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Last weekend, Bob Schieffer plays the the now classic "journalist" defense on non-answers from politicians. It's all the consultants' fault, doncha know?
In this age of sophisticated information management and consultant-driven politics where everyone has a media coach and a strategy guru, it is all the vogue in public relations to tell your client, "Here are a couple of answers. No matter what you're asked, just give these answers."
Well, I hate to hurt your feelings, candidates, but you're paying good money for bad advice.
I don't give advice myself, but here is a news bulletin: Our viewers are pretty smart. When you don't answer a question, they know it, and they don't like it. They think you're slick (at best), evasive and even oily.
Bulletin number two: No one ever got elected because people thought they were evasive.
As a rule, I never ask the same question more than twice. I don't have to. A non-answer becomes an answer, and it never reflects well on the non-answerer ...
Well, I'd agree with Schieffer with one caveat: these so-called journalists NEVER call out the politicians with their evasiveness. Schieffer never confronts the politicians with facts or context that belie their carefully crafted talking points. It's nice that he thinks his audience is smart enough to figure the issue out on their own, but when you have only one in four Americans believing in evolution, 60% of Republicans still believe Obama is a Muslim, and one in five believe that the sun revolves around the Earth, that's a really, really optimistic outlook.
James Fallows at The Atlantic has been suffering the slings and arrows of his fellow journalists for suggesting that the media is falling down on the job:
I've heard angrily from a number of reporters in the last few days. They are objecting to my claims that mainstream journalism is "enabling" Senate dysfunction by describing it as dysfunction plain and simple, rather than as the result of deliberate and extremely effective Republican strategy. That strategy, over the past four-plus years, has been to apply the once-rare threat of a filibuster to virtually everything the Administration proposes. This means that when the Democrats can't get 60 votes for something, which they almost never can, they can't get nominations confirmed, bills enacted, or most of what they want done.
You can consider this strategy brilliant and nation-saving, if you are a Republican. You can consider it destructive and nation-wrecking, if you are a Democrat. You can view it as just what the Founders had in mind, as Justice Scalia asserted recently at an Atlantic forum. You can view it as another step down the road to collapse, since the Democrats would have no reason not to turn the same nihilist approach against the next Republican administration. Obviously I think it does more harm than good. You can even argue that it's stimulated or justified by various tactics that Democrats have used.
But you shouldn't pretend that it doesn't exist. That was my objection to a recent big Washington Post story on what is wrong with the Senate, which did not contain the word "filibuster." And there is an example again this very day. I wish to Heaven that the item had appeared somewhere else, but it happens that it's also in the Post. A story on what happened to Obama's jobs-bill proposal in the Senate concentrates on the two Plains States Democrats, Ben Nelson and Jon Tester, who defected during the cloture vote -- and not on the 100% Republican opposition to even bringing this bill up for consideration.
So, when Schieffer gives us a jovial shrug as to why it's not really his fault that politicians don't answer questions in a straightforward manner, ask him why he needed to invite John McCain on...again