A guy I know just asked this question on his Facebook feed:
Are you a fan of Tiger Woods: Yes/No
My first reaction was to think not about my answer, but about the question. Why was I uncomfortable with it?
Exploring the question's design, the question asks me to consider emotionally charged, polarizing topics (adultery + celebrity fandom), then cram-wrap my answer into a yes/no format by presupposing there is only one black-or-white definition of "being a fan".
While I know there is no true answer to this question because it is an opinion, it still left me considering how people - intentionally or unintentionally - ask these Loaded Questions.
Loaded Questions are questions which presuppose ideas or facts. In the 'Tiger Woods fan' example, it posits that I think of myself as either a fan or not, with no other possible alternatives. And it asks that I give a definitive "yes" or "no" first and foremost, which leaks 'emotional bleed-through' onto the remainder of any explanation I give. Loaded Questions unfairly manipulate the responder/audience by projecting a contrived reality onto others.
Why do people use loaded language?
- It gets easy ratings/attention. The emotive response makes it tempting to use for people in the public eye (e.g. political talk show hosts, public speakers, media, bloggers).
- It less directly promotes your own perspective. It is more of a soft-sell tactic than a hard-sell. "I'm just asking questions, your honor!"
- It is easier to use than logic or reason.
Stewart's first response is to devalue the over-simplified question by using humor to 'misunderstand' it. Stewart then redefines a more honest and informed question for the interviewer, which results in the interviewer rephrasing the question at 2:15. (And if you're interested, Stewart then proceeds to deconstruct the show's loaded format entirely.)
Maybe you are sitting there thinking, "Hey, I want to learn how-to / how-not-to load a question!"
Here are a few ways to load questions and language in general:
- Offer the person a narrow set of responses. "Yes or No?" "Who is best?" "Did you or did you not?" If you are in an adversarial position with the responder, when he responds within this frame you are able to either (a) cry foul on his answer because he is lying/denying, or (b) say "I win" because he agreed with you.
- Use subjective phrasing. "Why would you harass me like that?" "How do you justify saying that to me when I am just trying to help you?" "Have you seen how bothered some people get by what you just said?"
- Use words with emotional pull. "How would you feel if a young child was in the room when you said that?" "As an American, it is my responsibility to ask you..."
- Faux-pliment. "You're a trusting person; could you loan me your car for the weekend?" "I have always admired your integrity; can I take you to dinner so I can get to know you better?" Or, "Thank you for being respectful and paying attention by sitting up straight," said to a group when they are not.
- Use circumstantial/anecdotal evidence. "How can you say that, when everything I know from my 36 years on the planet says otherwise?" "Your eating habits remind me of a young boy I knew who tragically lost his life when he was much too young.""99.9% of people would agree that..."
- Speak fast. A physical technique, simply speaking fast can induce faster response time from the responder, which produces less critical thinking and lower quality responses.
My next post will be how to deal with people who are using loaded language.
PS: Thanks to Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and all the other talented media, politicians, and humble, patriotic folk who "tell it like it is". You inspire me so much when you tell all your friends what a great blogger I am.