Twitter figuratively exploded this afternoon when Jim Rome had NBA commissioner David Stern on. Rome asked the commissioner if the NBA lottery was fixed. Stern tried to make Rome feel shameful for even asking, but Jim Rome defended his question. Then Stern unleashed the question that would set the world abuzz.
“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
Admittedly the reference was lost on me. I immediately went to Google to try and figure out if I had missed out on some incident where Jim Rome had gotten in trouble for domestic abuse. Finally, I figured it out. What the commissioner was trying to say was that it was unfair to ask such a loaded question. In this case, the commissioner obviously felt the question had an unjustified assumption of guilt built right into it.
The “beat your wife” thing is a standard example of the definition of a loaded question. From Wikipedia,
The traditional example is the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Whether the respondent answers yes or no, he will admit to having a wife, and having beaten her at some time in the past. Thus, these facts are presupposed by the question, and in this case an entrapment, because it narrows the respondent to a single answer, and the fallacy of many questions has been committed.
Many will still accuse the commissioner of stepping over a line. If nothing else, he will have caused a lot of confusion as many seem to assume he was personally attacking Jim Rome. It doesn’t appear that is the case, but perception, as they say, is reality.