth Alaskan Governor. And how precarious it got whenever a question didn't directly prompt a sound bite from a list she'd studied. Here's my favorite exchange from the Hewitt interview and you can go listen to it yourself, if you think I'm making it up:

HH: Are you a newspaper reader?

MW: I am a newspaper reader, actually.

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