Giuliani's Cell Phone Problem

I have had a pet peeve for a while–okay, I have a lot of pet peeves–but this one is a major faux pas in my book. I hate it when people take long phone calls when they are in the middle of a conversation with real live people. For example, have you ever taken the time to drive to a store to talk to someone in person about a product and had the sales clerk ignore you to take a call from another customer for what seems like an eternity? Well, then you will know why I was appalled when I read John Fund’s WSJ article titled, “Rude Giuliani.” It seems that Mr. Giuliani is taking lengthy phone calls from his desperate housewife during speeches — televised speeches, no less!


But there is a fly in the ointment. Even members of Mr. Giuliani’s own staff are appalled at how he handled the incident in which he answered a phone call from his wife, Judith, right in the middle of a nationally televised speech to the National Rifle Association.

What was that about? Columnist Robert Novak cites “supporters from outside the Giuliani staff” who claim that taking phone calls from his wife as been “part of his political bag of tricks all year.” But Mr. Giuliani’s deputy press secretary Jason Miller told me the NRA incident was definitely not a stunt. Instead it was a “candid and spontaneous moment” that would humanize the tough-guy former mayor with voters.

Nice try. Just in case this isn’t obviously ridiculous, Fox News commissioned a poll on the subject. It found that only 9% of Americans think a candidate should ever interrupt a speech to accept a call from his spouse.

The fact is that people inside the Giuliani campaign are appalled at the number of times their candidate has felt compelled to interrupt public appearances to take calls from his wife. The estimate from those in a position to know is that he has taken such calls more than 40 times in the middle of speeches, conferences and presentations to large donors. “If it’s a stunt, it’s not one coming from him,” says one Giuliani staffer. “It’s an ongoing problem that he won’t take advice on.”


It appears that Giuliani lacks technological etiquette but before I turn to what steps one should take to avoid this condition, let’s talk about why a former Mayor of NYC, Time Person of the Year and a presidential candidate would stoop to this unseemly behavior. First and foremost, it could be that Mr. Giuliani is afraid not to take calls from his wife. He jokingly said at a meeting once that he had to take calls from his wife as “I’ve been married three times.” He then explained, “I can’t afford to lose another one…..” It’s not so funny. Maybe he really is afraid if he does not take the calls, she will want a divorce.

We’ve probably all had friends and family members with controlling spouses who keep tabs on their husband or wife with non-stop phone calls, especially when the person is out trying to have a good time. They keep their spouse on a short leash and repeatedly call with problems, interruptions or personal information that could wait until their spouse came home. One has to wonder why a spouse would put up with this controlling behavior. In Giuliani’s case, it is especially unbecoming as it puts voters on the offensive, wondering if a man who is so easily controlled by his wife to the point of excluding the needs of those before him, will really take their needs into consideration when push comes to shove.


But let’s give Rudy the benefit of the doubt, and say that he really does love his wife and just wants to talk with her all of the time. That’s great for his love life, but where does it leave voters who want to feel that their presidential candidate will listen to them and understands how to set boundaries with others? A good leader sets boundaries, provides his undivided attention to his constituents and sets a good example of a work ethic-so answering the phone to coo with his wife is not exactly going to get him rave reviews in the leadership department.

Maybe what the press secretary says is correct-all of the phone calls are just a way to humanize him in the eyes of voters and show he is just some kind of “family man.” Well, that only goes so far and no one seems to be buying it. My money is on the first reason: that his wife is controlling and he goes along with it to keep the peace due to fear or intimidation on his part. Why else would he take 40 phone calls in the middle of speeches that are so important to his career? And if this reason is wrong, then he should prove it by heeding the wisdom of those who tell him to switch his phone to “silent.”

So now that we have looked at the whys of Mr. Giuliani taking lengthy phone calls from his wife, what type of intervention program is warranted? Blogger Adam Thierer says that if you lack technological etiquette, there are two simple rules you must follow:


(1) If you absolutely MUST take that cell phone call or answer that e-mail right away, try saying this: “Excuse me, do you mind if I do this real quick?” That would be a great first step down your path to techno-etiquette recovery.

(2) Do not EVER, under any circumstances, answer a cell phone call while you are in a restaurant, movie theater or other public establishment where relative quiet is expected. If you have to take the call, go outside.

I concur. If Mr. Giuliani wants to be the next leader of the free world, he would do well to heed this advice, for while voters can overlook a man who has had three wives and family problems, they can’t overlook is a man who looks like he’s pussy-whipped.

Are you one of those spouses who takes calls from a desperate husband or wife while in the middle of a conversation with others? If so, tell us why you are so rude. Or are you just intimidated? Or are you a lovesick puppy who just decided to leave the nest for a few minutes to catch up with others? Or if you are the recipient of this technologically inept behavior, what action do you take, if any?

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee and blogs at This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.



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