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?

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