Monday, August 20, 2012

"Gotcha!" questions

I'm pretty sure that anyone reading this blog is familiar with Todd Akin and his stupefying comment that "legitimate rape" rarely leads to pregnancy because women's bodies are designed, somehow, (magically?) to prevent it. (The comment is rhetorical gold. It both begs the question - so, what's an "illegitimate" rape, then? - and invokes the authority of science where no supporting science exists.)

Almost as disturbing, though, is the media characterization of his stupidity as a "flub". Google is currently returning 178k results for "todd akin flub", two of the top three being from ABC ("Campaign flub by GOP Senate candidate...") and CNN ("A flub by a Republican Senate candidate..."). For the record, "todd akin  misogyny" and "todd akin misogynist" return 140k and 119k hits, respectively.

But this characterization is equally moronic. A flub is something that's comical, accidental, and virtually harmless. A Freudian slip is a flub. Tripping over my own feet and missing a ground ball in a game of softball is a flub. Outtakes or gag reels that are set to hilarious kazoo music. Consciously and pointedly verbalizing your misogyny and scientific ignorance, on the other hand, is decidedly not a flub. It is almost the exact opposite of a flub.

The choice of "flub" reminds me of Sarah Palin and her numerous complaints about "gotcha questions" from the media - another word-branding exercise designed to obscure the stupidity of a politician. Now, "gotcha questions" do exist, and journalists do try to catch people saying the wrong thing, contradicting themselves, or simply lying. It happens. But it's also totally legitimate. And it's also their job to do this. Good journalism should include gotcha questions. And just as those questions shouldn't be reduce to a game of "gotcha", which subsequently diminishes the importance of the question, we shouldn't reduce the answers to "flubs", which makes them seem awfully inconsequential.

(For the sake of levity, I'll include a link to a slideshow from New York Magazine that describes the various incidents that Palin has characterized as "gotcha" moments. Unsurprisingly, all of them are simply cases of journalists doing exactly what you would expect of a reasonably ethical journalist.)

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