Is the 'gotcha' question debate going too far?

GOP candidates slam debate process
costello gop debate gotchya questions newsroom_00001801

    JUST WATCHED

    GOP candidates slam debate process

MUST WATCH

GOP candidates slam debate process 02:34

Story highlights

  • Carol Costello: Some GOP candidates object to "gotcha" questions
  • Is it going too far for media organizations to prevent tough questioning of candidates?

Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Is the "gotcha" game becoming a tad un-American?

Who would have thought that, in 2015 when there is a Freedom Caucus in our House of Representatives, some politicians would balk at answering questions?
Yes, sometimes journalists ask dumb questions -- they certainly did during CNBC's debate -- but when a presidential candidate suggests a debate format that allows no time for candidates to debate any questions, I pause.
    "There's a time and place for that," presidential candidate Ben Carson told ABC. "But as far as I'm concerned, these debates are to highlight the differences in philosophy between the candidates."
    According to Carson's campaign manager, a better debate format would place all 14 candidates on stage, together, for two hours. During that time, each candidate would be granted up to five minutes for opening and closing statements.
    That could chew up much, if not all, of the two-hour debate.
    Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative radio host, who questioned candidates during CNN's first GOP debate, thinks that would be a bad idea.
    "We had a Hindenburg debate last week, but we shouldn't change the good that's been done," he told me. "The CNN debate had 23 million watching ... nobody wants to watch a series of talking points delivered robotically, without any emotion. They need tension."
    GOP candidates demand equal time for next debate
    GOP candidates demand equal time for next debate

      JUST WATCHED

      GOP candidates demand equal time for next debate

    MUST WATCH

    GOP candidates demand equal time for next debate 02:15
    Carson is trying to put an end to gotcha questions, and I can understand why. Who wants to answer a question about their worst quality, or biggest weakness? Or defend themselves against running a "comic-book campaign?"
    The problem is, not everyone agrees what exactly a "gotcha question" is. Yes, sometimes it's obvious, but often it's not so cut-and-dried. If you ask 10 people, you'll get 10 different answers. I know, I put it to the test on my Facebook page. I asked, "What, in your mind, constitutes a gotcha question?"
    Nancy wrote: "A gotcha question seems to be a question that the person being questioned either does not want to answer or doesn't know the answer."
    Robin wrote: "I believe a 'gotcha' question ... is going to get you in trouble with people no matter what you say or how you answer it."
    And Carl wrote: "A 'gotcha' question is one which is asked with a preconceived motive, for the purpose of inciting a predictable response."
    Whatever the definition, the "gotcha" question is so odious that representatives for the Republican candidates drafted a letter to all future debate sponsors. They're demanding to know whether sponsors will "provide equal time ... and an equal number of questions of equal quality (substance as opposed to 'gotcha' or frivolous) to each candidate."
    The candidates also want to know if there will be questions from the audience or social media, and if so, how those questions will be presented. And they want debate sponsors to "acknowledge that [they], as the sponsor, take responsibility for all questions asked, even if not asked by [their] personnel."
    Oh, one more thing: The campaigns want to know who will moderate the debate. Carson has already suggested "nonjournalists," and Sen. Ted Cruz suggested a panel consisting of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, so they can ask questions "Republicans care about."
    Donald Trump might disagree with Cruz's idea, given that a panel of moderators from Fox News still drew the Republican front-runner's ire. Megyn Kelly's excellent question to Trump on the night of the FOX debate angered the billionaire.
    "Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks," Kelly said to Trump. "You once told a contestant on 'The Celebrity Apprentice' it would be a 'pretty picture' to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president? And how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the 'war on women'?"
    Trump later tweeted Kelly was "not very good or professional." He later re-tweeted she was a "bimbo."
    See, that's the thing about gotcha questions -- and the danger in allowing politicians to design what questions they'll answer. We believe in free speech and a free press in this country. Sadly, for politicians who loathe gotcha questions, that means the American press can ask whatever it wants.
    RNC spokesman speaks out about GOP debate demands
    Sean Spicer GOP letter interview Berman AC _00002926

      JUST WATCHED

      RNC spokesman speaks out about GOP debate demands

    MUST WATCH

    RNC spokesman speaks out about GOP debate demands 03:03
    As a journalist, I'm not saying reporters should ask pointless questions, I'm just saying that if a media organization allows interviewees to control the message, well that's -- un-American.
    Besides, as a voter, I want my President to show me he or she can think quickly -- even when it comes to answering a dumb question. As Gov. Chris Christie told CNN: "The presidency is almost never scripted, so we shouldn't have those debates scripted either."
    So, he, along with Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich, will not sign that letter to the sponsors of the debates. Other candidates appear to be wavering as well.
    "Stop complaining," Christie said of his rivals. "Do me a favor, set up a stage, put podiums up there and let's just go."
    Amen, Governor.