The fourth in a series of very lazy year end posts that, like a good clip show, celebrate our best moments of the year with absolutely no creative effort of any kind. The following article first appeared in our October 8th issue.
The Danger of Palin’s War on Journalism
By Bill Donahue
It would be fairly foolish to expect politicians to willingly give straight-forward answers that fully satisfy the questions asked by journalists. They, in their attempt to court voters, are trying with all their might to answer in such a way that is beneficial to their image and does not expose weakness. It makes sense that they would try to change the subject, answer euphemistically, or do anything else to avoid tough questions. This is a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.
But for politicians to vocally and repeatedly assert their right to ignore questions on subjects they don’t wish to discuss is a dangerous development in recent American presidential politics. For candidates to attribute their inability to answer policy questions that they should know to “gotcha journalism,” to turn their shortcomings into a scheme by the media is an affront to everything a modern press is supposed to stand for. While both campaigns are certainly guilty of being evasive and of pushing their own agendas at the cost of substantive answers, it is the McCain-Palin camp that has increasingly resorted to strategies that aim to discredit journalists.
During a September 29th interview with CBS News, Katie Couric asked the Republican candidates a question regarding the discrepancy between their previous statements on cross border raids into Pakistan. McCain had criticized Democratic nominee Barack Obama for publicly stating that he would attack targets in Pakistani territory, but during a public appearance, Sarah Palin was quoted as saying that she too was in favor of strikes across the border in response to a voter’s question. Though it was certainly legitimate for Couric to ask for an explanation on a perceived inconsistency, Senator McCain quickly termed the gaffe a “gotcha soundbite” in which Palin was a victim. When asked what the situation had taught her, Palin responded that “this is all really about gotcha journalism, but that’s ok.”
There is something truly terrifying about what is going on here. In a presidential election, it is the role of the press to grill these candidates for all of us. If the possible future vice president (and given the age of McCain, president) thinks that global warming is not man made, or thinks that the health care crisis in this country can be solved with a $5,000 tax credit, or isn’t knowledgeable in important areas of foreign policy, it is the duty of the media to let the electorate know this. Just because Sarah Palin was unable to answer tough questions posed to her by Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric or a voter in a restaurant, does not expose “gotcha” questioning, or a scheme by journalists to make her look bad. It makes clear her ineptitude.
It was during the October 2nd vice presidential debate that Gov. Palin most clearly enunciated the idea that she, not an interviewer, journalist, or moderator, would choose what she would speak about. Several times throughout the night, she refused to talk on the topic provided by moderator Gwen Ifill, returning instead to subjects she preferred or attacks on Senator Obama. After failing to answer questions about her running mate’s stances on both healthcare and business deregulation, she boldly stated, “And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people.”
On October 3rd, in an interview with Fox News’ Carl Cameron, the VP candidate explained how she felt about her two previous interviews with Couric. Palin explained that she was “annoyed” after the interviews. Couric, one of those “gotcha” journalists, had been asking her the wrong questions; she had “missed her chance,” despite the fact that the CBS anchor had asked her tough questions on most of the major issues of the campaign. The governor had this to say about the interviews: “No matter what you say, you’re gonna get clobbered. If you choose to answer a question you’re gonna get clobbered on the answer, if you choose to try and pivot and go onto another subject that you think Americans want to hear about, you get clobbered for that too.”
The line of logic behind Gov. Palin’s debate evasions and comments about the Couric interview is, to put it bluntly, absurd. If she wanted to speak directly to the American people and not follow the format of a moderator, a structured debate was probably not the best place to do so. The point of a debate is for the audience to hear how a candidate responds to questions posed by a third party. Gov Palin wanted to give a speech.
But to take exception with getting slammed for “pivoting and going onto another subject” is truly shocking. It makes clear one of two things:
1. Palin lacks a basic understanding of what an interview entails.
2. Palin thinks she’s found a pretty nifty way to deal with those annoying journalists.
Or maybe its both.