Chapter 10



Why is cross-examination important?

First of all, the C-X period is time "up for grabs." Unlike regular speech periods, the C-X segments are not assigned to any one speaker but are jointly shared by Affirmative and Negative. You can use this time to make an impression on the judge, to threaten your opponentís case, or to advance your own analysis. Style is important. Those who perform well in the cross-ex period tend to get higher speaker points; those who are rude or abusive will be penalized.

Secondly, this period is separate from the rest of the round. Nothing obtained during the C-X period is official until it is introduced into formal speeches later in the debate. The Negative might get the Affirmative to admit their plan is absolutely the worst idea ever conceived ó but if the Negative never brings this admission up in a later speech, it is lost. It is crucial that you USE the information obtained in cross-questioning periods.

There is no place on the flow chart to record C-X questions and responses. Usually, the judge will lay his pen down and listen to cross-examination, but will not take any notes.


Who conducts cross-examination?

C-X periods follow each of the four constructive speeches. The witness is always the person who just concluded his or her speech. The questioner is always one of the members of the opposing team, and each speaker must act as questioner once and only once during the debate.

Those are the official rules. There is a traditional assignment of duties not mentioned in the rules, though: 2N questions 1A, 1A questions 1N, 1N questions 2A, 2A questions 2N. The easy way to remember this is: when your side is scheduled to ask questions, recall which of the partners will be giving the next full speech, and the other partner will conduct cross- examination. So, after the First Affirmative Constructive, the Negative teamís next speaker will be 1N, and therefore 2N will ask questions for C-X.

Why do most teams follow this pattern? Consider the example further. After 1AC, the harried First Negative is involved in assembling his arguments. Letting the Second Negative conduct questioning allows an extra three minutes of time for 1N to prepare. The same reasoning applies to the other speakers. Remember, though, that this assignment is not an official rule, just a convention based on what seems to be most effective. Cross-examination can be conducted as each side sees fit, as long as each speaker participates once as questioner.


What are the goals of cross-examination?

There are several reasons why C-X is permitted:


How should the questioner conduct cross-examination?

Here are some guidelines for style and strategy that will help you elicit the best results from the C-X period:

ADOPT A FORMAL STANCE. Look at the judge. Donít pretend that the witness is invisible, but you should focus on the judge rather than your opponent. This is an official rule, but it also serves a number of commonsense purposes. The judge needs to hear the questions and answers, and if you turn away, he might not hear clearly. And if you face the witness, itís too easy for the C-X period to become a confrontational shouting match; you want a calm and orderly cross-examination instead. Just as speakers in Congress address their remarks to the presiding officer, you will address the witness by way of the judge.

A second rule in many areas is that you may not consult your partner during the C-X period. He may not write you notes. Any communication between you must take place before you rise to speak. A few areas do not enforce this rule; some even welcome so-called tag team cross-examination, where each member of the questionerís side is free to interrogate the witness. Check with your coach to see what style applies in your area.

PRIORITIZE YOUR QUESTIONS. Ask the most important questions first. Later on, you may wish to go fishing for minor inconsistencies, if you have time. But you have no recourse if you ask about trivia at the start of the period and run out of time before getting to the crucial issues. Obviously, if you need to know the wording of a 1AC contention that you missed, that ought to be a high-priority question.

DONíT MAKE SPEECHES. This is the time for you to ask questions; you should not offer arguments or read evidence. Since C-X is not recorded on the flow chart, any arguments you might make would have to be repeated in a constructive or rebuttal speech anyway to count to your advantage, so presenting arguments in C-X just wastes the cross-examination time.

Some people try to get around this rule, beginning a question with something like, "Are you aware that Senator Floop said in the Congressional Record that..." and presenting evidence. The witness (if heís smart), will reply, "No, Iím not aware that evidence was presented in any constructive speech this round." Avoid trying to read evidence instead of asking questions.

Likewise, donít comment on the answers you get from the witness. Let the judge come to any obvious conclusions, and make sure you point out the importance of the witnessí responses in your next speech.

One other item: donít begin your C-X by saying, "Just a few questions..." That is debate cliché that wastes a second of time. And nobody believes it: we all know youíre going to ask three minutes of questions. Begin with your first question.

ANTICIPATE THE ANSWER. Clarification questions excepted, you should probably expect a certain answer from the witness for each question you ask. If the witness gives the answer you expect, build on that response. If the witness gives an unexpected answer, that may reveal a flaw in his reasoning: pursue the matter.

Avoid open-ended questions, which may allow the witness to drone on for a long time. Cross-examination periods go by very fast; you canít afford to let the witness waste time. A question like, "Why should we adopt your plan?" addressed to the First Affirmative speaker would allow him to repeat all the contentions of the 1AC.

