Softball question?

中国日报网 2017-08-01 10:06



Softball question?Reader question:

Please explain “softball question” in this passage:

I’ve had at least a dozen candidates say their ‘biggest weakness’ is working too much or that he or she is a perfectionist. He or she will often say this without being prompted (I would never ask a candidate his or her biggest weakness because it’s a softball question), which is a dead giveaway that it’s rehearsed.

My comments:

A softball question is one that’s easy to deal with.

Softball, you see, is women’s and children’s version of the game of baseball. The softball playing field is smaller, taking consideration of women and children lacking in physical strength. The ball itself is bigger and softer, hence its name.

The regular baseball is hard and heavy. As a matter of fact, the regular baseball is sometimes called hardball to distinguish itself from the softball. When the hardball hits you on the head – or torso, arm or leg, for that matter – it hurts.

It hurts a lot. The pain is intense.

Needless to say, when you’re inadvertently hit by a softball, it hurts much less.

Hence, by analogy, if it’s a softball question, then it is one that is easy to answer. In our example, the interviewee gives clichéd answers, such as “My biggest weakness is I work too hard” or “My biggest weakness is I am a perfectionist.” After hearing different people say the same thing for the umpteenth time, it ceases to be interesting.

It’s certainly not very revealing – because, also, the answer is rehearsed, or prepared in advance.

To get more revealing answers from those being interviewed, of course the interviewer need ask more penetrating questions, questions that are hard-ball and difficult to answer.

Put in another way, you must play hard ball – by asking hardball questions.

All right, here are media examples of “softball questions”:

1. Underscoring Donald Trump’s charge that the media is rigged, video footage shows Hillary Clinton’s traveling press secretary Nick Merrill appearing to type a softball question for NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, which she subsequently asks Clinton.

The incident occurred on HIllary’s campaign plane shortly after Wednesday night’s debate.

Merrill is clearly seen typing something into his phone before he presents it to Mitchell. Merrill then waits for Mitchell to acknowledge that she understood the message.

Moments later, Mitchell delivers a softball question, asking Hillary, “How did you feel when he [Trump] said, you know, ‘Nasty woman, nasty woman,’ and ‘You’re a puppet,’ and … the issue of Vladimir Putin?”

The question is clearly not well constructed and appears to have been clumsily put together on the spot by Mitchell based off the message Merrill showed her.


In a response to the Daily Caller, Mitchell subsequently denied that there had been any wrongdoing.

“I was on live and couldn’t see in the crush of the gaggle – but no way would anyone try to give me a question,” Mitchell said. “That would never happen.”

- Clinton Press Secretary Caught on Camera Planting Softball Question With Reporter,, October 21, 2016.

2. President Donald Trump managed to avoid questions about hot-button issues facing the White House — such as the future of national security adviser Michael Flynn and a North Korean missile launch — in a news conference Monday where selected reporters asked non-challenging questions and other, shouted-out inquiries were ignored.

Trump appeared before the White House press corps after meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Traditionally, leaders in these gatherings face two questions each from White House press and from reporters following the foreign leader.

The president selected his questioners: Scott Thuman from Washington’s local ABC News affiliate and Kaitlan Collins of The Daily Caller, a conservative website founded in 2010 by Fox News Channel anchor Tucker Carlson.

Thuman asked Trump about his relationship with Trudeau, given the two men have outlined policy differences, and whether there were any areas where Trump had changed his stance on issues following their conversation. The president offered no specifics.

Collins asked Trump what he saw as the most important national security issues facing the nation.

While Thuman and Collins both said that they had not discussed their questions in advance with anyone at the White House, left unasked were questions about Flynn following reports that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with a Russian envoy before Trump was inaugurated. Trump did not reply to shouted questions on the topic as he was leaving the news conference. Flynn late Monday night announced his resignation amid the controversy.

“Personnel questions are interesting, but our readers want substance. They don’t want Washington bull----. They want to know where the next war is going to be,” Collins told The Associated Press by email later in the day.


On MSNBC, correspondent Katy Tur said Trump was given “two softball questions” on Monday while her colleague, Hallie Jackson, decried the “startling lack of news.” The AP did not send out any alerts of news from the session, which is relatively unusual when a president addresses the media.

CNN analyst Gloria Borger said it seemed like part of a deliberate strategy by the White House to diminish the influence of the traditional mainstream media.

- Trump avoids hot topics in news conference, answers ‘softball questions’,, February 14, 2017.

3. NBC News’ Megyn Kelly can’t get any love.

On Saturday, journalist Yashar Ali obtained an unedited video of Kelly’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the left-wing HuffPost and promptly eviscerated the “nervous” Kelly for asking Putin “softball” questions.

He wrote that the unedited footage “shows a nervous Kelly who asked the authoritarian leader softball questions and failed to hold him accountable on key topics.”

“Most troubling, Kelly devoted precious time in her short interview to a question that led one former CIA Russia analyst to say that it sounded as if Putin had written the question himself,” he continues.

According to the HuffPost piece, the “last question Kelly asked Putin, which was not aired, was startling in its pandering.”

Kelly asks Putin in the unaired footage:

We have been here in St. Petersburg for about a week now. And virtually every person we have met on the street says what they respect about you is they feel that you have returned dignity to Russia, that you’ve returned Russia to a place of respect. You’ve been in the leadership of this country for 17 years now. Has it taken any sort of personal toll on you?

- HuffPost Slams ‘Nervous’ Megyn for ‘Softball’ Questions After Obtaining Unedited Putin Interview,, June 18, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

上一篇 : A sporting chance
下一篇 : The dark ages?



















关于我们 | 联系方式 | 招聘信息

Copyright by All rights reserved. None of this material may be used for any commercial or public use. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 版权声明:本网站所刊登的中国日报网英语点津内容,版权属中国日报网所有,未经协议授权,禁止下载使用。 欢迎愿意与本网站合作的单位或个人与我们联系。