On the asking of hard questions

There’s been some talk lately of “hardball” and “softball” questions asked by the media of presidential candidates. For instance, in the Pit right now, there are some asserting that Megyn Kelly “attacked” Trump by asking him hard questions.

But asking hard questions of a candidate isn’t an attack. A serious candidate welcomes hard questions, because it gives them a chance to answer them, and having answers to hard questions is what being a serious candidate is all about. Asking a serious candidate hard questions is doing them a big favor. Hard questions are only an attack on frivolous candidates, who don’t have answers to them.

Similarly, asking softball questions is a favor to frivolous candidates, as it allows them to show the area where they shine, but a disfavor to the serious candidates, as it makes them appear more frivolous. A serious candidate should be upset if the media keeps lobbing them softballs.

The decision faced by responsible media, then, is a simple one: Ask hard questions of everyone. This will draw support towards those who deserve it, and away from those who do not deserve it. Best of all, with this tactic the media need not even decide in advance who is and is not serious: They can simply let the candidates reveal that themselves, via their responses.


As far as I’m concerned, all questions should be serious and relevant. Crap like “boxers or briefs?” have no place in a serious forum. Nor do ridiculous hypotheticals, or questions worded in a can’t-win style (Have you stopped beating your kids?)

And I think candidates should be required to answer the questions and be called out if they twist them into their preplanned soundbites.

In fact, they should be flogged for not giving a direct answer.

I don’t know where you got this idea. No politicians like hard questions if they can avoid them. Some respond much better than others, and maybe win or lose based on how they respond.

I think serious questioning is the correct way to go. Not all hard questions are justified, some are some aren’t. “Gotcha” type styles of questioning and an overtly confrontational demeanour of an interviewer can be counter-productive. It can put a candidate on the back foot, making him/her scared to say anything controversial at all. This isn’t helped by a media that often hones in upon any slip of the tongue or mis-hap, and who try to slant a politicians answers in allsorts of dubious ways to their readership and viewers.

I agree. Another way of saying it is that questions should be honest attempts to elicit relevant information. That’s all that matters. Whether a question is “easy” or “hard” for a candidate to answer is immaterial. The problem with “gotcha” questions is that they are neither honest nor usually relevant. They are attempts by biased reporters to score political points and entertain low-information viewers.

I don’t know what is being said about Megyn Kelly in the Pit but her question wasn’t a “gotcha” question, it wasn’t a loaded question and it was relevant. Trump really did say those awful things about women, and now that he was a candidate for the presidential nomination, it was reasonable for Kelly to ask him in a straightforward way to explain himself. If he found it embarrassing to have his misogyny pointed out on national television maybe he shouldn’t have been such a misogynist. Trump doesn’t seem to think that words matter. They do. Which is why he had a hissy fit over the incident. The only criticism I’d have is that one of the alleged Trump comments was apparently taken out of context and somewhat misrepresented, but all the other ones were straight-up statements he had made – and continues to make.

And I agree with the last quoted sentence. It’s amazing how often candidates just simply avoid the asked question entirely and drone on with canned soundbites. This happened constantly during the first debate, and I particularly noticed it with Trump. The moderators just let it slide.

What FairyChatMom said.

I don’t remember ever hearing Barack Obama dodging tough questions. Bernie Sanders not only doesn’t mind, he’s demanding them.

As has been pointed out, politicians (at least in traditional venues like debates or Sunday talk shows) don’t answer the questions that are asked; they launch into a prepared speech that is sometimes on the same topic as the question. They’ve been doing it this way for decades and we’ve grown so accustomed to it that we think they’re answering.

I think the idea that Megyn Kelly’s questions were hard shows how much standards have fallen. Here’s some questions I would ask if I were a debate moderator.

During recent years there have been many attacks on Americans’ Constitutional rights. Torture, NSA tracking of phone call data, and warrantless wiretapping are three examples. What have you done in the past to protect Americans from these violations of our rights? What will you do if you become President?

Can you currently name all the countries on earth where American troops are stationed?

Medicare is on a path to go bankrupt within the next generation. Would you solve this problem by raising taxes or cutting benefits?

Under what circumstances would you start a war in the Middle East, or get the USA involved in a war that has already begun? Under what circumstances would you definitely not get the USA involved?

Can you recite the First Amendment from memory?

