"Joan gotcha!"

Mourdock was not the victim of a gotcha question

Since the fateful night of October 23, 2012, it’s become an article of faith among conservatives that Richard Mourdock was yet another victim of illegitimate, “gotcha” journalism by the liberal media.

It started the day after the debate, when former GOP Senator Rick Santorum — best known for his groundbreaking theories of beastiality — desperately tried to spin Mourdock’s comments and the resulting furor, saying that “has been misunderstood in a game of ‘gotcha politics.’

He was joined by Ted Cruz of Texas, who will join Donnelly as a new Senator in January. “I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals. I would note that it seems the media is never asking Democrats what their view is, of say partial-birth abortion … Instead, you see reporters engaging sometimes in ‘gotcha’ games where they try to get Republicans to make ill-considered comments, and I think that is not serving the people well.”

Over at Christianity Today, Mark Galli called the incident “a prime example of gotcha-politics”. In Commentary, Bethany Mandel wrote, “Especially after the furor that lasted for several weeks over Todd Akin’s statements, Richard Mourdock should have been expecting a “gotcha” question at some point in his candidacy, considering his position on rape and incest exemptions.”

After the election, Robert Stacy McCain wrote in The American Spectator, “Perhaps pro-life groups should sponsor a training session for political candidates, teaching them how to answer “gotcha” questions without either ceding anything to the abortion lobby or offending voters with off-the-cuff comments about rape.”

And searching for “Mourdock” and “gotcha” on RedState or one of the other big conservative blogs returns more hits than even Nate Silver could sort through.

Let’s leave aside for the moment that Moudock’s bizarre outburst of divine-mind-reading occurred during a debate, which might be the time a candidate might most expect to be asked a question. Let’s also leave aside that the question actually came from real Indiana voters, and that former Indianapolis Star editor Dennis Ryerson doesn’t fit even the broadest, most paranoid definition of the “liberal” media.

Let’s just look at what the question actually was. The question starts at around 44:08 of the video. (Transcriptions are mine.)


The issue of abortion and contraception continue to divide the country, and questions we received from voters reflected that divide. For example, one voter wanted to know your position on a woman’s right to abortion, but not only that, but to contraception and to other reproductive health services, and whether government should provide those services. Another asked if you believed that life begins at conception, and in that person’s view, what would you do to protect the babies who could be aborted during your term in the Senate. So where do you stand on these issues?

Got that? Nowhere in the long, rambling question is there any mention of rape. Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning answered first, then Democratic candidate (now Senator-elect) Joe Donnelly. In his response, Donnelly mentioned that he thought abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

Then it was Mourdock’s turn:


You know, this is that issue that every candidate for federal — or even state — office faces. And I, too, certainly stand for life. I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have for — to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I just — I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen. You know, Mr. Donnelly’s comments about Obamacare…

I’ll just outsource the next paragraph to Eric Alterman:

As you can see from the transcripts though, in both the case of Akin and Mourdock—and contra McCain—there was no loaded, “gotcha” question. The pair’s shockingly ill-informed and condescending answers arose organically from run-of-the-mill exchanges during scheduled campaign interviews. More importantly, neither Akin nor Mourdock thought they’d said anything remotely controversial at the time. And that telling disconnect is what McCain and his ilk still can’t get their heads around—that the public’s outrage over their rape comments was never merely a superficial objection to the language they used to discuss their beliefs, it was a deeper rejection of the extreme nature of the beliefs themselves.

Of course, to certain crybaby conservatives, any question that doesn’t come pre-loaded with their favorite talking points is a “gotcha” question. Even when it’s a basic question about foreign policy, reading habits, or friendly questions about the state of your campaign, it’s unfair.

How that squares with conservative pundits’ favorite blame-ducking excuse, I don’t know.