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Yes, There Are Stupid Questions

Joe Jackson, right, pop star Michael Jackson's father, is swarmed by photographers as he moves through a crowd of reporters and cameramen outside of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., early Monday, June 6, 2005.
AP
Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.

Covering a trial during jury deliberations is both easy and hard for the same reason. It's easy because there is nothing to analyze since the jury does its work in secret. And it's hard because the lack of information to analyze doesn't stop reporters from asking for answers from analysts like me. It happens every time I cover a high-profile trial and it is happening again here in Santa Maria as jurors work into their third day of deliberations.

After closing arguments and jury instructions, and before the verdict, there is the black hole of stupid questions, where the unanswerable is asked with a level of consistency and earnestness that defies all common sense. I understand why the questions keep coming. I understand that our age of continuous news coverage demands nourishment. I understand the need to "feed the beast." I just don't understand what I'm expected to say.

The granddaddy of all is the eternal classic: "So what do you think the jury is going to decide?" To paraphrase Woody Allen, a level of hell should be reserved for people who ask this question seeking an intelligent or insightful answer. If I knew what the jury was going to decide during deliberations I would be either clairvoyant or criminal. And I would like to think that I am neither.

The grandmother of all stupid questions is this: "How long do you think the jury is going to deliberate?" I used to say simply that I don't know. Now, with some folks, I answer stoically: "Eighteen hours, thirty-two minutes and eight seconds" and then watch their faces to see if they are taking me seriously or not. Sometimes, for more than a brief moment, it seems like they are, and that is a scary thought, indeed.