A Philosopher's Blog

The Media, Gotcha Questions & Tacos

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 27, 2012
English: Sarah Palin speaking at a rally in El...

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It has long been a common practice on the right to accuse the media of having a liberal bias. Sarah Palin added a new spin on this approach by popularizing the notion of the “gotcha” question. As might be imagined, politicians continue to avail themselves of the notion that the media is out to get them.

In some cases the media does act in ways that seem to indicate that certain folks are out to get politicians. For example, CNN’s John King started off a presidential debate by asking Newt about what his second wife had said about his alleged request for an open marriage. While Newt handed King his rump on a platter, Newt also launched into an attack on the media.

On the one hand, Newt made some legitimate criticisms about how the media folks tend to bring up matters that are salacious yet lacking in actual merit as news stories. In the case of Newt, his character is relevant. However, as Newt points out, the story of his infidelity is old news and bringing it up at the start of the debate does seem to be rather uncalled for. This does, as one might imagine, raise some interesting questions about media ethics in regards to the timing of stories as well as the focus the media folks place on certain stories.

On the other hand, the media did not make up the story-Newt did, in fact, behave in ways contrary to his own currently espoused morality. Newt’s claim that the media makes it difficult for decent people to run for office seems to be questionable in that the professional media merely reports what people do and, as such, decent people would have no such sordid tales in their background. For politicians to complain that the media folks are reporting what they do and say is comparable to Meletus’ anger at Socrates for making evident his failings. The misdeed lies not with the person who reveals the misdeed but with the person who commits it.

More recently, East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. was asked by the press about the alleged harassment of Hispanics by members of the town’s police force. In reply to a very straightforward question about what he would do about the situation, he said he   “might have tacos.” As might be imagined, this did not go over very well.

While he did say he took responsibility for his actions, he also blamed the media and accused the reporter of asking a “gotcha” question. However, the question hardly appears to be anything that would legitimately count as a “gotcha” question in that it is not loaded, overly complicated, confusing, or otherwise trap-like in content. Also, the media folks presented his claim in full context. If they had, for example, asked him what he would have for dinner and then edited that in as his reply, then he could justly accuse the media of being unfair. However, he was asked a straightforward question and his reply was presented in context. As such, the only one he has to blame for his words is himself. Perhaps the biggest gripe that politicians have with the media folks is that they so often make public what politicians actually say and do (“how dare they report what I said!”). That, however, does not seem to be anything unfair or unjust on the part of the media. Rather, that seems to be their job.

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18 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on January 27, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Compare how the media treated John Edwards when he was running for president. His affair with Rielle Hunter was an open secret, yet nobody called him on it.

    • anon said, on January 27, 2012 at 11:36 am

      Not even Fox news, a news organization with an “open secret” of being a pro-republican mouthpiece apparently didn’t call him on it either (haven’t found any news stories from them about him at this time claiming he had an affair).

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 27, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      His affair was a career ending injury. While I could be wrong, I don’t see him coming back from that.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on January 27, 2012 at 8:20 am

    Here’s a hit piece on Marco Rubio by Rueters in which they made five factual errors:

    Reuters, to its great humiliation, has now issued five corrections. Is that a record?

    Removes words “and at times has had difficulty paying his mortgage,” paragraph 7; removes “he did not make payments on a $100,000-plus student loan” and instead states “he did not pay down the balance of a $100,000-plus student loan,” paragraph 10; removes “he was caught up in an Internal Revenue Service Investigation” and instead states “his name surfaced in an Internal Revenue Service investigation,” paragraph 12; removes “voted against Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee” and instead states “opposed President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor,” paragraph 41; removes “voted against Obama’s healthcare overhaul” and instead states “opposed Obama’s healthcare overhaul,” paragraph 41)


    • anon said, on January 27, 2012 at 11:37 am

      A shitty article by a single reporter PROVES WITHOUT A DOUBT the MSM is OUT TO GET REPUBLICANS!!!! THERE CAN BE NO OTHER ANSWER!!!

  3. T. J. Babson said, on January 27, 2012 at 8:35 am

    “…behave in ways contrary to his own currently espoused morality…”

    Is this a funny way of saying that adultery is OK for Democrats because they are the pro-adultery party?

    • anon said, on January 27, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Democrats are “pro-adultery”? The literally tell peopel to commit adultery, they LITERALLY want people to commit adultery? TJB, you are a moron.

      The difference is that they aren’t the ones trying to shove “family values” down everybody’s throat while not also acting in a manner that goes against what they are pushing for.

      • T. J. Babson said, on January 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm

        But at the end of the day you have a bigger problem with Republicans committing adultery than with Democrats committing adultery, n’est-ce pas?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm

          Well, yes. The Republicans who present themselves as righteous defenders of the sanctity of Christian marriage while committing adultery not only commit the misdeed of adultery but also that of violating their own professed values. Those who profess to be defenders of what is good and righteous may legitimately be held to be worse when they do what is wicked and unrighteous.

          This is not to say that Democrats get a free pass on adultery. However, they generally do not compound the sin of adultery with the sin of false righteousness.

