Recently there was a little spat in New Hampshire between CNN correspondent Dana Bash and presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). For years, I have considered Bash to be a good correspondent, particularly her work on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail. But as reported in the Huffington Post, she asks Paul a question that is appallingly unrelated to what we need to know about a presidential candidate. It occurs near the end of the two-minute clip below.
Bash: “At the last, stop where you just were, in Madison, there was a woman there who was a New Hampshire voter, who had voted for Barack Obama in last primary, and she told me that if she would have been able to shake your hand and look you in the eye, you would have gotten her vote but now she’s turned off because you left. Does that say anything about your ability to connect?”
Paul spokesman, Jesse Benton, who was there immediately said, “This is junk, a junk question. We’re stopping.” At that point Paul and his contingent walked off. Bash had a shocked look and said, “I wanted to ask about a voter.”
Well, Ms. Bash may have thought that she wanted to ask about a voter. But with the question phrased, “Does that say anything about your ability to connect” she clearly was addressing the candidate. She wasn’t asking Ron Paul about his views on aid to Israel or to explain how the current monetary policy is undermining the economy. She wanted to know if he had difficulty connecting with a voter, and thus all voters, because at some point he had to leave an appearance and didn’t have time to shake everyone’s hand and look them in the eye.
Was her expectation that every candidate for office is not going to leave an appearance until he or she personally connects with each individual there? If a candidate was scheduled to meet with a group of union leaders about job creation, would she prefer the candidate to be late or not show at all because he or she was still shaking hands somewhere down the road?
A more appropriate question for Dana Bash to have asked Ron Paul about the woman was, “Does that say anything about the American electorate?” Do voters really make their decision on whether or not to vote for a candidate based on whether or not the candidate is able to shake their hand and look them in the eye?
If Ms. Bash’s question was frivolous, it was no worse than what her husband, reporter John King, also of CNN, did in the first Republican debate in June, 2011. He thought that the public could learn more about candidates if he asked them “personal questions” that would give voters into their real values. So he asked one candidate which he preferred, Coke or Pepsi. He asked another who they preferred, Leno or Conan. These were both supercilious and no-win questions to the candidates.
If Dana Bash and John King want to query candidates about the likes of handshakes and Pepsi, so be it. But by doing so, they lose any and all credibility in criticizing candidates for not being “heavyweights” when it comes to knowing the issues. Candidates could clearly benefit from less time on the road pandering to any audience and more time studying the issues. If reporters represent frivolity, then how should candidates respond?
It’s clear from other appearances that Dana Bash and John King are both very bright. They need to remind us of that.