I thought you might want to see this video of me tangling with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Monday.
Jay had been repeating his prepared talking points that the threat to national security of having five nasty Taliban leaders out of Guantanamo Bay had been sufficiently “mitigated.” I thought this was strikingly casual and provided precious little information about such a serious issue, so I tried to pin him down a bit.
There were reports that whatever arrangement we had made with the Qataris would last no more than a year. So I tried to get to the bottom line and see if Jay could assure Americans that these bad guys won’t go back to trying to kill us in two or three years.
Note, I asked specifically about two or three years, not “sometime after one year.” That would have given Jay a chance to say, “We haven’t said anything about a year” and try to move on.
Also, being specific about a result – “two or thee years” – is an important journalistic tactic for asking questions, which of course few journalists use. It’s also one you can apply in your own lives.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked some stray senator, “When will you announce your new bill?” and they respond, “I’m not going to discuss timing.” And then I ask “Will it be next week?” And they say, “No, probably not for about three weeks.”
Somehow, when you offer a specific possibility, it compels people to give you a specific answer. Next time your spouse says they’ll be home late, ask, “Like at 8 pm?”
Anyway, didn’t work this time. Jay stuck to his talking points, of course.
The second question I asked was in response to what struck me as an absurd contention that the exchange of five murderous Taliban leaders for a single low-ranking U.S. soldier was perfectly within the tradition of prisoner exchanges. I wanted to know when the last time such gruesome and dangerous characters had been set loose for someone of Bergdahl’s stature.
Several people noted to me that during the questioning Jay got a little pissy and even seemed to insult my website. It wasn’t my intention to make him testy, but if he loses his cool, all the better, maybe he’ll make a mistake and say something newsworthy. And as for the website, I only regret he didn’t mention the name!