What constitutes a "dangerous rhetorical question?" And is it rendered even more dangerous if it is "pregnant with conspiratorial implications"? It seems to me that a question is simply a question, and how it is answered is where potential danger lies.
And if one asks a question based on questionable information, surely the one to whom the questioning is directed could clarify or at least seek to provide unquestionable responses?
Independent Senator Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, a citizen whose public conduct has been beyond reproach for as long as I can remember, asked a question at a panel discussion on the behaviour of Section 34 based on her specific experience and her concern as a citizen.
She asked the question of a public official, one of those categories of citizens who ought to feel particularly duty bound to respond directly and truthfully to questions about public affairs. He did not seem able to handle that question from the floor and a few days later, the Attorney General took it personally enough to issue a statement to the media. He found it a dangerous bit of rhetoric loaded with terrible implications.
The overall ominous tone of his statement cannot be ignored because it is too much at one with the blatant manner in which questions are deflected and treated as occasions of presumptuous behaviour by upstarts and disloyal citizens, with no right to ask, no right to be answered, and always with the insinuation that they are driven by hidden and unseemly agendas not to be countenanced by right-thinking people.
His response that the Independent Senator got her facts wrong about the publication date of the legal notice, not only relied on lawyerly semantics, but chose some interesting words to describe why he was clearing the air.
"I am, however, compelled to clear the air in the face of the clear insinuation that I could be among those who might have 'leaked' this secret information to these businessmen," was his reported statement, as he characterised the information that was supposed to be live and in the public domain (ergo, published) since August 30. Why then does he refer to it as secret information?
It is true that the date of the notice acts as its official publication date, but that does not mean it is even printed on that day. I write this column a few days before it is published. When I have sent it to the newspaper, it exists, even if it is not revealed or made available to the public until its appointed publication day. Who can guarantee its contents remain embargoed until then?
The issue is not so much whether the notice was a day ending August or a week inside September, but how knowledge of its existence passed into the domain of external people in such a fortuitous manner.
Musings on that aspect aside; that exchange seemed altogether too threatening for comfort.
"I was disturbed by the dark insinuation," said the AG. We are all disturbed by the dark insinuations. Much more disturbed than seems apparent to the spin teams, given the continued reliance on posturing and grand-charge.
The trend to deal with questions posed by members of the public and particularly the media seems to be to deflect where possible, but attack at all times. We are used to the practice of deflection, politicians do it all the time, but the pugnacity does not seem to reflect on the wider consequences.
There is something wild and untrammelled about the pattern of behaviour that has come to define this society. The concept of the free-for-all has overrun everything and politicians particularly seem to feel that they are ringmasters with whips that they can crack at will on a docile population.
The media, as media always will in an un-free state, become the first target of uncomfortable governments. The instinct is to muzzle where possible, and in environments where money is no problem, to buy. Inevitably the tensions grow past the level that should exist.
When a question is asked by a senator and the response categorises it as dangerous, does that not suggest that the question is being fuelled by something sinister and underhand? And that there could be a price to pay for such? As a person without portfolio or title, would that not intimidate me from asking? Victimisation is a real and powerful deterrent to anyone living in the shadow of fear. How many victims of crime dare not report a word?
With today's technology, attacks on the media can be more insidious than in times past, the repercussions far more damaging. The rabid bloggers alone tell a distressing story about the mentality that seems to be driving what passes for national discourse. Generally, they have real difficulty processing information, they are easily provoked, and are ready to rile at the slightest incitement.
The hostile behaviour towards the media carries an undertone that suggests that throwing key words out there can provoke enough fools to do drastic things. It is the same kind of mentality feeding the response to legitimate questions.
People are fed up. They feel disrespected. And more than anything, they don't want spin. They want answers.