the opportunity cost of a media bitchslap

The media asks a lot of really dumb questions. I mean: unbelievably dumb. In their effort to generate things to talk about, they press people to speculate about things they know nothing about, they ask questions that they know have no consequence, they ask hypothetical questions that nobody could possibly know the correct answer to, and they spend time making predictions about matters that will come to pass less than 24 hours later. It’s all completely senseless.

So why do people play along?

Here is a perfect example. Mitt Romney meets with Rick Santorum, and afterwards a reporter asks Mitt Romney: “Now that you’ve had that meeting, do you think Rick Santorum will endorse you?”

Romney with reportersIt’s an absolutely ridiculous question. How would Mitt Romney know? Why would you ask him to guess, instead of just asking Rick Santorum? Why would it matter whether Mitt Romney is able to make an accurate prediction about what Rick Santorum would do? Does it say anything about Romney’s skills or abilities, one way or the other? No matter how you look at it, asking Romney to predict Santorum’s endorsement is just a stupid, stupid question.

Yet, Mitt Romney is not (strategically) able to give the absolutely most honest and truthful answer to this question, which is this:

“That is a stupid question. You are a moron for asking it, and I would be a moron to answer. I’m not a mind reader. It’s not my business to predict what Rick Santorum will do. I don’t have an opinion and there is no reason for me to try to fabricate an opinion just for you. If you want to know what Rick is going to do, ask him. How about you ask me about something that matters?”

On some level, I think most reasonable people would understand this response. Most people would agree that whether or not Romney can “predict” what Rick Santorum might say makes absolutely no difference to anything.

Yet strategically, he can’t give that response.  Why not?

The problem is that there are people on both sides of the political aisle who are more interested in opportunism than honesty. If Mitt Romney refused to answer, there are Democrats who would scream: “What’s he hiding? Why is he avoiding the question? How dare he criticize the media! Why is he being evasive? Who does he think he is, to not answer a simple question?” And so on.

It’s pathetic and it’s lazy on the part of the Democrats who would do this. Any thinking person knows that these are bogus charges to make. Refusing to answer a question doesn’t mean you’re “hiding” something, especially when it’s a stupid question. But even Democrats who know this to be the case, will cynically take advantage of the situation, puff up with fabricated hysteria and indignation, and try to place the blame on Romney. Why? Because they can: because in the short run it’s a way to score political points.

Of course, it’s not only the Democrats who would act this way. The media constantly asks dumb questions of both Republican and Democratic politicians, and both of them are forced to answer. Both of them are forced to answer because each knows that if they don’t answer–or if they give the honest answer and say “that’s a stupid question”–there are opportunists on the other side of the aisle who will jump on the chance to criticize them for it.

There is too much opportunity cost associated with “spanking” the media when it misbehaves. The cost doesn’t just come from the media, which (predictably) will act defensively and insist that it has the right to have any question answered. But the cost also comes from short-sighted and immature people in politics who are willing to set aside their own rationality, and launch into a fake criticism of someone on the other side just because they think it will hurt the person.

How do I know they are “setting aside their own rationality” for the sake of a cheap shot?  Because of way they react when someone on their own side is asked the same type of question. That’s when they cry out: Gotcha question! Look how meaningless the media has become! For shame!

They don’t realize that the reason the media keeps doing it, and getting away with it, is that nobody is willing to apply the same criticism evenly across the board.