Saturday, May 21, 2005

"Hypothetical," my butt. Part 1.

Back here, when we were discussing filibusters (well, OK, when I was discussing filibusters and you got to comment), there came up the subject of the dreaded "hypothetical question," which I think is just the opportunity I need to point out what a complete, crock of weasel shit that whole concept is. So, where to begin?

Let's first understand one indisputable fact. When it comes to things like White House press gaggles, the only goal of the speaker is to impart as little information as possible, and to take as much time as possible doing it.

If one is a working journalist, one does not go to a White House gaggle for information. One goes because it has simply become an unavoidable and tedious ritual -- a painful dance at which journalists attempt to ask questions, the speaker uses one of a canned set of responses to deflect or evade the question and the faithful scribe scribbles down the response as if something meaningful had just happened. And on it goes, week after week after mind-numbing, excruciating week, with everyone understanding their pre-assigned roles, knowing that any deviation from script would cause a catastrophic disturbance in the force for which they would never be forgiven.

And how, exactly, does someone like Scottie manage to dodge, weave, shuck and jive these questions week after week? There are a number of techniques which he uses so frequently, one wonders why he doesn't just number them to save everyone the time.

First, there's the "I just disagree with your question" approach, which might resemble:

Reporter: Scott, what's the President's feelings on the fact that, even two years after the invasion that supposedly brought democracy to Iraq, there are still quite a few Iraqis that seem to resent the American presence?

: Well, first of all, I disagree with your characterization ...

Yup, if Scottie doesn't like your tone, he'll just "disagree" with your "characterization". Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Another of Scottie's favourite dodges is to deflect the question elsewhere, even when doing that is clearly nonsensical, as in something (totally fictional) like:

Reporter: Scott, what does the President think of Israeli soldiers using Palestinian school children for sniper practice?

Scott: Well, clearly, that's a question you should address to the Israelis.

You'll notice what just happened there, of course. While the questioner wanted to know the President's thoughts on some topic, Scottie suggested that that information should be obtained from the subjects of the issue at hand, which is, naturally, completely irrelevant.

This happens depressingly frequently. Does the President think the Department of Justice should be getting more aggressive investigating the Valerie Plame case? Well, you'll have to ask the DOJ. Does the President support Sen. Bill Frist's pushing for the "nuclear option" in terms of the filibuster? Naturally, you should ask Senator Frist. What does the President think of the recent atrocities in Uzbekistan? Obviously, you'll have to ask the Uzbekistanis. What does the President think of the proposed ANWR drilling and its potentially devastating effect on migrating caribou herds? Well, you should ask the caribou. (OK, I kind of made that last one up. Sort of.) Apparently, if you want to know what the President thinks, the absolutely last person you should ask is the President or his spokesweasel.

But perhaps the most effective and aggravating Scottie dodge is the "hypothetical question" blow-off, which is so delightfully dishonest and hypocritical that it needs its own posting to do it justice. Stay tuned.


Sass said...

My favorite is when they say, "I don't feel that question is relevant," or, "That's not a valid question."

If a professional journalist poses a question to the leader of the US or his cohorts, then it should damn well be answered, whether or not it's "valid." Not wanting to answer something doesn't render it invalid.

It's not like they're talking about social security and some idiot pipes up with "which does the president prefer, strawberry or grape jelly?"

Anonymous said...

The question should have stated -

What do you think of the "Palestinians" using children as suicide bombers?

Would have made for a more realistic example

CC said...

The question should have stated -

What do you think of the "Palestinians" using children as suicide bombers?

Would have made for a more realistic example.

You so totally missed the point of that (fictional) example. The point was to ask Scottie a question he didn't want to answer.

If we had used your question, does anyone doubt that Scottie would have condemned the practise as horrendous, inhuman and deplorable? Of course not.

But if one uses my example, one has just as little doubt that Scottie would do anything possible to not have to deal with it.

See the difference? Administration flacks have no problem answering the questions they want to answer.