Recently Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican Congressman who is the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, sat down for an interview with a TV journalist. During the course of questioning about his views on abortion, Akin — an ardent “pro-life” politician — made some creepy, disturbing comments about “legitimate” rape and his apparent belief that the female body can somehow “shut down” pregnancies that would otherwise result from such a rape.
Akin’s weird, benighted comments provoked a firestorm of criticism from people across the political spectrum. It was heartening to see that both presidential candidates harshly criticized Akin’s statements, as did countless Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, and liberals. And now there is, quite appropriately, enormous pressure on Akin to immediately withdraw from the race.
I mention this strange incident not to add my voice to the chorus of people condemning Akin’s views — although I’m happy to do so — but rather to make a broader point: Akin’s situation demonstrates, yet again, why we should insist that our political candidates regularly sit down and answer questions from the press. I’m sure Akin’s campaign ads, and carefully planned appearances, and speeches all depict him as a thoughtful, reasonable person well-suited to serving in the Senate. It was only when he sat down for an interview, and had to give an honest response to an unscripted question, that his real views were exposed. As a result, the media performed a real public service in weeding out someone who virtually everyone agrees is not fit for public office.
When politicians control the message, we don’t really learn much about who they are or what they believe. I’m proud that the news media played a key role in giving us a more accurate picture of Todd Akin, and I wish that it had more of an opportunity to regularly play that role with everyone, from presidential candidates on down, who runs for public office. And when candidates dodge the press, as so many of them do, we voters should hold them accountable for doing so.