Suppose that you were required to eliminate five federal programs. Which five would you eliminate?

What kind of silly question is that? Maybe I can’t remember whether freedom of assembly comes before or after freedom of the press-- Why does that matter?

Required by whom, and why is the entity doing the requiring counting by number of programs, instead of by amount of funding? A far better question would be to ask for fifty billion dollars worth of federal programs, or the like.

It was not Kelly’s questions themselves that constituted an attack. But when Trump got a bunch of tough questions while Rubio and others got softballs, that came across as an attempt to influence the outcome of the race.

Oh yeah: did Fox News ever fix its transcript to include the question Jeb got asked about his ties to the Bloomberg Foundation?

What question about Bush’s ties to the Bloomberg Foundation?
:big innocent eyes:

In addition, Kelly was clearly hostile toward Trump. Chris Wallace was also. They didn’t have the same demeanor with the other candidates. It’s just Fox though, I wouldn’t have expected any better.

There is a difference between hard questions and Jeopardy questions.

A good question for a sitting Congressman - not so good for Trump, at least not the first part.

A good question if this got converted to “in combat.” Otherwise a trivia question.

False choice, since “both” is an answer too.

Really dumb gotcha question.

There are two types of hard questions. One is about really tough problems. What would you do to reduce healthcare costs might be one. Everyone can get asked that.
The other is about particular positions a candidate has taken. Someone who has pledged to end ACA the moment he reaches office can get asked about the formerly uninsured - someone who supports ACA can’t.
Both types are good questions.

That was going to be my comment exactly. It’s not a realistic scenario, because it’s budgets that matter, not program counts. Furthermore, the question puts the candidate in the position of later being unfairly characterized as believing that five federal programs are useless and wanting to eliminate them.

And the Medicare one is a classic loaded question, and it seems – like all loaded questions – to simply be trying to score political points, in this case the anti-Medicare meme. It begins with a questionable premise, and then frames the solution as having only two choices, both of which would be hugely unpopular. As I said in another thread, the Medicare system is mind-bogglingly complex and therefore incredibly inefficient. Any attempts to compare it to single-payer are laughable.

So the potential to simplify it and introduce efficiencies is absolutely huge, and those efficiencies would be the ones that make it operate more like single-payer – which means, in effect, expanding benefits, not reducing them, removing some of the ridiculous restrictions, and ideally kicking the whole private insurance connection completely out of the system. It’s a plainly established fact that every other country in the world provides health care at a fraction of the cost in the US. I say this not to get into another Medicare discussion here but to give an idea of how loaded and misleading the question is, because there is such a wide range of smart options that can be brought to bear on the problem.

That said, a couple of the other questions are not bad.

Even though Trump isn’t a politician, there’s plenty he could have done on civil liberties if he wanted to: supported civil liberties groups, used his celebrity status to draw attention to the issue, etc…

That said, if I could ask Trump one question, I’d ask this: "You’re 69 years old and you’ve been rich and famous for your whole life. Yet in all that time you’ve shown no interest in politics. You haven’t founded or lead any civic organization. You haven’t been an activist for any cause. You haven’t used your money to support the cause of liberty in any way. Now you show up and say that you want to be President. Why should anyone take your campaign seriously?

Not trivial at all. The Commander in Chief of our armed forces should at least know where those armed forces are.

It’s not supposed to be a realistic scenario. It’s supposed to help the voters learn about the candidates’ priorities in budgeting.

The only thing hard about Kelly’s question was the tone of her voice; Trump should have expected that question and been prepared to answer it with statistics on wages in Trump industries broken down by gender. I don’t see how he could not have expected to have been asked that type of question.

Now that’s a good question.

The problem is our troops are in dozens of countries, mostly not at risk. The ones in Germany aren’t exactly on high alert, for instance. Plus it would take too long to answer.

If that’s the intent, then the question should be asked that way, instead of a trick question involving a scenario that will never, ever occur in the real world. Contrary to popular belief that much of the government is a complete waste, realistically there is probably NO really significant government program that could be completely eliminated without equally significant and undesirable impacts. Sure you can always find little government departments whose purpose might seem inexplicable, but not the big-ticket ones. Is it better to disband environmental protection but keep food and drug oversight? Is it better to can them both in order to keep Medicaid? Those questions make no sense. Most of the real questions are about organization and efficiencies.