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Stockdale Cites Unfamiliarity With Hearing Aid Controls

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Why, in the middle of a nationally televised debate with the White House at stake, would retired Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale have turned down his hearing aid?

Well, as it turns out, he didn’t mean to, Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate now says.

His problem was that he had only begun wearing a hearing aid a couple weeks before the debate and was unfamiliar with the controls, Stockdale explained in an interview with The Times.

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“I’m still, you know, adjusting. I’m not accustomed to it,” Stockdale said. “Sometimes I have it too loud, sometimes too soft.

“It was just that I wanted to get a little more volume, and I said I had it turned down.”

The incident occurred when moderator Hal Bruno of ABC News was querying candidates Stockdale, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore and Vice President Dan Quayle about the personal, negative attacks during the campaign. “Are these tactics really necessary?” asked Bruno.

“Adm. Stockdale, it’s your turn to go first.”

Replied Stockdale: “You know, I didn’t have my hearing aid turned up, tell me again.”

The thought of a candidate turning off his hearing aid during a crucial appearance before 76 million viewers--and the lack of a further explanation--has led to a flurry of jokes and public questions since the Oct. 13 debate. Opponents of the Perot-Stockdale ticket have made fun of Stockdale’s remark, the latest being comedian Paula Poundstone, who referred to the candidate as “Mr. I Turned Down My Hearing Aid” at a Clinton for President event in California.

Stockdale, on the other hand, says that many voters might look with favor upon the idea of his tuning out during the volley of loud, vitriolic exchanges between Quayle and Gore.

“That would be better press,” Stockdale said. “That would make me a wise guy. Now I’m looking stupid.”

Stockdale, 68, attributes his hearing problems to his 15 years of service in military fighter planes from 1949 until he was shot down while leading the first bombing attack against North Vietnam in 1964. He said he had no compunctions about wearing the hearing aid in public because “I know what I look like, and I can’t do much about it.”


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