Home > Republican Stupidity, Right-Wing Hypocrisy > On “Gotcha Questions”

On “Gotcha Questions”

June 13th, 2011

Have you noticed that, in particular when Sarah Palin is concerned, the definition of a “Gotcha Question” seems to be, “Any question a conservative politician answers badly”? In other words, the definition of the question depends not on the question, but on the answer.

Take, for example, the most recent question Palin responded to about her museum visit. The question was, “What have you seen today and what are you going to take away from your visit?”

Sorry, but that’s not a “Gotcha Question.” I could answer that without ever having seen the museum; the stock answer would be that it was a rich cultural and historical experience which all Americans should share, yadda yadda. Palin tried to get specific, and, as a matter of course, came out sounding like an goofus. She “got” herself; the question was not the problem.

Neither was one of the first questions asked to Palin to be so categorized:

And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?

What that boils down to is, “What do you read to stay informed?” Again, not a “Gotcha Question.” Even if you don’t want to be honest, just cite the major papers in Alaska, maybe online sources like The New York Times, stuff like that.

The fact is, these questions are not only far from being “Gotcha Questions,” they are arguably softballs, the kind of questions that politicians love to get because they can be answered quickly, uncontroversially, and can easily be used to segue into their favorite talking point. “What do you read to stay informed?” could be answered by citing one news source as an example, and then highlighting an article which the source published recently that concerned an issue you want to make a point about. Politics 101. Kindergarten stuff. That Palin went all deer-in-the-headlights did not make the question a “Gotcha,” it simply demonstrated how shallow and inept she is.

Conservatives, however, rail against these media questions as if the questions themselves were really objectionable, when, in fact, the media is nothing more than a convenient scapegoat upon which to heap blame and scorn whenever they wish to excuse or disguise their own failures. When you say something stupid, blame the media. Gingrich did this when he was asked about Medicare and gave his opinion. His opinion turned out to be highly unpopular with his party, and so Gingrich blamed the interviewer.

You know that it is dishonest when the judgment rests on political preference, and not on the facts. A similar example would be “legislating from the bench,” which should refer to judges who create laws where none exist (which right-wing judges do most often of all), but conservatives use it to mean “any legal decision we disagree with.”

The fact is, a “Gotcha Question” is one which is specifically designed to be tricky or devious, fully intended to trip up the respondent and make them look bad. If the question is easy and the respondent fouls up anyway, that does not reflect on the question. Now, if an interviewer had asked Palin, “On which continent would you find the nation of Papua New Guinea?” that would have been a “Gotcha Question”–as few Americans, probably even few politicians, would know the answer to that question–but flubbing a geography question could easily make a politician look dumb even when they aren’t.

Another kind of “Gotcha Question,” the worst kind, in fact, is the question designed to force a respondent into a lie which can then be exposed. If you have the goods on someone, but don’t let them know that you do, and them ask them a question about it that you know they will lie to–that’s the ultimate “Gotcha Question.”

Conservatives are entirely political in their judgment of such questions. They would without any doubt whatsoever despise such a question if a conservative were so set up, but there is as little doubt that their favorite question of all time remains, “Have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky?” That was a “Gotcha Question” because the prosecutors knew Clinton had, they had evidence on it they could use, they did not inform Clinton of this, and they knew, even hoped, that he would lie under oath about it. That’s the “Gotcha Question” of all “Gotcha Questions.” But ask a right-winger if they think it was unfair, and they will deny it vehemently. They adore that question, will defend it utterly, and have no problems with it.

In contrast, being asked questions like “What do you read?” and “How was the museum visit?” simply don’t even come close to being “Gotcha Questions.”

As Jon Stewart pointed out, “It doesn’t make it a got-cha question just because it got-ya.”

Comments are closed.