Oh, I Gotcha

What can we learn from the below exchange between CBS News’s Katie Couric, Sen. McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin which aired last night?

COURIC: Over the weekend, Gov. Palin, you said the U.S. should absolutely launch cross-border attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistan to, quote, “stop the terrorists from coming any further in.” [See video ]. Now, that’s almost the exact position that Barack Obama has taken and that you, Sen. McCain, have criticized as something you do not say out loud. So, Gov. Palin, are you two on the same page on this?

PALIN: We had a great discussion with President Zardari as we talked about what it is that America can and should be doing together to make sure that the terrorists do not cross borders and do not ultimately put themselves in a position of attacking America again or her allies. And we will do what we have to do to secure the United States of America and her allies.

COURIC: Is that something you shouldn’t say out loud, Sen. McCain?

MCCAIN: Of course not. But, look, I understand this day and age of “gotcha” journalism. Is that a pizza place? In a conversation with someone who you didn’t hear … the question very well, you don’t know the context of the conversation, grab a phrase. Gov. Palin and I agree that you don’t announce that you’re going to attack another country …

COURIC: Are you sorry you said it?

MCCAIN: … and the fact …

COURIC: Governor?

MCCAIN:: Wait a minute. Before you say, “is she sorry she said it,” this was a “gotcha” sound bite that, look …

COURIC: It wasn’t a “gotcha.” She was talking to a voter.

MCCAIN: No, she was in a conversation with a group of people and talking back and forth. And … I’ll let Gov. Palin speak for herself…

“Gotcha journalism,” by definition, involves a “gotcha” and…a journalist. The person who asked Palin the Pakistan question appeared to be a regular person, not a reporter. Perhaps McCain meant that person asked a “gotcha” question? Meaning an out-of-the-blue query about something a candidate might reasonably not expect or anticipate being asked as a candidate, designed to catch the candidate off-guard? Should someone running for Veep anticipate being asked what she will do about “the Pakistan situation?” Yeah.

Ok. So…maybe McCain meant that Couric was practicing “gotcha journalism” by asking Palin to explain/account for something she said in response to a voter’s question at restaurant… when everyone knows a candidate can not be held accountable for things said while in the presence of pizza ….er, cheesesteaks…let’s just say, to be safe, delicious cheese-centric junk foods?

Going forward, all press conferences (and town hall-style Q&A’s with regular folks, while we’re at it) will be held at Tony Luke’s!

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.