Rand Paul’s patience ran out this week when he made an appearance on ABC with George Stephanopoulos and the latter exchanged journalistic inquiry for partisan hackery. The ensuing fight, however, was a case study in what the media has become and how all conservatives who hit the airwaves ought to take them on.
Rather than pose legitimate questions to the Kentucky senator, Stephanopoulos, who made his money as a Clinton-era Democratic operative before jumping over to the world of “objective journalism,” assumed one of the corporate media’s favorite stances. Let’s call it “media antagonism.”
It isn’t about asking the tough questions. Hard-hitting questions from a journalist are good, although they should be applied to both sides. No, this problem occurs when so-called journalists assume Democrats’ narrative to be indisputably true, frame those partisan talking points as good-faith questions, and then expect conservative interviewees to accept the faulty premises in their responses. Consider the exchange between Stephanopoulos and Paul.
“This election was not stolen. Do you accept that fact?” Stephanopoulos began, taking sides right off the bat. Notice how, first, he echoed Democrats’ position about a controversial topic, and then assumed it to be true in asking if the GOP senator accepted “that fact.”
Paul didn’t fall for it. Instead, he deconstructed the question, noting that while he voted with other members of Congress to certify the results of the Electoral College vote, “the debate over whether or not there was fraud should occur.” Paul proceeded to make the case that fraud did occur by giving examples from his state and others.
Stephanopoulos didn’t like that. He cut off the senator’s argument to offer more Democratic talking points — “No election is perfect,” for instance — that ignored Paul’s valid objections. “Can’t you just say the words, ‘This election was not stolen’?” Stephanopoulos said with “repeat after me” paternalism.
Paul, again refusing to forfeit nuance and join the leftist chorus, pushed back. “What I would suggest is that if we want greater confidence in our elections — and 75 percent of Republicans agree with me — is that we do need to look at election integrity, and we do need to see if we can restore confidence in the elections.”
Stephanopoulos then called Donald Trump and his voters liars. “Well, 75 percent of Republicans agree with you because they were fed a big lie by President Trump and his supporters that said the election was stolen. Why can’t you say, ‘President Biden won a legitimate and fair election’?” Say it. Just say it.
The cage match continued in the same pattern with the pundit in one corner and the senator in the other, but Paul wasn’t afraid to say what needed to be said:
George, where you make a mistake is that people coming from the liberal side like you, you immediately say everything is a lie instead of saying there are two sides to everything. Historically, what would happen is if I said that I thought there was fraud, you would interview someone else who said there wasn’t, but now you insert yourself in the middle and say that the absolute fact is that everything I’m saying is a lie. … I won’t be cowed by people who say, ‘Oh, you’re a liar.’ That’s the problem with the media today is they say all Republicans are liars, and everything we say is a lie. There are two sides to every story. Interview somebody on the other side, but don’t insert yourself into the story to say we’re all liars because we think there’s some fraud in the election that needs to be fixed.
“There are not two sides to the story,” the media antagonist declared. “This has been looked at in every single state. The results were certified in every single state.”
“George, you’re forgetting who you are,” Paul concluded. “You’re forgetting who you are as a journalist if you think there’s only one side. You’re inserting yourself into the story to say I’m a liar because I want to look at election fraud.”
Reject All the False Premises
Paul took Stephanopoulos to task, and it wasn’t that hard. When conservatives come to understand that most inquiries from the corporate media are based on false assumptions, they can successfully push back by questioning the premises of all the questions. It was beautiful when Newt Gingrich did it in 2012, and it’s beautiful when Paul does it now.
Paul isn’t the only one. Sen. Marco Rubio took on a media antagonist this week when he rejected Chris Wallace’s question about whether impeaching Trump would be “useful” for keeping him out of future office. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did the same when he called out a CNN “reporter” for following up her simple question with partisan grandstanding:
“So are you going to give a speech, or are you going to ask a question?”
“With all due respect, governor, I’m trying to finish my question.”
“No, you’re giving a speech. You asked a question.”
Again, it was beautiful.
Recognize ‘Begging the Question’
What many Americans have realized but not enough politicians have fought against is that some of the biggest media hotshots at the helm of the corporate information machine are not good-faith actors digging to unearth the heart of today’s story. They’re overt partisans whose perspectives are shaped by the Democrats’ narrative de jour.
They compulsively peddle the left’s lingo, and their questions drip with leftist rhetoric. If it isn’t Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace having a conversation that sounds like dialogue straight out of an Ibram X. Kendi fantasy, it’s Stephanopoulos — or Jake Tapper or Chuck Todd or Chris Cuomo or Don Lemon — begging the question.
Despite the phrase’s popular but incorrect usage, “begging the question” does not mean “raising the question.” If journalists actually raised questions, that would be great, but “begging the question” is to assume an argument to be incontrovertible fact without proving it. It is the epitome of circular reasoning: Trump supporters are racists because they support Trump, who is a racist.
While this type of statement is ubiquitous in today’s average prime-time newscast, it is a logical fallacy. It uses “B,” Trump is a racist,” as support for “A,” “Trump supporters are racists,” without proving “B.” On-air exchanges are then framed around “A” — as in, “What is the best way to de-program all the racists who voted for Trump?” — without ever proving the underlying faulty premise.
Conservative politicians who go on air and dance around the language rather than expose the fallacy do so to the detriment of themselves and their party, not to mention the broader American discourse.
Follow the Rand Paul Model
For Paul, exposing the fallacy meant refusing to legitimize Stephanopoulos’s bogus framing that reduced the complexities of the 2020 election — in which laws were changed last-minute by unelected actors, counting irregularities emerged, mail-in ballots resulted in voter fraud, dead people voted, and countless other problems arose — to whether Republicans can accept the “fact” that the election wasn’t “stolen.”
Stephanopoulos and his Democratic media cronies have a habit of conflating conversations about voter fraud and how to remedy election integrity to the radical Capitol demonstrators who cling to the notion that Trump won in a landslide victory but had his presidential post stolen, and then they talk themselves in circles about it.
This media antagonism, however, doesn’t begin and end with the 2020 election. Its instigators do this with every topic: abortion, immigration, health care, religious liberty, LGBT issues, school choice — you name it.
Every single Republican lawmaker and figurehead should be required to watch the Paul clip as a clinic for how to take on the left-wing media and then refuse to answer any more media hacks who habitually beg every question. If conservatives and their ideas are ever going to prevail, we must reject falsehoods and expose fallacies — and in the process, unmask today’s journalists as the unserious pundits they really are.