Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gibson's Gaffe: The Trick Question

Charles Krauthammer shows that Charles Gibson's supposed "gotcha" moment was a crock of attack dog journalism. Gibson's lecture to Sarah Palin on "the Bush Doctrine" was incorrect. There have been several versions of "the Bush Doctrine," and what Gibson intoned was not the Bush Doctrine. So, Sarah Palin didn't really stumble at all, since there is no one meaning to "the Bush Doctrine." The guy bluffed so well it fooled (even) me!

This makes me even more contemptuous toward the contemptuous (and errant) Charles Gibson.


Sirfab said...

I will not go into whether Charles Gibson meant his question as a "gotcha" question: only Gibson knows it and I cannot assume to know the answer for him.

But I offer you this rebuttal from a blog. It says that Palin's request for clarification was technically correct because the Bush doctrine has shifted over time (what a surprise!), but here's the problem:

"in common parlance the Bush doctrine clearly refers to the doctrine of preventive war that was used to justify the Iraq War. That much is obvious to anyone who has followed the issue. None of the elements of President's Bush' foreign policy philosophy ever got the same level of attention as that doctrine, which was really seen as a massive shift when it was announced in 2002.


To think of this in another way, if I were to ask someone, "Do you think that Barry Bonds' record should have an asterisk on it?", I would expect them to know which record I was talking about. If they were to answer, "Which record?", my assumption would be that they didn't know all that much about baseball. I obviously would not be referring to Barry Bonds the all time leader in base on balls or record holder for most league MVPs. No. I'd be talking about his 762 Home runs. Because that is the record that is so controversial. The one that has elicited so much debate and the one that is the main source of controversy. To assume anything else would be technically correct, but also incredibly stupid.

People can make all the excuses they want. But the reality is that if Sarah Palin had been paying attention to the huge foreign policy debate going on in this country over the past few years she would have known exactly what Charlie Gibson was talking about." (The whole post is here.)

I believe that Krauthammer is himself putting a good deal of spin on this issue. First of all, Gov. Palin seemed to have a genuine "deer in the headlight". Then, if her doubt had been about genuine confusion on which of the aspects of the Bush doctrine Gibson had intended, she could have said "Charlie, as you know there are many elements to the Bush doctrine. Which one are you specifically referring to?" Instead this is the full exchange between Palin and Gibson (italics added for emphasis):

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?
PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?
GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?
PALIN: His world view.
GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.
PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that's the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.
GIBSON: The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?

As you see from the transcript, she equated the Bush doctrine with "his world view." Then, Gibson did clarify that he meant the doctrine as expressed by the White House in 2002. Even then, the best Palin could muster was a fudgy answer about international terrorism, blunders and the beauty of American elections. Still no word on Bush's policy of unilateral, preventive intervention (some may call it aggression.)

Perhaps Charles Gibson really intended to put Gov. Palin on the spot. Perhaps he did so knowing that the Bush doctrine has evolved. But even then, he gave Palin the chance to recover from her initial impasse and she failed to articulate a pertinent answer. That, my friends, does not bode well.

P.S. Curiously, Wikipedia's entry on The Bush Doctrine was altered over the last couple of days. Wikipedia's entry on Presidential Doctrines makes no mention of the evolution of the Bush Doctrine, and stresses the concept of unilateral pre-emptive wars.

Jerry said...

In fact, Sarah Palin showed more understanding than Charlie Gibson when she asked him: "His world view?" in an attempt to clarify his question. His contemptuous answer to her showed that he wasn't interested in having a dialog but in showing her up.

It is my belief that the American people aren't fooled by slimy tactics like these.

Ryan Phelps said...

1. I agree that Gibson was quite pompous and would have offered up a qualification had anybody else asked. Moreover, the ambiguity as to what the Bush Doctrine is necessitates qualification. Krauthammer makes this case obvious.

2. However, the problem, it seems to me, was not that she was baffled by the abigutity. She was baffled by the phrase itself, Bush Doctrine. As Rick Lowry point out, "The fact still remains that she very likely didn't know any of the possible definitions of the Bush doctrine."

She will, hopefully, get better.

Tom said...

I don't get it, folks. Sarah Palin has agreed to run for the office of Vice President of the United States. Because of her lack of national--let alone international--political experience, her knowledge on matters of foreign policy is suspect. She spends the first two weeks as a candidate talking to no one in the media. She finally grants an interview and she's asked a question that someone running for the office she seeks should an an answer for. The answer could have been that the "Bush doctrine" is ambiguous with her then disambiguating it. But she did nothing of the kind. She clearly had no idea what Gibson was talking about. "His world view?" C'mon. This woman could well be running the country in a couple years. Are interviewers supposed to just ask her softball questions?

A good answer to Gibson's question would have been impressive. The answer she gave was the reverse.

Tom said...

One more point: in my last comment, I ignored the question of whether Gibson was glib or condescending. I'm not sure myself, but I can see how others might think he was either or both. I don't even know whether he was trying to produce a "gotcha" moment or whether he was just trying to be a hard-hitting journalist. I did sense that he was trying to demonstrate her ignorance (mission accomplished) but I think of it this way: he would have been condescending if, in interviewing Joe Biden, he had said, "What do you think of the Bush Doctrine--and by that I mean..." The suggestion that Gibson would know what the BD is but that Biden wouldn't would have been ridiculous. It might be fair to assume a VP candidate would have passing knowledge of the policy of the current president.

Anyway, my admittedly-long-winded point is this: even granting that Gibson was a complete jerk, the point is that Palin was clueless. And that's what's troubling since she is the once running for the VP.

Tom said...

Okay, sorry, I'll try to make this my last comment on this post. But there's an article on that quotes Gibson asking McCain, Obama, and Ron Paul if they agreed with the Bush doctrine in earlier debates. None of them show any sign of not knowing what he was talking about. Here's the link:

I'd say Palin was not well served by her handlers. If this is something that Gibson regularly asks candidates about, she should have been briefed (better still, she should had been paying attention to national policy debates but failing that the McCain team should have briefed her).

Okay, sorry, I'll try to be quiet--for now!