CNN’s Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota last night stood up for asking questions.
In a segment with fellow CNNer Chris Cuomo, the two hosts were defending themselves against criticism over an earlier segment on CNN in which they had a dispute with author and religion expert Reza Aslan. The question at the center of that segment was displayed on the CNN screen: “DOES ISLAM PROMOTE VIOLENCE?” Aslan was asked to defend the religion and Muslim civilization in general. The whole discussion was premised on remarks by HBO comedian Bill Maher, who said that the entire Muslim world has “too much in common with ISIS.”
The CNN hosts heard it from Twitter users, and they presented their defense to Cuomo on last night’s show. They have no problem with Aslan’s pushback, which asks people like Maher to consider that the Muslim world is 1.5 billion people large, thus containing both peaceful and violent multitudes. But they did voice qualms about how some people took issue with the very question they were posing. Here’s how Camerota phrased things: “I think that we need to be able to ask the questions, even controversial questions, even questions that you might deem as stupid. Because then it allows for the conversation. And you have to be able to have the conversation,” she said.
This has been a good week for this brand of television thinking.
As this blog explained, that same exact rationale drove an awkward discussion on the set of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” As then-Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was sustaining attacks from Congress and others, co-host Mika Brzezinski decided to pose a question: “So I’m going to go further. I want to know why she has that job as the first woman to lead the agency, and I want to know why she still has it.” When Brzezinski sensed some discomfort about any suggestion that Pierson, who had a long and enterprising Secret Service career, had achieved her position through some sort of affirmative action, she asked whether it was “illegal” to pose her question. No, said “Morning Joe” eminence Joe Scarborough.
Hey, I’m just asking! Brzezinski appeared to be saying, even as she quite plainly wondered if Pierson had gotten the job because she was a woman, and not because she’d spent decades preparing for it.
For a third example, we’ll stretch back a bit further. In June 2013, following Glenn Greenwald’s scoops originating from leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, then-“Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked him: “Final question for you…. To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
On a technical-grammatical level, that’s a question. On a practical level, it’s an accusation loaded with unreported and unsubstantiated premises, such that no “answer” could possibly wipe away the slime that it leaves, though Greenwald did his best: “I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in any way,” said Greenwald.
Contrary to Camerota’s claim, questions can be every bit as prejudicial and jaded as assertions.