How To Answer a Multiple Choice Question
Remember the old game show Let’s Make a Deal?
During the program, host Monty Hall regularly asked contestants to make a choice: They could choose what was behind door number one, door number two, or door number three. If they chose correctly, they might walk away with a new car. If they didn’t, they might end up “winning” a live turkey.
The Let’s Make a Deal analogy holds in the context of media interviews. If a reporter asks you a multiple choice question and you answer it correctly, you’ll win by avoiding an off-message headline. But if you answer it incorrectly, you’ll deliver an off-message answer – which the media will love and replay repeatedly.
The way you “win” Let’s Make a Deal when a reporter asks you to select one of three doors is simple: Refuse to play. Select a fourth door that helps you convey your own message instead.
Earlier this week, CNN reporter Dan Lothian asked President Obama a multiple choice question. Asking about the Republican candidates’ support for waterboarding, he asked:
“I’m wondering if you think they’re uninformed, out-of-touch, or irresponsible?”
President Obama paused for four long seconds before responding:
“That’s a multiple choice question, isn’t it? Let me just say this: They’re wrong.”
President Obama handled that in exactly the right way, refusing to accept any of the reporter’s three choices and using his own word instead. (Still, I’m a bit surprised that Mr. Obama appeared flat-footed for several seconds – this can’t be the first time he’s encountered a multiple choice question.)
If you’re put on the spot by a reporter’s multiple choice question, tell the reporter you would characterize it differently, and then answer the question using your own words.
Otherwise, you may find yourself picking one of the three answers the reporter offers – and walking home with a live turkey.
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