How to Question a Politician
Reporters have failed this week to ask the right question of the Bush campaign people regarding the ad being run by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. When the Bush folks dutifully noted that the president has repudiated all 527 groups running ads, the journalists have either backed off or repeated the question over and over in a harassing manner.
A better approach would have been to observe that the president in stating his opposition to the 527 ads was saying he opposed ads by all groups not controlled by the campaign or the party.
Media Person: Correct?
Bush Spokesman: Yes, that's correct.
Media Person: Does he object to the message in the Swift Boat ad?
Bush Spokesman: He objects to all the ads.
Media Person: I repeat. Does he object to the message in the Swift Boat ad?
What needed to be done was for the media, in other words, to acknowledge that there are legitimately 2 questions here: 1. the wisdom of allowing 527 groups to run ads, and 2. the particular message of the anti-Kerry ad.
Presumably, the Bush people would refuse to answer the second question. In that case, the public will have a clear appreciation of this fact. But by not distinguishing between the two questions the media have allowed the Bush people to muddy the waters with an explanation that is decidedly off-point.
The media might also have noted in the course of these interviews that Republicans argued in Congress that 527 groups should have every right to advertise their views. It was Democrats who insisted on restrictions on the 527s. (The 527s cannot mention specific candidates in the month leading up to the election.) Republicans say they favor freedom and disclosure, as Virginia Sen. George Allen said on Meet the Press. If that is so, how can the president under the circumstances demand that all 527s stop advertising?
Derek Charles Catsam - 8/30/2004
the president can feign an objection here because he knows that it will not and cannot happen. this is why I loved the solution posed by one of the New republic's bloggers the other day: Kerry should propose to Bush that he too would support the suspension of all 527 ads in exchange for weekly debates, the logic being that the role of ads is to get ideas across to the public, but that they largely fail in that, but that debates would let candidates bring their messages home to people. Bush would then be in a position to have to object, which would likely not look great. And like Bush in this instance, of course Kerry has no more power to suspend these ads than does Bush. It's all a big gambit anyway.
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