Friday, August 19, 2011

Why should we respect politicians who don't answer the questions they are asked?


Among the many things wrong with how the media covers politics is the way they so often give up on fairly simple "yes or no" / "A or B" type questions when their first attempt to get a straight answer from a politician is batted aside.

Recently, CNN's Wolf Blitzer was interviewing Nikki Haley, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, about the current field of contenders for the GOP presidential nomination. One of the questions was about the "disagreement" between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on whether or not climate change is man made.

Apparent front-runner Mitt Romney believes the world is getting warmer and that humans contribute to the pattern. Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday called that "a scientific theory that has not been proven."

Okay, Perry doesn't like science. He knows this view will appeal to a lot of idiots who also call themselves Republicans. I don't care.

But when Governor Haley was asked which side of this debate she came down on, she did what many politicians, of all stripes, do all too often. The way she answered was to say something like "what Americans really care about are jobs."

I know why she avoided the question. Giving a direct answer would have perhaps suggested support for either Romney or Perry, and she's not ready to go there. I don't even know if she has a stated opinion on the matter, which, if she did, would only make her answer more foolish.

It is well known that politicians are trained to say whatever they want to say no matter what question is asked. It even has a name. It's called "message discipline." I'm not sure, though, why any self-respecting journalist would embarrass himself by having a direct question ignored.

Think about how you'd feel if in the real world you asked someone what time it was and they answered by saying that it was supposed to rain this afternoon. Welcome to the world of politics.

Perversely, we even consider good message discipline to be the mark of a talented politician and the approach of answering questions too directly the sign of a political neophyte.

When Haley dodged the question, Blizter should have quickly said, "would you mind answering my question?" And then, every time she failed to answer, he should have stopped and respectfully asked that she try again.

I think we could even give this approach a name. It would be called "question discipline." Whenever a politician came on an interview program they would be told what to expect, that they answer direct questions or the interview would not move on.

I know some in the media already do this, but not nearly enough.

I also know I'm dreaming and that this will never happen, but our political discourse would be better if it did. And the only way it will ever change is if journalists start doing their jobs differently.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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3 Comments:

  • That's EXACTLY why the majority of hard working American's don't trust politician's. They never answer direct questions (stand up for their beliefs), and God forbid they do what they promise to do. If just one of them would voice their honest opinions and stand firm on them, the American people would stand behind that person and vote. It's simply a game to them. It'll make them richer as long as they stay neutral, while We, The People are suffering every day. It's simple... the filthy rich politicians pay the very rich one's to vote for whatever they want. Look at the direction our country has gone in the last couple of decades. Why don't we have ONE political party? The AMERICAN Party? EVERYONE SHOULD WORK TOGETHER to fix this mess!! And don't answer me with a question. WHY CAN'T WE WORK TOGETHER?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:05 PM  

  • I am anonymous and I stand by every word! By the way... my name is Cindy
    I notice below this "Leave your comment" block it says,

    "Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author".

    It's GOT to be a politician that's moderating this. I bet you can't guess how I knew that... YIP! Why would an honest opinion need to be moderated. I think they call it freedom of speech.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 PM  

  • I'm eighteen years old, and i really would like to know, why i should respect politicians who lie and steal and who only have their own interest at heart. Why should i be pleased to shake the hand of serpents? as i see many of my peers are.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:50 PM  

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