Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Matching the answers with the questions

By Dick Hirsch

It’s answer time, folks, that rhetorically esteemed quadrennial period when one of the biggest challenges is matching up the answers with the questions.

Let me present an example, an answer from imagined experience:

“With the major studios now governed by large corporations whose executives know little about the process, there are many questions for the average citizen to ask. Who are those responsible for choosing the subject matter and are they qualified to do so? In addition, there is the contentious issue of foreign competition and the use of offshore crews and sites in a growing number of productions. Furthermore, there is continuing concern among adherents about the future of the industry and whether or not it can remain economically viable considering the technological developments that continue to impact the entire communications industry, with potential for both good and bad. In view of that, I suppose the most appropriate response I can suggest at this time is ‘maybe.’”

With that as the answer, what is the question? Sorry, I am not yet ready to reveal it. Instead I will provide another example for the review of conscientious readers, with the hope that it will assist them in figuring out what the hell I am talking about. Here is another answer from imagined experience:

“Let me begin with a Biblical quotation you will surely recall from Sunday school: ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted...’ and it goes on at some length, but there is little reason to recount it here, since the most definitive observation on the topic in modern times has been correctly attributed to the late and revered Erastus Corning, the long-time mayor of Albany, New York, who repeatedly expounded upon the seasonal changes and how his municipal people dealt with the natural occurrences of autumn. He succinctly summarized by repeatedly advising as follows: ‘God put them there and God will remove them.”

Are you with me? The previous paragraph is a response I have prepared especially for delivery when my wife, Lynn, asks:
“When are you going to rake the leaves?”

Would I dare use that answer? I don’t think so. I’d be immediately handed the rake and pointed in the direction of the back yard. Only political campaigners can sustain themselves and seek election using answers like that, answers that often have no relevance to the question. They usually sound like they are related to the question, but if you happen to look at a transcript, it often can be characterized as what my grandfather called “hokum.”

Let’s return to that first answer, up in the third paragraph. What is the question? If you said “Do you want to go to the movies?” you are not only correct, you are very perceptive and that must be the result of dealing with verbosity and convoluted verbiage on a regular basis.

Public officials at all levels become very adept at providing answers which have the aroma of responsiveness and authenticity but don’t match the question. It is a skill that is honed over the years, so state legislators are usually more skillful than local officials, and most members of Congress and other Washington veterans are world class.

I spent nearly 20 years interviewing candidates and elected officials on my weekly local television programs and I quickly learned about the most basic truth regarding answers in such forums. The politicians all recognize that in typical interview programs, situations where there are no specific time constraints such as two minutes per answer, there is an unspoken but widely accepted strategy. It provides that the longer each answer lasts the fewer questions can be asked.

The presidential campaigns and debates usually stimulate Olympian performances. This season the gold medal clearly goes to Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. As this is written, none of us know how history will deal with Gov. Palin. Perhaps it is better that way; we don’t know whether she will be elected and relocate to Washington or whether she will return to Wasilla and become a mere footnote in the history books. But she surely did provide some rhetorically supercharged answers, a few of them quite euphonious, that were virtually impossible to match up with the questions.

One final note for the record: I’m Dick Hirsch and I approve of this message.


Post a Comment

<< Home