There are few of us conversant in English who aren’t familiar with the most famous form of the loaded question: “Do you still beat your wife?”
It’s a powerful reminder that questions which rely on baked-in assumptions about things that cannot be assumed are to automatically be distrusted. It’s usually a sign the questioner can be distrusted, as well.
In that vein, I give you “Nightline” host Byron Pitts.
Last Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence appeared on Pitts’ ABC show in an interview that didn’t get as much attention as it should have.
It’s not because of what Pence said. Instead, it was Pitts’ way of closing the interview.
“Mr. Vice President, I have a final question for you, and I ask this not in a political way. But for you sir, like so many of us in our nation, you are a person of deep faith. No one doubts that,” Pitts said.
Whenever anyone says those words, you know they’re about to doubt that. It’s pretty much the “but” in “I’m not racist, but…”
And no, Byron Pitts didn’t disappoint:
“When you talk to God in your moments alone, do you find yourself worrying at all that people you represent, and care deeply about, have died and will die who did not need to because of steps the federal government did not take soon enough?” he asked
I’m assuming the pause there wasn’t just a lagging feed. In situations like this, I’m normally loath to forgive a politician who doesn’t answer the question posed to them.
In the question of Vice President Pence, I’m totally willing to forgive it.
“Thank you for mentioning that we are talking about one American at a time,” Pence said.
“We wanted the American people to see the numbers so that we understand the challenging days that lie ahead. But I want people to know that our future is in your hands, that if every one of us will do and put into practice the Guidelines for America, that we can bring those numbers down.”
I’d ask how this one got through editorial but I think we all know the answer: When it comes to the Trump administration, all vestiges of objectivity have been shed.
And it wasn’t even as if Pitts got it particularly right. The Trump administration has made mistakes on the coronavirus front, the same that every government in the world has.
In terms of inaction, however, that’s not something they’ve been accused of.
Incorrect action, sure. In terms of inaction, however, it’s probably good to remember that not long ago, we were excoriating the Trump administration for suspending travel from Europe and China.
That’s not quite the sickest part of this whole thing, though. The question assumes that, if Pence is a religious man, he has a stain on his soul so great that he needs to pray for it to be constantly washed by the blood of Jesus, or else he is a poor Christian.
I didn’t know Byron Pitts was the arbiter of when people needed to fall to their knees in orison and beg for the mercy of God for letting people die of coronavirus.
This is a new one. I understand being the host of “Nightline” comes with great power and responsibility, but nothing quite that great.
For that matter, picture any of the journalistic greats asking this question. Barbara Walters was known for some sharp queries, and I don’t remember her asking any president whether or not they prayed to God because they’d cost people their lives.
Huntley and Brinkley weren’t those types, either. Neither was Walter Cronkite. Even Ted Koppel wouldn’t have gone there.
We’re in a new age of journalism, where it’s apparently proper to invoke the Almighty in strange and dubious ways during an interview.
Yes, one of these men might need to have a long conversation with God about their job performance. No, it isn’t Mike Pence.
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