Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Unapologetic Weaseling of Press Questions

I sometimes listen to White House press conferences and daily briefings, as conducted by Sarah Sanders, the current Press Secretary.  Generally, for most of the press corps, I listen with trepidation as they start their questions, since I know they are going to be about anything but the positives in the economy, international relations and the military, brought by our current president.

But I hadn't really crystallized, in my mind, exactly what they were doing in the way they asked questions that bugged me so much.  But then today, well, I think I got it figured.

The bulk of the briefing was actually not done by Mrs. Sanders but, rather, by a senior representative from the FBI who was there to take questions as a follow-up to the recent focus by President Trump on stopping the MS-13 gang.  The president had been talking a lot about it, so the White House asked the gentleman to come over for much of the briefing and take questions.

Mrs. Sanders took over a bit later and did take some questions.  As she did, I started to listen to the questions and the way they were structured, and I finally figured it out.

Do you remember "strawmen"?  That was a favorite tactic of Barack Obama, the now mercifully-former president.  He would make some kind of point by saying something that no one had actually said, described it as the position of the Republicans, and then tried to argue with it.  It was frustrating that the press never took him to task for doing that, because it is so intellectually corrupt.

But then again, so are the media, for the most part, so it is no surprise that they not challenge their patron Saint Barry, who, it should be pointed out, didn't exactly make himself available to the press all that much.

At any rate, I was starting to see that the press, in asking their questions, were repeatedly doing their own version of a strawman.  They would say that the president had said or done this or that, and then ask if that was going to accomplish something that the statement had nothing to do with.

Case in point -- and I rewound the tape to make sure I had this exactly right.  A few days back, President Trump had made an off-the-cuff remark to the effect that a government shutdown might be a good thing, if the Democrats can't go ahead and sign on to the current budget deal -- to which, it should be pointed out, they don't object.  He was saying that a shutdown might expose the Democrats to more of the criticism they finally started getting when Chuck Schumer caused the Federal shutdown last week.

So April Ryan (of CNN, I believe), who got the penultimate question, asked this -- and I quote:

"On the economy and the shutdown ... How is a shutdown, that the president wants basically to show Democrats that they were wrong, [how is it] going to help the economy and help those the president says he wants to lift [from their situation]?"

Now, it is absolutely the case that the president was saying that a shutdown, if it happened, could be a good thing, but it was because it would point out that the Democrats don't actually want to help govern, but simply want to stall and block anything from happening.

But listen to the words.  "How is a shutdown going to help the economy?"  What a contemptible strawman question!  Shutdowns are not done to "help the economy"; in fact, they are an outcome (of inaction) rather than a proactive stance.  So no one is trying to shut the government down.

Certainly they are not done to help the economy, of course.  In fact, they have nothing to do with the economy and, since everyone is made whole thereafter, no one gains or loses on a shutdown.  But more importantly, the intent of a shutdown is not to have an impact on the economy!  A shutdown has nothing to do with "those the president s trying to lift up", and has no impact on them  April Ryan knows that, like you and I.

So why did she ask it that way?  Why did she not ask the more reasonable question -- "Why did the president say that a shutdown would be a good thing?"  That would have been reasonable to ask, and Mrs. Sanders would have had to have addressed it and explained the president's position.

But no, April Ryan just couldn't help herself.  Why?  Because her purpose was not to get an answer but to embarrass the Press Secretary, the President and the Administration.  She knows it, and so do you and I.

And that's why there is fake news, and why it's great that the press is getting exposed for who they are.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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