Monday, August 10, 2015


I've seen Trump supporters complain about the gotcha questions at the first GOP presidential debate. In addition, they've said Fox News does the bidding of the GOP establishment. I'll venture a few observations.

To begin with a few disclaimers: it's been quite a while since I watched Fox News. And I didn't watch the debate. I get my news and news analysis from the Internet. And I don't pick presidential candidates based on their debate performance. 

i) I have watched Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, and Megyn Kelly on occasion. 

There are two kinds of interviewers: those who are interested in what the guest has to say, who ask questions to draw him out, who ask questions the interviewer doesn't know the answers to, because they are genuinely curious to find out more about the guest–and interviewers who use the interview as a pretext to make themselves look smart rather than the guest, who only pose questions they think they already know the answer to. 

From the few times I've heard her, Kelly strikes me as the second kind of interviewer. She wants to impress the audience with her intelligence and command of the issues.

Generally speaking, I watch an interview to hear the guest, not the interviewer. However, that depends on the guest. 

ii) That said, when Trump supporters say this was a set-up, what do they imagine really happened behind the scenes?  Do they think Reince Priebus phoned Roger Ailes and ordered Ailes to tell the moderators to make Trump look bad? Really? Why would Ailes, Murdoch, or whoever the Fox management in question, accede to that demand? What do they get in return? Kickbacks? Is money wired from the RNC to one of Murdoch's Cayman accounts? What reason is there to think Fox News is in the pocket of the RNC or the Republican establishment? What's the quid pro quo? 

iii) I can think of many more plausible reasons why the moderators picked on Trump. 

a) To begin with, he is, or was, the frontrunner. The frontrunner always gets more scrutiny.

b) "News" is driven by ratings. Trump is good for ratings. Trying to get under his skin on national TV is good for ratings. 

c) Trump is not a likable man. He goes out of his way to be disagreeable. That makes him a magnet for hostile coverage. 

d) To call Trump a publicity hound is an understatement. He loves to be the center of attention. That's why he says provocative or outrageous things. And when you work so hard at making yourself the center of attention, sometimes you succeed. But that cuts both ways.

iv) One objection to gotcha questions is that they aren't substantive. They are just an attempt to embarrass the candidate. 

That's often true. However, there are times when gotcha questions can be more useful than substantive questions. Gotcha questions go to the credibility of a candidate. Is he sincere? Or does he have a history of flip-flops?

If a candidate lacks credibility, then substantive questions are moot inasmuch as his answers are no indication of what he'd actually do if elected. Substantive questions can be a waste of time if the candidate doesn't believe what he says, if he has no intention of keeping his campaign promises.

So even if gotcha questions are ill-motivated, exposing the checkered track-record of a candidate is a useful exercise. You can eliminate him in from serious consideration in the first round. 

Likewise, gotcha questions can also expose a candidate's incompetence, if he lacks the knowledge of domestic and foreign affairs to be a capable Chief Executive.  

No comments:

Post a Comment