Clown Questions and the Post-Media Era

It’s 1951.  Underneath the stands at Old Yankee Stadium, Joe DiMaggio dresses after a game, a gaggle of sportswriters crowding around his locker eager for a nugget of wisdom from Joltin’ Joe.  A cub reporter from the 78 daily newspapers New York City had at the time elbows his way through and asks if he plans will celebrate tonight’s win with a late night rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe.

Joe’s eyebrows raise in a mixture of mockery and disbelief.  “I’m not going to answer that,” he chuckles.  “That’s a clown question, bro.”

As the entire world knows now, that quote didn’t come from the Yankee Clipper but the National Treasure, Bryce Harper.  There were t-shirts for sale by the next morning, there are video mash up jokes, and, of course, tweets-a-plenty.

Mark it down: this is when Washington DC officially accepted baseball.  For all Ryan Zimmerman’s heroics as the franchise’s first home-grown star since the relocation from Montreal and Stephen Strasburg’s at-times otherworldly pitching and always otherworldly hype, nothing feeds this particular home town crowd like a witty retort to the press.  Inside the Beltway Bubble, pundits pondered over whether the quote might find it’s way to the podium at the White House briefing room.

Jokes aside, it’s a valid point.  And one the other Mormon looking to stick around DC might think about. Harper’s disdain for the reporter (if not his word choice) might work for politicians.  Remember the infamous 2008 interview where Katie Couric asked inane inquiries about Sarah Palin’s news consumption habits?  Palin did herself no favors trying to answer what were pretty dumb questions.

When done right, a snarky, off-the-cuff comeback is more powerful than answering a question “the right way.”  That reporter who wanted to know if Harper was going to crack open a cold one might have been put off by Harper’s flippant response, but it didn’t matter.  The rest of the world saw it, and liked it, and unless that reporter is friends with Cole Hamels there isn’t much he can do.  Harper’s message is out.

It’s doubtful that the communications firms in town are prepping an office for Communications Strategist Bryce Harper after his playing days are over – he may be a whale of a ballplayer, but his wisecrack was just a wisecrack.  Maybe there’s a second lesson there though: that if you have to overthink your response to a question, your answer will suffer.

Or as Yogi Berra put it, you can’t think and hit at the same time.

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