TWENTY YEARS AGO syndicated columnist Norman Solomon asked some “independent-minded journalists” across the country to propose questions they felt should be posed to the presidential candidates in the debates between then-President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.
I was one of those he asked (at that time I was covering religion for the Austin American-Statesman). Others included Morton Mintz, former Washington Post reporter, John Hess, ex-reporter for The New York Times and Jell Nelson, also a former Washington Post reporter.
It’s interesting how the issues highlighted in the questions remain just as urgent today as they were two decades ago:
The “tremendous rage, alienation and violence prevalent among young people;” rising college costs in the face of stagnant income growth; jobless people who are losing access to food stamps and welfare benefits; immigrant scapegoating; the responsibility of U.S. corporations to employees and their families; and equal opportunity in the face of increasing attacks on affirmative action.
This was my suggested question:
“Both of you have made much of your Christian religion as a foundation of your moral values. Given that, could you tell the American people: At the end of the day, when it’s just you and your God – no political consultants, no aides, no adoring supporters – how do you explain to that God those actions resulting from your putting political gain over principle, especially when you know those actions will hurt, in one way or another, those whom Jesus referred to as ‘the least of your brothers’?”
I was going to suggest that the question would be a valid one to pose to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, except that I don’t think that it is really a valid, meaningful question in this election.
In order for it to be that, we’d have to assume that Trump has a set of moral values. We’d have to assume that Trump believes there is a power higher, stronger and mightier than himself to whom he must answer.
Sadly, we cannot make that assumption.
SOLOMON ENDED HIS column with this paragraph:
“A barrage of these probing questions would be a nightmare for Clinton and Dole. But it’s not on their worry list. In the narrow world of big-name journalism, such questions are out of bounds.”
That criticism remains valid today, for political reporters and commentators would rather ask about polls and campaign tactics and gaffes and “scandals” long ago debunked.
Unfortunately, Solomon was correct. The stories that sell more newspapers and capture more viewers dictate ad revenues, which is more important to the media owners than informing people.