‘In what respect, Charlie?’

Nicholas disapproved of Charlie Gibson’s ‘trick question’ to Sarah Palin about the Bush Doctrine. He was especially struck that the question ‘was asked by an interviewer who then went on to demonstrate that he didnt know what it was’.

The question was only a trick insofar as it assumed that Palin had some basic knowledge that any diligent newspaper reader might possess. What people seem to be objecting to is not so much the use of ‘trickery’, as the very idea of journalists testing politicians’ knowledge. There are several memorable instances from Australian politics: Paul Lyneham challenged Andrew Peacock to give the latest GDP figure; someone (was it a journalist or a lawyer?) asked Joh Bjelke-Petersen about the doctrine (that word again!) of the separation of powers; Ray Martin tested Keating and Howard in the 1995 Great Debate on the price of milk; someone asked John Hewson whether a birthday cake would attract GST; and most infamously someone asked Pauline Hanson to define xenophopia (Tim alluded to this in the comment that Nicholas was responding to).

It does seem a bit below the belt. Even a well-briefed politician can’t know everything, and catching people out like that is hardly gallant. And if the practice were to become standard in political interviews, where would it it stop? How much time would politicians have to spend boning up on facts and figures rather than analysing policy alternatives and consulting their constitutents?

Perhaps it would have been more gentlemanly to define the Doctrine straight away, without making it look like a viva exam. But what ever one thinks about this issue in general, it remains the case that the question revealed Palin’s ignorance of US foreign policy.

Nicholas is wrong that Gibson didn’t know the answer either. That’s the line that Charles Krauthammer took, maintaining that the term has referred to a succession of different doctrines, and that Gibson’s version wasn’t even the most recent. But in fact Gibson made it clear that he was talking about a doctrine enunciated in 2002, and also stressed that his wording reflected his own understanding — a concession that there was room for interpretation.

In any case, Krauthammer’s argument is disingenuous because, in the version that brought the doctrine the most attention — in 2002 and 2003 — its basic thrust was never in dispute. If Palin had wanted to protest that the question was imprecise, or to supply her own nuance, there was nothing to stop her. In fact, it’s clear from her answer that she understood Gibson to be referring to the President’s doctrines in general — in other words, that she was totally unaware that there was ever a particular Bush Doctrine, which has been hotly debated for the last six years in various forms.

Nor exactly is the issue one of experience, as Glenn Greenwald points out:

Personally, I’m not particularly bothered by Palin’s so-called “lack of experience.” I considered the fact that Obama hadn’t spent large amounts of time enmeshed in our horrific Washington Establishment to be one of the strengths of his candidacy, and I largely view Palin’s lack of Washington experience the same way. The difference isn’t their “experience,” but the fact that one has had almost two full years to judge Obama’s views, positions, approaches, thought-processes and capacity for judgment as he’s been subjected to the glaring scrutiny of the campaign, and a complete picture of Obama, for better or worse, has emerged.

By stark contrast, Palin is a blank slate — not just in terms of what we know about her, but worse, in terms of what her beliefs are. Outside of a few discrete issues of interest to her (drilling for oil and opposition to environmentalism), and aside from some deep religious fervor and trite right-wing slogans that have been implanted in her brain during these last several weeks, she doesn’t really appear to have any actual thoughts about most political matters.

But at the end of the day, does it matter whether the Bush doctrine is implemented by a Dr Strangelove or by Daffy Duck? What ever one thinks about Gibson’s interview style or Palin’s degree of preparedness, the real issue is the American people themselves — whether they are ready to turn their backs on the ghastly Bush-Cheyney era and elect Obama, or whether they will give it a new lease of life in the form of The Maverick and this newly hatched, female Bush clone.

