Ask thyself not

Am I tired of politicians and bureaucrats recasting questions directed to them in interviews? Yes, definitely. Does the technique lead to a dreadful rhetorical style? It is certain. Does it remind me of using the Magic 8-ball as a kid? Without a doubt. I heard an interview on NPR this morning – I was too groggy to catch who it was – but when the interviewer asked a question, the interviewee ‘responded’ by asking a sequence of his own questions, to which he then gave abrupt answers (2–3 words each). I'm not sure whether this technique started with Donald Rumsfeld, or whether he just popularized it, but please stop already!

I can conjecture a few reasons why this style evolved. (1) Asking your own questions is a novel way to evade entirely the reporter's questions. (2) It limits the scope of the reporter's question. In this case, the speaker seems to say, “your question is not nuanced enough, so here are five narrow instances that I will address.” (3) The speaker is incapable of constructing complex sentences with multiple dependent clauses, so to communicate a complex viewpoint he must rely on a long sequence of curt answers to narrow questions. (4) The speaker believes the listener or reporter incapable of comprehending complex sentences with multiple dependent clauses.

At any rate, this style makes the speaker seem either simple-minded or arrogant (usually both), and it demonstrates contempt for both interviewer and audience.

Is this something I unwittingly do when fielding questions in a class or seminar? Better not tell you now. Will my interlocutors please call it to my attention if they catch me doing this? Reply hazy, try again.

©20022015 Christopher League