GROUP YOUR QUESTIONS. Ask all your questions about inherency at one point; try not to jump around on the flowchart. Careful notes on your flowchart will make it easier to take questions in order. It is also helpful to write down special questions, especially high-priority ones, on a separate index card or piece of paper before you stand to begin the interrogation.

BE FAIR. Donít demand yes-or-no responses to a complex question. Allow the witness sufficient time to give a reasonable answer. Do not ask a number of questions in a row and then demand a single response.

CONTROL THE TIME. You are in control of the C-X period. You have the right to interrupt the witness by saying, "Thank you," if you think he is wasting time deliberately. You can ask the witness to be brief, or to respond only with a yes or no. Do so carefully ó you want it clear to the judge that you are not being pushy.

CONTROL YOUR STYLE. A patient, confident, friendly and earnest approach is always to your advantage. Avoid theatrics. Do not pressure the witness. Avoid "Perry Mason" theatrics. You must be firm, especially with troublesome witnesses; you must not be badgering. Donít try tricks ó they usually backfire. The aggressive questioner who drives a novice witness to tears may win the debate anyway (though often his performance will so alienate the judge that a loss is guaranteed), but at the very least his speaker points will be very low.

USE WHAT YOU ELICIT. The most important advice. Build on earlier responses in order to frame your next questions. Present the conclusions in the next speech for your side.


Can you give an example of cross-examination?

Sure. The First Affirmative has just concluded her constructive speech. The Affirmative plan seeks to abolish the sale of pornography through federal regulation, with the goal of reducing crime and social violence. The Second Negative is about to begin his questioning. Notes on the techniques used are given in brackets.

2N: Would you please re-read your definition of "pornography?"

1A: The citation, or the body of the evidence?

2N: Just the body.

1A: "Sexual pornography is graphic illustrations of sexual acts and deviancies which appeal to base human instincts. Violence pornography is material which treats violence in a dismissive or favorable fashion."

2N: This concept of "violence pornography" is new to me. Who was the author of that evidence? [The commentary is unnecessary. The questioner probably should have asked for both the source and the evidence to begin with.]

1A: Herbert Dowling, professor of communications at Rutgers.

2N: Thank you. How can we tell if a piece of literature is pornographic or not?

1A: Well, itís a lot more than just literature. We show in contention one that television and movies as well as printed mediaÖ

2N: Yes, I know. How can we tell if a media example, then, is pornographic? [The witness was quibbling, and the questioner quite properly cuts her off.]

1A: I think in most cases itís clear from the content.

2N: [He expected that answer. Now he goes fishing for a further response.] And if there is any dispute over whether something is pornography, who decides?

1A: Under current Supreme Court rules, the community must set standards as to what constitutes pornography in any uncertain case.

2N: [Aha! The answer he had hoped for!] Now, plank one of your plan establishes a national regulatory board, doesnít it?

1A: Yes, the Advisory Board to Combat Deviancy.

2N: And if this ABCD board decides that a particular "media example" is pornographic, they can ban it nationwide, right?

1A: Yes.

2N: Then they are enforcing national standards, and not the local standards that best determine what is pornography, arenít they?

1A: [Oops! This looks like a trap] Um, the standards are national, yes, but in most cases pornography is obvious and, um, national standards and local standards would agree. [Sudden inspiration] Plus we show in contention three that local standards are not always sufficient, so the current Supreme Court rules arenít the best rules. Thatís part of our inherency.

2N: Now, in contention one, you tell us that pornography is widespread, right? [He is switching to another line of attack ó but the witness doesnít know that. He makes sure she knows precisely what point in the case heís referring to.]

1A: Yes, point A is PORNOGRAPHY IS ENDEMIC. It runs all through society.

2N: Everybody is exposed?

1A: Virtually everybody, through print and television.

2N: Have you been exposed to pornography?

1A: Oh, yes, often several times a day. [Well, sheíd have looked silly saying No.]

2N: Hmm. And contention two is your harm contention, right? Could you summarize the subpoints for us? [Two questions without a chance to answer is a little unfair, but they are closely related. Certainly he knows the answer he expects the witness to give.]

1A: Contention Two is harm, right. We show in the subpoints that pornography causes moral deterioration, sexual assaults, physical violence, and it leads to organized crime.

2N: [The trap starts to close] Have you ever committed sexual assaults or a crime of physical violence?

1A: [Startled] What?

2N: Have you ever committed the crimes mentioned in subpoints B and C?

1A: No, of course not.

