Asking the right questions

questionmarkAfter the embarrassment of last week's CNN-YouTube debate, you might think other media outlets wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. Ordinary voters were given the chance to ask candidates questions via video. But many of the questioners weren't so ordinary, including one man who served on two of Hillary Clinton's committees. I didn't see the entire debate, but there was one question from a man who asked each candidate if they believed every word of the King James Version of the Bible. It was telling -- not only because I doubt that is a key question among ordinary Republican voters, but also because you get the feeling that CNN thought it was a key question among ordinary Republican voters. So various Republican activists were upset not just with the questions from Democratic activists but also the questions CNN chose to ask.

But that didn't stop National Public Radio's All Things Considered from using the aforementioned Bible question as a hook for an interview of Romney. Let's look at how he handled it:

One last point: In the CNN-You Tube debate, there was a moment when one of the people who submitted a question asked all the candidates whether they believed in every word of the Bible, and two of your rivals -- Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani and Gov. [Mike] Huckabee -- both made a point of saying, "Well, in some parts it's allegorical, in some parts it should be interpreted, but yet, I believe in the Bible."

And you seemed -- if I read you right -- to make a point of saying it's the word of God, and even when considering some modification, you backed up, said, "No, I'll just stick with that. It's the word of God." [That] left the impression -- and I want to ask you -- do you hold a literal belief, say, in the Genesis version of creation?

You know, I find it hard to believe that NPR is going to inquire on people's beliefs about various parts of the Bible in evaluating presidential candidates, and actually, I don't know that that's where America has come to -- that you want to have us describing our particular beliefs with regards to Genesis and the Book of Revelations, so --

I raise Genesis only because creationism is a national issue in a variety of ways, and --

Well, but then you could ask me a question and say, "Do you believe that we should teach creationism in our schools, in our science classes and so forth?" and I'm happy to give you an answer to that. But I don't know that going through books of the Bible and asking, "Well, do you believe this book? And do you believe these words?", that that's terribly productive. Particularly when we face global jihad, when we have 47 million people without health insurance, when we have runaway costs in our entitlements, to be asking presidential candidates about their specific beliefs of books of the Bible is, in my view, something which really isn't part of the process which we should be using to select presidents.

My point is the Bible is the word of God, and I try and live by it.

I'm all for reporters asking relevant religious questions of political candidates. Though the distinction doesn't apply to all questions posed by reporters, I think that Romney's contrasting of the newsworthiness of his particular interpretations of Scripture and the newsworthiness of his particular views on public policy (which may or may not be influenced by his religious views) is a good model to follow.

What do you think? In which contexts are journalists' questions about political candidates' particular religious views appropriate and in which contexts are they inappropriate?

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