Monday, February 3, 2014

Jon Stewart Asks Bad Questions, and Nancy Pelosi Gives Bad Answers

On Thursday's episode of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. As my title suggests, the interview was filled with bad questions and bad answers.
Jon Stewart was trying to ask about systemic corruption in government, but he frequently lacked specificity in his questions or directed them at the wrong point. If you want to discuss the systemic corruption in Congress, you need to build up your case (and there is certainly one to be made) and then end with a discussion of whether the problems are systemic or not. His examples were often underdeveloped and unstructured and, at times, random.

Because of his failure to articulate sharp questions, Pelosi often evades or challenges them, and her answers and delivery felt stilted to me.

The whole interview is about 25/26 minutes and has three parts. I transcribed about half of it below.
At the end of the second part (not transcribed), they seem to be getting frustrated with each other. Stewart is talking about how the Democrats take money from the same corporations and special interests as Republicans, and Pelosi highlights the contrasting voting records of the parties (She says, "You look at the votes" about four times). Stewart's complaint is justified, and so is Pelosi's response to an extent. Stewart's questions fail because he does not provide specific examples which Pelosi would be forced to address. He could have easily, for instance, highlighted the time when 70 Democrats voted for a bill almost entirely written by Citigroup. But when he talks about legislation, he deals in the abstract. He also has a tendency to talk to her about failings of or corruption in the executive branch rather than Congress.

Moreover, when they discuss the role of money in politics (not described), he only looks at this in terms of a quid pro quo. And because of that, Pelosi can push back against the accusation. However, the effect of money in politics is far more extensive and insidious than just that. When you are constantly speaking with the donor class, the only concerns you are hearing (or at least the main ones you are hearing) are those of the donor class. You will end up placing more weight on the opinions of the top 1% (or top 1% of the 1%), perhaps even falsely conflating their views with those of the general public. But, as Stewart himself is rich, the question of this ideological and social influence does not come to him.

You can read the transcript with my commentary here

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