2N: But you said that you have been exposed to pornography ó frequently ó and your case says pornography leads to these things. Why havenít you begun a life of criminal violence? [The commentary preceding the question is needed to explain the logic of the inquiry to the witness.]

1A: No, IÖ The pornography Iíve been exposed to has urged me to do these things.

2N: But youíve resisted these urges. How?

1A: I guess I had the right home environment. Good moral education, that sort of thing.

2N: Okay, then doesnít that mean that pornography by itself isnít the cause, but the combination of porn and poor moral training?

1A: Well, yes, but we canít regulate moral training.

2N: But if we could regulate moral training, there would be no need for the Affirmative plan to regulate pornography, right?

1A: I donít believe you can regulate home life that way.

At this point the witness is in hot water. She doesnít want to admit that her plan might not be needed, but ó given the chain of admissions she has made so far ó she canít very well insist that the plan is needed for everyone. Rather than admit one side or the other of this dilemma, she falls back on a lame-sounding excuse. (As an alternative, she could have replied that regulating pornography was necessary to cure the organized crime problem).

Overall, we can see that the Negative has set up a possible topicality challenge (over the definition of "violence pornography"), a possible PMA or D-A (on national standards vs. local standards), and a possible harm or inherency attack (concerning pornographyís causal role in creating violence and sexual assault). A very good approach for the questioner!


How should the witness act during cross-examination?

ADOPT A FORMAL STANCE. You, too, should look only at the judge. You may not consult your partner in answering questions. In many rules, these are official rules and you can be disqualified for violating them. As with tag-team cross-examination, though, some areas allow or prefer partner cooperation during C-X. Consult with your coach for advice here.

BE DIRECT. Answer questions fully but concisely. Donít go out of your way to waste the questionerís time ó the judge will notice it. If you must qualify your response, do so first. Starting out, "yes, but..." risks being cut off by the questioner after your "yes" response. A better approach is to say, "Except for the case where...., my answer is yes."

BE HONEST. Admit the obvious. If you are wrong, say so. Trying to insist that an invalid position is right only makes you look foolish. Donít try to evade the question.

Be direct, honest, and open. "I donít know," and "My partner can deal with that better than I can," are acceptable answers if honestly given. Donít overuse the "My partner will bring that up / read that evidence in his next speech," however ó and if you do say it, make sure you follow through on it.

ANSWER, DONíT ASK. Your role is to respond to the questions, not ask them. You can legitimately request clarification if you do not understand the question.

THINK AHEAD. As the example above shows, small questions can build on each other to embarrassingly large conclusions. Anticipate where the questioner is leading, so you can defuse the final conclusion early.

REMAIN POISED. Project an honest, calm, friendly attitude. A calm confidence will help you answer questions with assurance, and will improve the impression you make on the judge. And it will unnerve the opposing team ó the questioner will keep wondering why you are so confident despite all the admissions you seem to be making. Do you know something he doesnít ?Is he going to look foolish raising these points in his next speech? By remaining composed yourself, you can destroy the confidence of the questioner.

It is especially important to remain poised when replying to a bullying, sarcastic, or abusive questioner. Your composure will make his tactics seem even more offensive to the judge, and your side in the debate will profit from the contrast.


What is the most common cross-examination question?

No question about it: when the Second Negative rises to interrogate the First Affirmative, the first thing he asks is likely to be, "Can the Negative see a copy of your case?"

Too often, the Negative partners fail to prepare an adequate flowchart of 1AC, partly because they are blocking out arguments to make in upcoming speeches. It would be better to concentrate on obtaining an adequate flow. The Second Negative speaker, in fact, has two full constructive speeches during which he can prepare for 2NC.

The Affirmative team also bears some responsibility for this problem. All too frequently, 1AC speaks too fast for adequate communication. In many cases, this is a deliberate tactic to confuse the Negative team. But this approach also risks confusing the judge, who is not allowed to examine the written Affirmative case.

Negatives must realize that it is permissible for the Affirmative team to refuse to provide a copy of the case. Debate is an oral activity, and if the Affirmative team is unwilling to share a written transcript of their speech, the Negatives have no recourse.

Affirmative partners should decide before the debate begins if they are willing to hand out copies of their case. If they are willing, they should have several copies available; but they should also take care to collect all copies after each round is concluded. If they plan to refuse such requests, they must make sure that the 1AC speech is clearly delivered, so that the judge will not penalize the Affirmative for trickery. Affirmatives should also consult with their coach for advice on whether surrendering a copy of the case is to be allowed, based on the expectations that prevail in the debate community.


Introduction to Policy Debate
Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 John R. Prager
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