“Refusing Gotcha Questions”

By Guest Columnist Jun 11, 2007

From the Daily Kos’s MissLaura:

In last Sunday night’s debate, Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates to raise their hands if they supported making English the official language of the United States. Only Mike Gravel raised his hand. Then Barack Obama spoke up: OBAMA: Can I just make a point, though? BLITZER: All right. OBAMA: I have to say that that kind of question… (APPLAUSE) BLITZER: All right, hold on. OBAMA: … this is the kind of question that is designed precisely to divide us. You know, you’re right. Everybody is going to learn to speak English if they live in this country. The issue is not whether or not future generations of immigrants are going to learn English. The question is: How can we come up with both a legal, sensible immigration policy? OBAMA: And when we get distracted by those kinds of questions, I think we do a disservice to the American people. A week earlier, I had seen Obama do something similar at a press availability, where more than once he refused to allow himself to be trapped by the framing of a stupid question or a gotcha question from a reporter. Rather than evading the questions by resorting to talking points, he would take a step back and question the legitimacy of the question itself. For instance, asked the common question about when he will speak more concretely and in greater detail about issues and propose specific policies, he noted that he had given a detailed speech on energy policy to the Detroit Economic Club earlier in the month, which had garnered little press. When, he asked the reporter, would his policy statements be covered? Did he just need to keep repeating himself until it seeped into the coverage of his campaign? Saying this, he did not appear defensive or to be evading the question. He was calmly, firmly, turning it back on them, refusing lazy journalism. While candidates have to be careful not to appear to whine about the coverage they receive, watching a top-tier candidate refuse to play this game is refreshing. And, in the debate, Obama’s rejection of the English as the national language question appeared to pave the way for Hillary Clinton’s similar rejection of a later question. The traditional media needs to hear when they’re engaging in false equivalences, setting up binaries where the world is not binary, or failing to check facts. It’s not even necessarily a question of ideological bias. Sometimes it’s just a matter of lazy and/or stupid. They hear about it from bloggers all the time. It’s good to see the candidates also doing so, firmly and publicly.