Better Q or No A for You!

I saw the You Tube excerpt of John Roberts, on CNN, asking Elizabeth Edwards if, in her call to Hardball to ask Ann Coulter to stop her personal attacks on John Edwards–I’m exhausted already; aren’t you? and there’s still more to come–whether or not that meant that Coulter “got” to her.

Now, Elizabeth Edwards is a supremely class act, so her reply to Roberts was a sort of indulgent, gentle reminder to the anchor man of what she had already said, about wanting to elevate the political discourse by at least requesting that the vile Coulter discuss issues and abjure personal slurs. (Yeah, right. As if. It’s like asking Yao Ming to come into the room again but, please, this time, try not to be so tall.)

Here’s what she should have said: “‘Got to’ me? What does that mean, John?”

(He: You know–blah blah. Blah. That she succeeded in blah.)

Edwards then could have explicitly addressed the fact that, yes, of course Coulter “got to” her–that’s all Coulter does; she never says anything that isn’t a smear–but that Edwards’ personal feelings are neither Coulter’s nor Roberts’ business. It was a bad question. It was a let’s-you-and-her-have-a-catfight question.

Not that Roberts is a disingenuous hack, like the shills on Fox News, or a fake-incisive preener like the braying Chris Matthews. But it would be more than swell if all Democrats–those in power, those seeking it, their wives and husbands and spokespeople, too–got in the habit of challenging the questions with which the media so regularly insult their, and our, intelligence.

Not obnoxiously. Not to put their questioner on the spot (big-time fun though that would be). But, rather, to:

1. refuse to answer disingenuous, manipulative questions

2. refuse to permit the dialogue to be defined by bogus “frames”

3. draw the public’s attention to the prevalence of numbers 1 and 2

4. insert some authenticity into what is usually an empty, useless exchange of journalistic cliches and political platitudes

5. (Your reason here.)

Readers of a certain age, or older, will remember Bernard Shaw’s question to Michael Dukakis during a presidential campaign “debate” on CNN. Shaw, who one had no reason to think was an asshole, asked something like, “Kitty Dukakis is raped and murdered. Her killer is tried and convicted. Are you saying you wouldn’t want the death penalty for him?”

Dukakis gave some dry, obedient, chucklingly unperturbed response. And the rest is history (everyone on earth voted against him–probably including his wife). But I have often thought that he actually would have won the election–that tank photo notwithstanding–if he had instead replied, “Bernie? What the fuck kind of question is that? How dare you? Suppose, for the next hypothetical, we say, ‘Bernie Shaw’s wife is raped and murdered.’ Would that be okay?”

Actually I think there was some tacit public revulsion at the question, and Shaw’s star seemed to start fading that very night.

Sure, the candidates need the press. But the press need the candidates. Is that okay? Using “press” as a plural? Believe me, if candidates for president started blowing the whistle on manipulative, stupid, or lazy questions, three things would happen in ultra-short order:

The press would ask better questions. The candidates would give better (i.e., more substantive) answers. And the viewers would, if not literally stand up and cheer, pay more attention and experience a bit less depressiveness and cynicism at the whole “process.”

The media, as we have learned to our cost since 2000, are an ass. Why let them define the exchange?

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