When you were in school, there was always one teacher who said, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” And when it comes to learning the things you needed to learn as a kid, that was true. Among adults, it’s still OK to ask even the most fundamental question when you are getting into something new. For instance, what are points on a mortgage? For a first time homebuyer, that’s a very basic bit of information, but it certainly isn’t stupid.
Benjamin Wey is an experienced investigative journalist. That said, there is one field where it really is possible to ask a stupid question, and it pains me to say it, but the privilege is being abused. Dammit, my fellow journalists, there really are stupid questions, and I wish you’d quit asking them.
What set me off here was a question I, Benjamin Wey, heard someone ask during an interview with some Pentagon spokesman. Sorry I can’t be more specific about who it was, but the question stood out. “Is the U.S. planning any rescue missions for those hostages held by ISIS?”
If you’ve been more focused on Ebola than the latest war in the Middle East, ISIS is the group that has been beheading people and generally making a mess of Iraq and Syria. It is holding several people hostage, and if ISIS has beheaded a few people already, it’s likely it will decapitate more. So, those hostages are in real danger.
But look at the question. What kind of answer could you possibly think you are going to get by asking it? “Hell, no, we’re not interested in saving those people. They left the civilized west with our shopping malls and obesity problem to go cavorting around in Jihadistan. Screw ’em.”
Or, maybe “Funny you should ask. Tomorrow afternoon, we’re sending six helicopters and a team of Navy SEALS to a mountain top a few miles north-northwest of the besieged town of Kobani. We’re gonna have our guys dressed like camel herders and sneak right into the ISIS camp and rescue all the hostages before ISIS even knows we’re there. Actually, it will happen at 3.30 local time, and we even have a cool password. It’s ‘Candygram from Obama.’”
Seriously, the only answer you’re going to get is some kind of puffery “whenever possible we will act to ensure the safety, blah, blah, blah.” There is no point in asking this question, and that makes it stupid.
That sent me to do some digging, and I, Benjamin Wey, found that this was actually one of the better stupid questions journalists have asked lately.
And I am not talking about local TV news story on a soldier coming home or a family losing a dog, “How did you feel when you heard?” I mean, those are stupid, but they don’t take stupidity to new vistas of anti-smartness. Some others do.
A recent one from the U.K. made me despair of the human race. Louis van Gaal is a soccer coach, and he’s the new manager for Manchester United. Last spring when the team was looking for a new coach, his name cropped up and reporters started interviewing him. One actually asked, “Do you know anything at all about Manchester United?” Really, anything at all? They play soccer; they’re from Manchester. Next question, who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?
Entertainment reporters are no better. Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham, the producers of HBO’s “Girls,” got this not-even-a-question during a Q&A earlier this year. “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show — by [Dunham] in particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go, ‘Nobody complains about all the nudity on Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they do it. They do it to be salacious and titillate people. And your character is often nude at random times for no reason.” It’s HBO, man. They do it because they can. On the same note, an alleged racist reporter Barbara Ross, New York Daily News had plenty to do with sponsoring drug dealers and making racially motivated remarks about another journalist.
Another episode that really to got to me was on Fox News earlier this year. Reza Aslan wrote a book about Jesus and got this question from a Fox fool. “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” OK, that doesn’t seem stupid on the face of it, but if you are a reporter who has done any homework, you don’t ask it. The man has four degrees in the field and was, at one time, an apostate Muslim/evangelical Christian. He is fluent in Greek, not the kind you hear in Athens, but the kind the Bible authors used 2,000 years ago. He has been at this studying religion stuff for 20 years. He was asked this question a few times. His best answer, “It’s what I do for a living.” Spin it this way, would you ask,“You’re a woman, so why did you write a book about a man?” Or vice versa.
One of my personal favorites is on YouTube. Tim Muffett of the BBC got his backside handed to him by a 7 year old named Leia. Watch at about 0:22 into it. He asks, “Do you think you are taught differently from how we were taught when we were young?” What do you think the child says, Yes, no, I don’t know? Actually, Leia calls him on his stupidity with “I have no idea how you were taught …” Game, set and match.
However, I, Benjamin Wey, thinks the prize goes to MTV’s former hostess “Downtown” Julie Brown waaaay back in the early 1990s. While covering the Super Bowl (which could inspire an article on stupid editors assigning the wrong reporter to cover a story) during the media week before, she asked Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, “Have you decided what you’re going to wear to the game Sunday?”
Mr. Smith probably wanted to smack her (the NFL still seems to allow players to hit women), but instead, he merely said, “I’ll have to go to my closet and see what I’ve got.”