          Now, Democrats who preach against corruption and big money in politics and then drink deep of corruption commit a double sin.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      Not at all. Democrats get nailed for nailing outside their marriage. However, they are not as preachy about the sanctity of marriage before and after their affairs.

      • T. J. Babson said, on January 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm

        So the argument is that if you are going to fail to live up to one’s standards, it is better to have lower standards to begin with?

        • dhammett said, on January 27, 2012 at 8:17 pm

          Dr. L: “they are not as preachy about the sanctity of marriage before and after their affairs.”

          TJ: “So the argument is that if you are going to fail to live up to one’s standards, it is better to have lower standards to begin with?”

          That’s clearly not the argument Mike is making.
          The idea has been around for a while. I’ve written on here before of Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” and the Pardoner’s message to his followers: “If gold rust, what will iron do?” The irony, of course, was that , as the Pardoner preached on that topic,he was bilking good Catholics out of tons of money for indulgences

          If you (gold) set yourself up as special , as an example to emulate (based on certain criteria that you identify yourself with), then you fail to live up to those criteria yourself, the common man (iron) will say to himself, and rightfully so, if this man I revered cannot live up to the standards he espoused, what are my chances of doing so? Screw it. I”m going to cheat on my wife, or steal, or lie to my loved ones, or use steroids, or abort my children and perhaps the children of others, and this list goes on . . .

          • T. J. Babson said, on January 27, 2012 at 9:10 pm

            “…if this man I revered cannot live up to the standards he espoused, what are my chances of doing so? Screw it. I”m going to cheat on my wife, or steal, or lie to my loved ones, or use steroids, or abort my children and perhaps the children of others, and this list goes on . . .”

            So should one not be revered, or not have high standards?

            • dhammett said, on January 27, 2012 at 10:49 pm

              No, to your first question. One who lives up to the expectations he sets for himself and demands of others should be revered. Not just any “one”, however, achieves that.

              Yes, to your second. But one should have enough respect for the standards he “pushes” (and that’s the word I want there) that his actions undermine other people’s desire to follow those standards.

              “Do as I say, not as I do.” Take a strong stance against homosexuality, then practice homosexuality. Take a strong stance against abortion, claiming the sanctity of human life, then conveniently forget your responsibility to the living after birth. Pronounce love for your fellow man, then spew hatred. These contradictions do not transmit respect or strength. They don’t meet the smell test. They invite ridicule and make us sense that we’re in the presence of at worst craven shills and at best people who have no business mouthing the message they convey.
              It’s not just having high standards. It’s how you convey them. More people, politicians, priests, and the rest of us should follow the old proverb “Actions speak louder than words. “

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm

              If one claims to be an exemplar of morality, then s/he had best meet the standard s/he wants to impose on others.

            • Douglas Moore said, on January 31, 2012 at 9:49 am

              What about those who do espouse high standards and do live up to them? After all, Mike conveniently focuses on a small minority of people who fail to live up to their own words. One would think he would have high regard for Sarah Palin, since it seems she practices what she preaches. A completely different stance than the one Mike takes with Islam. Or maybe not, since Islam does preach death to the infidel and follows through with it much more often than Republicans have sex issues.

              Anyone remember the Washington Post’s sordid attempts to dig dirt on Palin by asking readers to help staff sort through her emails? The “oh crap” factor was very high when the emails showed nothing but an honest, hard working person. And of course, the story’s barely been spoken of again.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm

              Palin has avoided the scandals of Newt, Edwards and so on by not having affairs. As such, I do respect her in regards to her actions matching her espoused values in this regard. Naturally, if a scandal breaks out about her, I’d need to change this (likewise for anyone else, be they Democrat or Republican).

  4. T. J. Babson said, on January 31, 2012 at 8:49 am

    There is plenty of evidence out there if you look for it:

    Journalism: What’s the difference between Republican and Democratic political operatives who end up on the wrong side of the law? In the “unbiased” press, only the Republicans’ party ID and connections merit attention.

    In a blog post on Publius’ Forum this week, Warner Todd Huston noted the glaring difference in how the media treated the recent arrests of Zachary Edwards and Tim Russell.

    Edwards, an Iowa Democrat, was charged last week with trying to commit identity theft against Matt Schultz, Iowa’s Republican secretary of state, in order to pin unethical or illegal activity on him.

    Russell, a Wisconsin Republican, was accused of stealing money intended for relatives of veterans killed in action.

    Both are terrible deeds, to be sure. But as Huston notes, only Russell’s party affiliation and connections got played up by news reports. Russell, you see, was an aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, much-hated by liberals.

    The New York Times made this connection clear in its headline, as did Reuters and just about every other story about the arrest.

    But when it came to the Edwards arrest in Iowa, press accounts went out of their way to avoid even mentioning that he was a Democrat. The AP dispatch, for example, simply called him “a Des Moines man.” A local TV news report also ignored Edwards’ Democratic connections.

    Edwards wasn’t just any Democrat, but was the director of New Media operations at Link Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm. He also headed Obama’s “New Media” operations in five states during the primaries and in Iowa during the 2008 general election.


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