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gilmae
13 years ago

It would be particularly strange for an Australian with more than passing interest in politics to be confused about the Bush Doctrine being preemptive attack as defense. At the time there was much polite discussion and discourse when John Howard talked about preemptive strikes against terrorists in the region. Bloggers and media were pretty sure back then that the Bush Doctrine was as Gibson enunciated, and that Howard was echoing it. Short memories?

William Bowe
13 years ago

I don’t know that the question put to Joh about the separation of powers was a “trick question” comparable to stuff about economic indicators or grocery prices. You really are in trouble when a leader answers a question like that the way Joh did. Also, Pauline Hanson was asked not to define xenophobia but, less unreasonably, if she was xenophobic.

Neil H
13 years ago

I’m starting to wonder if I really am suffering from some sort of Palin Derangement Syndrome. it’s like I see things concerning her that seem invisible to other people.

Am i the seriously the only one who thinks her responses showed that she didn’t even know that “What do you think of the Bush doctrine?” was a foreign policy question until Charlie Gibson explained that it was?

wanderer
13 years ago

There is a question of relevance, relevance of the question to the circumstance, and even then, it’s how the question is handled as much as the exactitude of the answer that interests me. In Hanson’s case “Please explain” said it all, blunt, direct, and honest – a more literate person may have apologised for having a mental block and asked that the question be rephrased. It was an irrelevant vocabulary test that she failed, and thereby endeared herself to anyone else who didn’t know either. Likewise Bush’s spoonerisms make for lots of gags but help the everyman see him as one of them. One the other hand, Joe and separation of powers – relevant; Palin and the Bush doctrine – very relevant (I think she failed on both counts). As for milk prices and the like, juvenile journalism – straw poll: how many here know the price of milk? I have no idea.

Neil H
13 years ago

how many here know the price of milk?

Home Brand or Farmer’s Dairy?

No, honestly, I really couldn’t say. About $2 a litre?

Yobbo
Yobbo
13 years ago

Nothing at all wrong with trying to sort out the stupid politicians from the smart ones IMO.

Of course it depends on how relevant the question is. Asking what “The Bush Doctrine” is would be a much fairer question than asking what a litre of milk costs.

People working in high-profile jobs don’t usually do their own shopping. I’d be much more concerned if they didn’t know the interest rate or something.

wilful
wilful
13 years ago

Our organic milk is $5.50 for two litres. I guess that identifies me as a real elite. But seriously, Ive seen plenty enough about Sarah Palin to be flabbergasted that this person is a couple of heartbeats away from the US presidency. I mean, thats a serious bloody job, and anyone who wants to defend her resume and her performance to date can go right ahead and look foolish.

Adrian
13 years ago

Hey I think she handled it well, really well.
It is a dodgy tactic for journalists, but it does work, sometimes.
Palin’s response was certainly fair enough, she asked him to clarify, and that is something can be done when anyone asks “do you agree with this doctrines”, cause they’re big.
Why didn’t he say:
“Do you agree with torture?”
“Do you think it is OK to spy on Americans?”
“Do you think it is OK to invade countries without the UN”
“Do you think democracy is a precondition for aid, or a goal for American Foreign Policy?”
OH… one more
“How will you feel being VP when China’s economy overtakes the United States’?”
That would have got her.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

wilful, so what about Obama’s?

Niall
13 years ago

Below the belt?!!??? Load of crap! It’s the media’s job to test the veracity and standing of politicians. Pity the media doesn’t do more of it in a better targeted manner.

Martha Maus
Martha Maus
13 years ago

The journalist who asked the then Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke Peterson, about the Westminister doctrine of the separation of power was the ABC’s Quentin Dempster. Dempster also asked the next National Party leader, and new Premier Russell Cooper, again on ABC tv. Cooper didn’t have a clue either.

The Premier was also questioned about the separation of powers be a lawyer at the Fitzgerald Inquiry. The Premier replied “Well you tell me. And Ill tell you whether youre right or not. …” http://www.ozpolitics.info/guide/rules/sep/

The Goss Labour government was elected not long afterwards.