Most observers thought last month’s ABC-sponsored debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama marked the nadir in stupid questions. It seemed as if co-moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos were trying to outdo one another in posing inane queries to the two candidates.
First Gibson asked them both to pledge that the winner would pick the loser as his or her Vice Presidential running mate. Then Stephanopoulos asked about Obama’s relationship with former political radical William Ayers.
Gibson one-upped (or one-downed, if you will) Stephanopoulos by asking Clinton about Snipergate. But the former White House press secretary topped (or bottomed, if you will) Gibson by asking Obama if Reverend Wright was as patriotic as he was.
Viewers were puzzled by this unseemly display by two formerly respected newsmen. Why would they risk their reputations and that of their network by playing such a silly game of "gotcha" journalism?
Well, it turns out Gibson and Stephanopoulos knew exactly what they were doing all along. The series of increasingly ridiculous questions was, in fact, a competition between the two men to see who would take permanent possession of the anchor position on the ABC Evening News.
"Yeah, I admit it," said Stephanopoulos. "Charlie and I secretly agreed to put the anchor chair up for grabs. Whoever came up with the stupidest question at the debate would be declared the winner."
"Look," said Gibson. "It’s not something I’m proud of but when George suggested it, it kind of made sense. I just didn’t think it would get this far out of hand."
Notwithstanding the surfeit of inane questions asked at the debate, neither moderator was able to claim ultimate victory. Apparently both had even more ridiculous questions in hand but didn’t get a chance to pose them to the candidates.
"I was going to ask Hillary if she’d stopped beating her husband," said Stephanopoulos. "But unfortunately we ran out of time."
"If we had just five more minutes," said Gibson. "I was going to ask Barack whether he wears boxers or briefs."
Since the competition ended in a draw, the all-time stupidest question asked by a reporter remains Sean Hannity’s query of George W. Bush as to whether he knew the number for 911. Sadly, the President did not.