Fred J. Eckert

Remember when then-Texas Governor George W. Bush was running for president and a Boston local television gotcha journalist hit him with a surprise quiz asking him in rapid succession to name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan?

The Associated Press promptly alerted the nation to the news that Bush “scored only 25 percent” on the quiz. The AP story implied this was somehow an important test of a presidential candidate’s qualifications and quoted an Al Gore aide mocking Bush’s college academic record while claiming that Gore knew all the answers.

“Bush Fails Quiz on Foreign Affairs,” screamed the Washington Post’s headline. “Bush Gets an F in Foreign Affairs” screeched a piece written by left-winger David Corn, currently an MSNBC commentator and Obama team cheerleader. The piece declared the pop quiz showed Bush to be “clueless.”

You get the drift. For days Bush was pounded with stories ridiculing him as a dunce who couldn’t pass some basic test that supposedly anyone aspiring to be president should easily ace and Al Gore was all over the news rattling off names of foreign leaders. And the story now and then resurfaced throughout the course of the presidential campaign – and beyond.

Forget that it matters not if a President of the United States does not happen to remember the name of the leader of Chechnya or wherever. That harms nothing -- save, perhaps, the ego the leader with the so easily forgettable name. And everyone knows a President always has some aide handy who can whisper into his ear the correct name. And, of course, there’s always Google.

What does matter here is that the public has become accustomed to such non-consequential gotcha questions being treated as significant news stories. Years before Bush was hit with that silly quiz, other gotcha journalists had used the occasion of nationally televised president candidate debates to surprise candidates with demands they tell the nation the price of a loaf of bread or quart of milk at their local grocery. Supposedly such questioning was to help show just how “in touch” a candidate was. Forget that we do not hire a president to be our designated shopper.

Doesn’t it all make you wonder: Where are the gotcha journalists when their country really needs them?

Fred J. Eckert

Fred J. Eckert is a former Republican congressman from New York and twice served as a US Ambassador under President Ronald Reagan, who called him “a good friend and valued advisor.”