Don't Question the Question, Just Answer It
When I do media training sessions I always say, "You might not like the question from the reporter, but it's not your job to question it, it's your job to answer it."
The Counselor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway went totally in the opposite direction recently. While she may feel justified in doing so, she shouldn't have. She should have answered the question properly.
What resulted was an awkward exchange that people are still talking about. Like so many political controversies south of the border, this was an exchange that never should have happened.
This past Sunday, an awkward exchange took place between Kellyanne Conway and CNN’s Dana Bash on The State of the Nation program.
At the end of a long interview, that saw Conway constantly dodge questions about Trump’s legal troubles, Bash brought up some controversial Tweets that Conway’s husband wrote, and then deleted.
Here’s how the exchange went.
If You Don't Like the Question, Attack the Reporter
Let’s face it, Conway’s response was bizarre and totally unnecessary.
She started by somehow bringing Hillary Clinton into the discussion in the most bizarre way possible. She then neatly bridged into making the question sound sexist, said the question has crossed the line and, if possible, her response got even more bizarre when Bash tried to calm things by explaining why she asked the question.
If anything, I found Bash to be overly polite in explaining why she asked a legitimate question. The question needed to be asked. There’s nobody still in the White House who’s been closer to Trump over the past two years than Conway. When her husband, a well-known Washington lawyer, gets publicly critical of Trump, it does raise eyebrows. Of course he can have a very different opinion of Trump than Conway has, but when he expresses those opinions publicly it does bring a certain amount if embarrassment to Conway. It has to, especially with political opinion in the US being so polarized.
Another valid question is why he posted the Tweets in the first place. Quite frankly, if he hadn’t, his wife wouldn’t have to answer questions about them and the awkward exchange on CNN wouldn’t have occurred. That’s another good question for a journalist to ask.
What She Should Have Said
For obvious reasons, Conway’s response should have been much different.
To begin with, she should have expected the question and been prepared with a much different response. Perhaps she did expect it, but decided in advance to give the response she did. It would have been far better for her to say that her husband has different political thoughts than she does and while she respects what he thinks, his opinions don’t affect how she thinks or does her job. She could even have said the difference of opinion has produced some interesting discussions over dinner, they are no different than millions of other American couples etc etc.
I doubt that response would have received a fraction of the post-interview coverage as what she said did. That would have been far better for Conway. Maybe she doesn’t think that way and feels attacking anyone who asked a question like that would be the better way to go, especially a CNN journalist.
The reality of the situation is, when relatives of people in the spotlight go to the media in whatever fashion, it never looks good. Take the case of the wife of a football player complaining that her husband should get more playing time, or the mother of a hockey player telling the media her son deserves more money and won’t play until he does. Neither is a good look for the player.
The Way the Game is Played
People look far better gracefully answering a question than barking at the reporter for asking it. The way the game works is the journalist asks the question and the person being interviewed answers it. It works really well. Where it doesn’t work is when the person being interviewed tells the reporter they don’t like the question, or the reporter should be asking them a different question. That’s not their job and regardless of counter-attack politics today, it’s not a good approach.
As a person being interviewed, you may not like the question, but complaining about it on the air isn’t the way to express your opinion. Save that for later and tell the reporter off the air why you felt the question wasn’t appropriate.
Don't Apologize for Asking the Question
I also find more journalists have problems asking difficult questions. I’m not sure if they’re concerned about offending the people they’re interviewing, or whether it’s a trend in journalism, but some seem to almost apologize for asking legitimate questions.
Some journalists either don’t ask the questions that need to be asked, or they take forever to ask them, and then make a statement or two and finally get around to asking a softer version of the real question that needs to be asked.
A good interviewer asks the questions that need to be asked and lets the person being interviewed be the star. Even if they don’t like the question.