Friday, December 03, 2004

Mr. President, will you answer the question?

Salon.com:

Finally, in the absence of answers, the press corps should do a better job of reminding the public of all the outstanding questions from Bush's first term. Aren't some of these questions important enough to keep asking, even if no answer is forthcoming? And isn't it worth reminding our readers and viewers that we have been denied the answers? For instance:

• Who was responsible for the faulty intelligence about Iraq's WMD, and why haven't they been held accountable?
• What has changed about the administration that would give the public the certainty that if we go to war again, it won't be based on faulty intelligence?
• When did Bush become aware of the memos written by White House and Justice Department lawyers sanctioning torture and the circumvention of the Geneva Conventions in certain circumstances? And did he support or reject them?
• Does Bush know who leaked Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative? Who did it?

There are many more. And there are also now a growing number of questions about Bush's ambitious but amorphous plans for his second term that should be asked until they are answered. Among them:

• If current workers are allowed to invest some of their Social Security taxes, that amount will have to be made up in some other way, unless the government reduces payments to current or future retirees. So what's it going to be?
• How can the government reduce the deficit if it won't increase taxes and it doesn't reduce spending?
• If the tax code overhaul is to be revenue neutral, and one goal is to reduce the tax rate on savings, what taxes go up?
• If preemptive war against Iraq was justified, what other nations might merit preemptive action?

At this point, the best thing reporters can do is ask questions so simple and direct that Bush's almost inevitable evasion is obvious to everyone. And then they should repeatedly remind their readers and viewers that the questions remain unanswered. Maybe Bush can be prodded and shamed into meeting with the press more often. And maybe White House reporters -- who are, after all, among the best of their profession -- can craft the occasional question that actually prompts the president to reflect upon a decision, recall an event or reaction, give some insight into his judgment, or even spill some beans.

But more realistically, the best outcome we can hope for is that better questions themselves will help the media and the public focus on the vital issues of the day -- so that the president's minimally valuable responses to them can at least appear in well-researched, consequential news reports full of context and facts.

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