Wait . . . what now?

Knowing when to ask a follow-up question is an essential part of being a good journalist. And if ever there was a statement made that absolutely screamed for a tough follow-up, it was made this past weekend in Missouri.

Politicians, of course, are masters at making statements which don’t allow a lot of room for such questions. For example, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch‘s recent assertion that President Barack Obama wants to “throw a blanket of generalization over all women.”

AUDIO: Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch (:40)

Now, it was understood that Kleefisch was speaking in hyperbolic metaphor, so any follow-ups would have run the risk of sounding sillier than the statement itself. (“How big would that blanket be? Would it be a domestically made blanket?” )

Which brings us to Todd Akin. More specifically, to St. Louis journalist Charles Jaco’s interview with the Missouri congressman and U.S. Senate candidate. Jaco’s initial question to Akin – “are there any circumstances, in your mind, in which an abortion should be legal?” – was followed by a good 40 seconds of dissembling comments (something else politicians are masters of) on 9/11, and a Marine rescuing an Iraqi citizen, all by way of illustrating how much Americans love life. But Jaco didn’t let Akin’s non-sequitorial detour onto hallowed ground deter him. He pressed Akin for specifics “What about in the case of rape? Should it be legal or not?” Akin’s response, of course, has been Topic A ever since.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something.”

Magical thinking aside, there’s no hyperbolic metaphor there. Now I’m as guilty as the next person of falling into the bad habit of formulating my next question, instead of listening to the answer I’m being given. But I like to think I wouldn’t have let this one slide. Immediately after Akin made the statement, Jaco (off camera) can be heard saying . . . . well, nothing really. (If anything, the “mmm” he can be heard making sounds like assent. But maybe he was just stunned.) Let’s break it down. Akin claimed he came by his understanding from doctors. And he came up – presumably on the spot – with the term legitimate rape. It’s understood that by this he meant forcible, but Jaco didn’t press him. (“You’ve learned this from doctors? Which doctors? What do you mean by legitimate rape?” )  Instead, it was on to the next topic. Even given the time constraints of a televised program, it still seems hard to believe that a journalist with as much experience as Jaco let this go without a “wait . . . what now?”

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