by Quin Hillyer
In what is surely a disturbing trend for the health of the American republic, the establishment media has lost much of its ability to ask tough, fair, reasonable questions aimed at eliciting useful, previously unknown information. Part of the problem is ideological leftism, and part of it is laziness, and part of it is a diminution of professional standards and of standards of consistency and logic. What is undeniable is that the art of informative interviews is seldom in display - and that many observers
from across the political spectrum
thought Sunday's 60 Minutes interview
of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was so overly fawning as to be Exhibit A
of the rapid descent of establishment-media standards.
The problem runs in both ideological directions. When the press does "get tough," it's rarely actually searching for useful answers, but instead just playing a particularly nasty form of "Gotcha!" that is aimed less at serving the public than at embarrassing the subject.
There was a time when serious journalists would ask serious questions to each side, not with axes to grind, but with a real desire to learn the facts. Herewith, then, some examples of the sorts of questions that should be asked of national leaders:
To Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton: Madame Secretary, you showed a high degree of emotion last week asking "what difference at this point does it make" why and how four Americans were killed by an al Qaeda attack in Benghazi, Libya. Mr. President, do you agree with the inference that it makes no difference why? Madame Secretary, do you think it important for the public to know how our government could have been so wrong as to blame an Internet video for what turned out to be an organized terrorist attack?
Madame Secretary, you immediately followed up that earlier statement by saying this:
"It is, from my perspective, less important today, looking backwards, as to why these militants decided they did it, than to find them and bring them to justice." In that light, and in the light of the president's repeated statements that his "biggest priority right now is bringing those folks to justice," can either of you answer why now, a full 140 days later, not a single perpetrator has indeed been brought to justice, and why the only one detained for the attacks was released by the Tunisian government without a public protest from your administration, even as your administration continued to provide foreign aid to that government?
To House Speaker John Boehner: You have repeatedly called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The version most often supported by your caucus calls for the budget to be balanced within two years of its ratification. Yet even your latest promise on the actual budget calls for balance only within ten years. Can you specify any serious path to balance that gets there within the two years in the amendment, as opposed to the ten years in your legislative plan?
How will such an amendment be enforced? Who will enforce it? Current law requires Congress to pass a budget resolution each year, but the Senate has failed to produce one for four years, without penalty - so how would this amendment be any different? Would you ask judges to intervene in budgetary matters and taxation decisions? If so, how does that square with your calls for judicial restraint?
To Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services: In order to secure the votes for passage of ObamaCare, the president promised to issue an executive order forbidding the use of tax subsidies to pay for abortions. Yet, first, the executive order, when finally issued, made all sorts of exceptions that do allow backdoor taxpayer subsidies for abortion. Can you explain why the clear import of the promise was not observed?
Second, when churches complained about the "HHS mandate" forcing employers to pay for abortifacient coverage, and the administration offered an "accommodation" for religious institutions, and the religious employers then complained that the accommodation was a shell game... well, the administration finalized the rule without any accommodation at all. And the rule defined "religious institution" so narrowly that even Catholic Charities doesn't qualify. So, Mrs. Sebelius: Why hasn't even the weak "accommodation" rule actually been promulgated? And can you explain why Catholic Charities, or a Baptist hospital, or a publisher of exclusively religious books, does not qualify as a religious institution?
Finally, if the "accommodation" means, in your mind, that technically the religious institution won't be paying for the abortion-inducing drug, then who is paying for it? Is it the government subsidy? If so, why doesn't that violate the executive order banning taxpayer subsidies for abortion?
The point in all these questions is not to take a position against the official being questioned. (For example, I myself would ask such questions of Speaker Boehner even though I'm friendly to the idea of a Balanced Budget Amendment.) The point is to gain legitimate understanding of the issues. Right now, though, the establishment media does nothing of the sort.
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About the Contributor
Quin Hillyer is a Senior Fellow for The Center for Individual Freedom, a Senior Editor for the American Spectator magazine, and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mobile. He has won mainstream awards for journalistic excellence at the local, state, regional and national levels. He has been published professionally in well over 50 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, Investors Business Daily, National Review, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, and The New Republic Online. He is a former editorial writer and columnist for the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, the Mobile Register, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a former Managing Editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. He has appeared dozens of times as a television analyst in Washington DC, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and as a guest many hundreds of times on national and local radio shows.