On "Fox News Sunday," Chris Wallace asked Michele Bachmann "Are you a flake?," prompting a backlash that forced Wallace to apologize:
Some commentators have suggested that Wallace's question was sexist. I agree that "flake" is a pejorative term that seems to be disproportionately applied to women, but it's worth noting that in presidential politics the term has mostly been directed at men.*
Most famously, former California governor and presidential candidate Jerry Brown was labeled as a "flake" throughout his political career and even asked the same question Bachmann. According to a February 21, 1989 column by Charles Paul Freund in the Washington Post, Brown was once asked "Are you a flake?" on MacNeil/Lehrer. A quick Nexis search shows that many other presidential candidates have been derided as flakes, including Texas businessman Ross Perot, former Floria governor Bob Graham, Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich, Republican gadfly Alan Keyes, magazine publisher Steve Forbes, and former Illinois senator Carol Moseley-Braun. In terms of presidential candidates, the term is typically used to either mean personally eccentric (Graham, Perot) or a non-serious candidate who is unlikely to win (Forbes, Moseley-Braun) and/or has fringe/extreme views (Kucinich, Keyes).
Ultimately, however, the most important problem with Wallace's question is not the gender politics, but the journalism. As Conor Friedersdorf argued, if Wallace wants to press Bachmann on whether she's a "serious person" or someone who makes "questionable statements," his question did a terrible job of forcing her to engage on specifics. Instead, it allowed her to reiterate her credentials without addressing her long record of false and misleading statements.
* Of course, until recently, almost all presidential candidates were men. It remains to be seen how this pattern will change as more women become serious contenders.