"You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this?" pleaded President-Elect Trump's spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway in response to a grilling by CNN's Chris Cuomo about Trump's apparent mocking of the disabled New York Times reporter during the campaign. "He’s telling you what was in his heart. You always want to go by what comes out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart."
This may seem like original refuge, but Conway is not the first spokesperson to retreat to it.
Earl Bush was press secretary for the famously fat-tongued Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley for 18 years. Bush, too, knew the suffering of having to defend the daft and the dangerous.
“Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all," the mayor once said. "The policeman isn't there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
“They have vilified me, they have crucified me. Yes, they have even criticized me.” (His son Richard M. Daley would take this sentiment to the next level decades later when he bellowed at a press conference, "Scrutiny? Give me a break. How much scrutiny do you want to have? You go scrutinize yourself! I get scrootened every day, don't worry, from each and every one of you.")
Richard J. Daley couldn't even get it right when Bush wrote his words for him. Instead of reading a Bush line, "We shall reach greater and greater plateaus of achievement," Daley said with accidental accuracy, "We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement."
An exasperated Bush finally told reporters, "Don't print what he said. Print what he meant."
All of which would have amused Chicago's City Hall reporters more if Daley also didn't say some other things that weren't funny at all.
"A newspaper is the lowest thing there is," he once said.
Criticized by one of those filthy newspapers for engaging in the nepotism that defined the Chicago Machine, Daley said, "If a man can't put his arms around his sons and help them, then what's the world coming to?”
During racial unrest in the late 1960s, Daley said, “We have to face it: in America today the way to have fun and celebrate is to break a store window and take something. That's the way it is, today in America, and we have to accept it."
But far from accepting it, or trying to deal with it in a humane way, Daley issued his most famous statement, telling reporters what he had told his police superintendent: "Shoot to kill any arsonists … and shoot to maim and cripple anyone looting."
Leading effectively requires taking excruciating pains with one's words. And a leader who uses words recklessly is showing us what's in his heart, plainly enough.