Wednesday, May 26, 2010

George Harris On "Gotcha" Journalism And If It Is Fair

If you pay any attention to conservatives, a growing trend is to avoid what they call the "mainstream media," because of a belief that their questions are biased, intended to elicit a specific response to make the answerer look unfavorable. This is what people like Sarah Palin call "gotcha" journalism.

I came across this article on Midwest Voices by George Harris that made an interesting point. Harris points to various journalistic events and asks if the questions asked would be considered "gotcha" questions. "What is an unfair question," asks Harris.
Was it a gotcha question when presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was asked how he’d react if his wife Kitty were raped, and he sounded like a robot. Was it a gotcha question when vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle was asked what he would do first in the event he became president, and he looked like a deer in the headlights praying the truck wouldn't run him over?

Would it be a gotcha question if Maddow had asked Dr. Rand Paul, an opthamologist, if he thought the government was meddling by requiring medical doctors to be licensed? I mean, shouldn’t everybody with means to buy laser be entitled to perform eye surgeries without some government busybody interfering?

Many so-called “gotcha” questions have an agenda, an underlying belief. They are not neutral, information seeking questions. Maddow clearly believes that civil rights protections are a good thing and that Rand Paul’s libertarian philosophy would harm minorities. Maddow sought to expose Paul's belief, and what's wrong with that?

Katy Couric apparently believed that Sarah Palin wasn’t very well read and that presidents should be well informed, so she asked Palin about her reading habits.

So we know that Sarah Palin doesn't read much. She'd better read the next book she's writing; it'll be embarrassing when she can't answer a question about what she wrote. And The Dan Quayle and Michael Dukakis gotcha questions, I think, revealed important information about the candidates.

For my money, in these days when candidates hide as much as possible from tough interviews, every opportunity to ask tough questions is good. The interviews I dislike are the ones that don’t allow the subject time to answer. The Chris Matthews show Hardball often has this problem. Bill O'Reilly's interviews are often Bill lecturing on his positions. He's such a bully that nobody brings up his sordid sexual harassment history anymore, which amazes me.

But generally I think politicians shouldn’t whine about journalists who ask probing, even biased questions.
Harris' statements are well put. While the person answering these questions may feel they are getting put on the spot and are at an unfair advantage, their responses, or avoidance of the media, can tell a lot. We found out that Palin doesn't read and Dan Quayle never thought more about his role as vice-president. I only wish Harris would have mentioned Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson, where Gibson asked probing but important questions of the candidate, which Palin later labeled as "gotcha" questions - I never realized the question "What do you think of the Bush Doctrine?" was nothing more then a trick...

The McCain campaign tucked Palin away from all the tough network questioning, believing interviews to be unimportant, despite the fact that the two of them were running for the top elected position in the nation.  Americans had a right to know where the candidate stood on her positions.

“She's a smart, tough politician,” Biden told Tom Brokaw in a “Meet the Press” interview live from Wilmington, Del. “So I think she's going to be formidable. Eventually, she's going to have to sit in front of you like I'm doing and have done. Eventually, she's going to have to answer questions and not be sequestered. Eventually, she's going to have to answer on the record.”

Now that Palin went on the record, and made it known that she has no clue as to what she is talking about, she has shied away from interviews unless they are with her corporate masters, Fox News, or at speaking engagements where she bans the media from attending...

I think it is best for candidates to answer these questions honestly. Rand Paul made a statement, and then backed off, making him look duplicitous and unprincipled - like Palin. Candidates need to answer questions and explain their positions instead of trying to play it safe all the time, or in Palin's case, refusing to even come out to play...

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