What Should Chris Wallace Have Asked?

“Flake”-free questions for Michele Bachmann

It came about fourteen minutes into Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace’s sixteen-minute interview with presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann. It came after questions (and, to Wallace’s credit, follow-up questions, albeit of varying productivity) about government spending and health care and same-sex marriage and several of Bachmann’s GOP opponents.

“Finally,” said Wallace:

[L]et’s talk about Michele Bachmann because — and you say — it’s interesting. You say that the people saw in the debate and saw you as a serious person. I don’t have to tell you that you have — the rap on you here in Washington is that you have a history of questionable statements, some would say gaffes, ranging from — talking about anti-America members of Congress — on this show — a couple of months ago, when you suggested that NATO airstrikes had killed up to 30,000 civilians.

Wallace took a deep breath. He paused. “Are you a flake?” he asked, punctuated by a lame smile.

It was a poor question from Wallace, measured both in terms of politeness (politic-ness?) and probability of yielding an insightful, informative answer. “It wasn’t the bluntness, it was the ‘flakiness,’” wrote Joel here yesterday, adding:

I can’t imagine a similarly dismissive and gender-loaded word shot at Herman Cain, though there may be greater reason for it…. On a serious network, with “fair and balanced” coverage, Bachmann deserves the level of respect accorded to her rivals.

Wallace apologized online yesterday, noting some people “felt I had been rude to [Bachmann]” and adding: “In the end, since it’s really all about the answers, not the questions, uh, I messed up. Sorry.”

Actually, we think the questions are pretty important, too.

So, what should Wallace have asked Bachmann? Either instead of the “flake” question—reword it, if you like — or entirely separate from the “flake” line of inquiry? What should the next reporter to land face time with Bachmann ask her?

The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review. Tags: , , , ,