Florida Students Give a Master Class in Asking Tough Questions

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Florida Students Give A Master Class In Asking Tough Questions on Friday, February 23, 2018.

To paraphrase Mark Twain’s “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” everybody wants to know how to answer tough questions, but nobody wants to know how to ask them.

Journalists know how to ask tough questions—their job is to create conflict, conflict is drama and high ratings—and they usually grill their subjects with zingers in a modern version of the Spanish Inquisition. But even seasoned professionals eventually let up.  As the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos observes“reporters ask follow-up questions, of course, but the mood is often decorous and formulaic.”

On Wednesday, however, a group of teenage students gave a master class in persistence when asking tough questions. They were the angry survivors of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 of their classmates and teachers died.

In a public forum hosted by CNN at a large arena in Broward County, the targets of their questions and their pursuit were Marco Rubio, Florida’s Republican Senator and Dana Loesch, a spokesperson for the NRA.

One of the first questions was asked by senior Ryan Deitsch:

Senator, these drills, code reds, active shooters, they’ve been a part of my life for as long as I can remember…Why do we have to be the ones to do this? Why do we have to speak out to the capitol? Why do we have to march on Washington, just to save innocent lives?

Senator Rubio gave a long empathic answer and then described his support for a program called Gun Violence Restraining Order.

Ryan responded:

If I may, I—I do appreciate your words there. But that feels like the first step of a 5K run.

A short while later, it was junior Cameron Kasky’s turn, and he raised the stakes:

Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?

Senator Rubio replied:

So number one, the positions I hold on these issues of the second amendment—I’ve held since the day I entered office in the city of West Miami as an elected official.

Number two—no. The answer to the question is that people buy into my agenda. And I do support the Second Amendment. And I also support the right of you and everyone here to be able to go to school and be safe.

And I do support any law that would keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer. And that’s why I support the things that I have stood for and fought for—

Cameron interrupted:

No more—no more NRA money?

Senator Rubio continued:

… during my time here.

Cameron interrupted again:

… in the name—in the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?

Senator Rubio replied:

I think in the name of 17 people, I can pledge to you that I will support any law that will prevent a killer like this from getting a gun.

Cameron persisted:

No, but I’m talking about NRA money.

Cameron pressed the senator several more times to no avail until CNN host Jake Tapper broke the stalemate by going to a commercial break.

After the break, Mr. Tapper introduced the NRA’s Dana Loesch and called on senior Emma Gonzalez, the young lady whose electrifying speech at a gun control rally last week has gone viral. (Please see my previous post for a discussion of its impact.)

Emma asked Ms. Loesch:

Do you believe that it should be harder to obtain the semi-automatic and—weapons and the modifications for these weapons to make them fully automatic like bump stocks?

Ms. Loesch gave a long, empathic answer and then described the flawed system of background checks.

Emma interjected:

I think I’m gonna interrupt you real quick and remind you that the question is actually: Do you believe it should be harder to obtain these semi-automatic weapons and modifications to make them fully automatic, such as bump stocks?

Ms. Loesch replied:

Well, I think the ATF is deciding about bump stocks right now. The president ordered the DOJ to look into it.

Emma interrupted again:

I’m asking your opinion, as a representative of the NRA.

Ms. Loesch started to reply:

What the NRA’s position has been. The NRA came . . .

Once again Emma interrupted:

What’s yours?

Young Ryan Deitsch, Cameron Kasky, and Emma Gonzalez did not get the answers to their questions from Senator Rubio and Ms. Loesch, but Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who was among the participants on the forum stage, decided to provide one. He turned to Ms. Loesch and said:

Let me interject for a second, though. And I understand you’re standing up to the NRA and I understand that’s what you’re supposed to do. But, you just told this group of people that you are standing up for them.

You’re not standing up for them, until you say I want less weapons.

Youth will be served!

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Florida Students Give A Master Class In Asking Tough Questions on Friday, February 23, 2018.