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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Journalism, law, and asking questions

This piece, arguing that reporters undermine their checking function by asking complex, multi-part questions or burying a single question in a long lead-up, is spot-on. And the comparison to what we try to do in law school and law is apt. Effective cross-examination involves single, pointed questions. The same for effective questioning during oral argument--part of why Justice Breyer's questions are so incomprehensible and impossible to wade through is all the crap surrounding the question--which is usually just "respond to what I just rambled about for 3 transcript pages." It also what effective classroom teachers do, guiding the discussion with singular pointed and precise questions.

The result in journalism and law is the same: If the question is memorable because so beautifully and intricately phrased, the answer will not be memorable--because it will not have gotten a meaningful answer or even any answer, at the least not the one the questioner was hoping for.

Update: Needless to say, this also would make confirmation hearings far more bearable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 21, 2017 at 04:14 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Teaching Law | Permalink


This is great advice for cross-examination, but sadly the analogy doesn't really hold in the context of a press conference. Without the chance to ask follow-up questions or to coordinate questions with other journalists (and without a judge to force the person being questioned to answer), it's no wonder journalists use the time to grandstand instead of asking pointed questions.

Posted by: Doug | Mar 21, 2017 9:08:01 PM

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