Christine O’Donnell, who lost a bid last year to be a U.S. Senator and is now promoting a new book, recently walked off the air during an interview on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
Not liking the line of questioning, which was based on comments in her book, she insinuated that she, not the host, should be the one to decide the topic of discussion.
That comes after the recent debate for the Republican presidential nomination, in which candidate Newt Gingrich fried Fox News’ Chris Wallace for asking about a rash of resignations in his campaign team.
Granted, public figures have always tried to take control of interviews and lines of questioning. It’s a game of sportsmanship between them and their inquirers, who are usually journalists.
It used to be a subtle contest in which the participants’ intellect and artistry determined the course of a discussion. Now, well, it’s not so subtle, and the stakes involve much more than bruised egos.
In the recent Republican debate, Gingrich called Wallace’s query a “gotcha” question and part of “Mickey Mouse games” that had nothing to do with the problems facing this country. He eventually gave a great response, noting that Ronald Reagan’s campaign team also was in disarray at one point.
Skipping the initial diatribe and directly answering the query might have better served Gingrich’s image. But it wouldn’t have better served his purpose.
Gingrich, who is among the most brilliant statesmen of our times, is smart enough to know he’ll never be president. However, by being in the campaign he has a shot at setting the national agenda.
That’s what Ross Perot did in the 1990s, failing in his quest for the presidency but winning the battle to make the federal deficit one of the key issues of the decade.
In this way, Gingrich may already have scored a victory. When candidate Michele Bachmann was asked about a comment she once made in which she said women should be submissive to their husbands, the audience booed the query.
The questions had now become as much of a focal point — and equally subject to public judgment — as the answers.
Pressuring journalists and the public to ask pertinent questions isn’t necessarily a bad thing — except when politicians want to force on the public what merits discussion and what doesn’t, to control the topics of public debate.
The best among them won’t walk away from a topic of discussion or chastise it for being unimportant or even a cheap shot. Instead, like Perot with home-spun charts in hand, they find a way to show us why their priorities should be our priorities too.
Setting the agenda of national discussion ultimately lies with the people, not the politicians. It is this collective enquiry that eventually yields what matters to us as a nation.
So, ask away — ask about what’s important to you, whatever it may be. Ask them what they would do to create jobs.
Ask if they believe there’s life on Mars. Their stand on abortion. Global warming. Early childhood education. Alternative energy. Ask what they had for dinner last night if you deem that important.
Some will give non-responses. Some will be defensive. Some will answer earnestly. Some may even come out and say it’s a stupid question.
If they don’t respond at all, well, that’ll tell you something about them too.