Please, please, please, can we find one journalist out there who can think on her feet and come up with an impossible-to-dodge follow-up question?
For example, someone recently asked presidential candidate Scott Walker if he considered Obama a Christian, and Walker essentially said he had no idea.
No, Walker has not spent the last decade in a Iron Lung battling polio.
Suggested follow up question: “Governor Walker, have you ever heard of Jeremiah Wright?”
This is a yes or no question. Walker would be forced to answer. If he hemmed and hawed, my theoretical journalist could prompt, “You know, Jeremiah Wright, the radical preacher of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the church Obama attended in his senatorial days?
Walker could say, “I’ll have my people follow up on that,” or, “Oh yeah, now I remember!” or “No, never heard of him.”
(BTW, in one sermon, Wright famously thundered, “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”)
Obviously, if Scott claimed he’s not heard of Wright, there’d be negative consequences: Walker’s unfamiliarity with Wright would suggest that Walker, a college dropout, was too intellectually lazy to have followed the first 2004 campaign, an odd incuriosity for someone aspiring for the highest office in the land.
(Of course, not picking up on Wright’s name could merely mean that Scott doesn’t think very well on his feet — Wilbur, Orville, Jeremiah? — but we could perhaps see confusion on his face and learn at least something).
Or Scott could have answered, “Yes,” I know Wright and Obama’s association with him. Scott could then explain why he thought Obama’s regular church attendance didn’t necessarily make him a true Christian, which, though impolitic, if not politically suicidal, seems more honest than his pretending not to know. He could also use Wright to support the question Scott had been asked before the Christian one — if he thought Obama loved his country.
Or, Scott could have simply avoided the never-asked follow-up question, “Yes, I think Obama is a Christian,” which strikes me as the most charitable (i.e., Christian) answer he could make, but because we never get penetrating follow-up questions, all we get it is scripted bullshit.
What this country desperately needs are journalists willing to risk non-access by asking meaningful questions.
What good is access if you’re only parroting the candidate’s messages?
Journalists, it ain’t your job to smooze or to fellate but to poke.