An early example of a so-called “gotcha question” was in 1992 when NBC News correspondent Stone Phillips asked President George H. W. Bush if he’d ever had an affair. The Miami Herald quoted Larry King as saying, “gotcha questions are not my style,” but that it was an issue to be explored if it exposed hypocrisy.
Also in 1992, then-candidate Bill Clinton said questions about his marital infidelity were “a game of gotcha.” George W. Bush, during his presidential campaign in 1999, complained of “gotcha” questions when reporters asked whether he’d used cocaine.
In 2006, with the country still deep in the Iraq War, Congressional Quarterly’s Jeff Stein asked members of Congress if they knew the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni. Stein himself described it as a “gotcha question,” but said it shone a light on whether the people who voted to go to war knew who the enemy was. Many didn’t.
And of course in 2008, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin often dismissed questions as “gotcha” –most famously when interviewer Katie Couric asked her what newspapers and magazines she read. Palin said all of them.
Like Walker, then-candidate Barack Obama raised money off of what he called “gotcha games” at a debate between him and Hillary Clinton in spring 2008 where he was asked about his comments about rural Pennsylvanians clinging to guns and religion, why he didn’t wear a flag pin and his relationship with radical activist Bill Ayers.
With the 2016 presidential campaign well underway (even if no one has officially declared their candidacies), politicians are going to cry “gotcha questions” a lot – sometimes rightly, other times not. But with Twitter and other social media driving the (however insular) conversation, it’s even harder for candidates to ignore them or refuse to answer. They won’t go away.
But there is a silver (or green) lining… Like Obama and Walker did, a candidate can always turn a “gotcha question” into a fundraising opportunity.