Just asking questions

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"Just asking questions" is the attempt to make wild accusations acceptable (and not legally actionable) by framing them as questions rather than statements. The strategy is to keep asking leading questions in an attempt to influence listeners' views, irrespective of the answers given; the term is derived from the frequent claim by the questioner that they are "just asking questions," albeit in a manner much the same as political push polls.

It is related to Betteridge's law of headlines[wp][1]:

Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word "no." The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.

The JREF forums call it "JAQing off." "Marquis de Carabas" coined the acronymous term[2] after they had dealt with one too many 9/11 truthers,[3] with this later description by "VespaGuy":[4]

JAQing off - 1. the act of spouting accusations while cowardly hiding behind the claim of "just asking questions." 2. asking questions and ignoring the answers. "He said he was going to present evidence, but instead he was just JAQing off."

Contents

[edit] Frequent question-askers

  • Loose Change is a great example of "just asking questions." Replete with semi-truths and highly questionable leaps of logic, this documentary purports to show that the US government was behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
  • Glenn Beck is one of the most prolific JAQers. His technique of raising issues without actively accusing anyone was parodied on the Did Glenn Beck Rape and Murder a Young Girl in 1990 website,[5] which Beck tried and failed to shut down in 2009 by filing a dispute over the domain name. Beck's questioning technique is also parodied in the South Park episode "Dances With Smurfs," where Cartman - anchoring his own Beck-style television show - carefully ends a tirade of accusations against another student with the question "Or does she?"[6]
  • Equally notorious is Neil Cavuto, who has been known to JAQ off with lines like "Have the Democrats Forgotten the Lessons of 9/11?" or "Is the Liberal Media Helping to Fuel Terror?" Jon Stewart gave a name not to the concept of JAQing off but to what might elsewhere be known as a question mark: the "Cavuto Mark."[7] Stewart subsequently "just asked" if Cavuto's mother was a whore. Not that he meant anything by it. Obviously.
  • Fox News — as in "Up next, is Obama really a fascist, socialist, gay, Muslim, atheist Kenyan?"
  • The Ancient Aliens TV series, whose narrator asks at least five times per show "Could it be, as some ancient alien researchers believe...?"

[edit] A caveat

The Socratic method can be a legitimate means of stimulating critical thinking. Obviously not all questioning is done from a position of cowardice; in some cases, a person may simply not feel confident enough in their position to make an assertion, so they instead ask a question in order to gather more information or elicit others' thoughts before making up their mind about a particular stance.

"Just asking questions" takes over when the answers are already well known, where the question embodies a point refuted a thousand times, or where the questioner exhibits willful ignorance.

In some cases, it also helps hide the nebulousness or absurdity of the questioner's own views. For example, a 9/11 truther may ask questions about perceived irregularities in the collapse, Larry Silverstein saying "pull it," and the plane that hit the Pentagon. If turned back around on the truther, the implication is that they think that the plot involved numerous bizarre complications (rigging three buildings with explosives, making an on-the-spot decision to instruct the FDNY to detonate one of them, replacing a plane with a missile and later littering the Pentagon with plane wreckage). By not having to propose their own hypothesis, they can come across as smoothly winning a debate, since the other person is unable to answer a "just being asked" question. In fact, it can be very useful to "just ask questions" of woos, inasmuch as getting woos to put a hypothesis forward (or even just admitting to believing something crazy) can be a worthy accomplishment.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://www.technovia.co.uk/2009/02/techcrunch-irresponsible-journalism.html
  2. http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?p=1921219#post1921219
  3. 9/11 Truther Dictionary
  4. http://forums.randi.org/showpost.php?p=2072757&postcount=45
  5. Archived here: "We're not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 - in fact, we think he didn't! But we can't help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations. Why won't he deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990?"
  6. Can be watched here (if you live in the US) or here (with overdubbing)
  7. http://www.newshounds.us/2006/09/14/jon_stewart_explains_the_cavuto_mark.php
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