Drum roll, please: if you answer the question, you endorse the premise. And you’ll regret it in the follow-up.
The truth is, every question, in every conversation (not just “debates” or “interviews”) is, first, a statement about what the questioner has decided is important about the subject. There is no logical or moral compulsion to buy that prior decision. To do so wastes everyone’s time.
Jesus seldom answered the question. His reluctance to do so was not a “tactic”, not some coy maneuvering, but simply moral clarity. He had the clarity to see what the question said about the questioner, and He wanted to talk about that, instead of what the questioner wanted to talk about.
Note – this is not the common politician’s trick of changing the question to his talking point for the day. That is a tactic the politicians learn from the PR flacks and it irritates us all. I’m not talking about changing the subject. I’m talking about engaging the subject by re-fashioning the premise.
Journalists hate this, because the assumption that their premises are sacred is the only leverage they have to control the conversation (any conversation that is controlled is a fake conversation). They also hate this because it quickly makes the conversation personal, and they hate the thought that their premises have anything to do with their personal bias. They enjoy, as an occupational handout, the unique fiction that their premises are what all rational people think. Nice work if you can get it.
If you answer the question, you endorse the premise.