Friday Classic Clip: You’re Stuck On Stupid (2005)

Written by Brad Phillips on June 17, 2011 – 6:32 am

A reader named Jim Garrow recently sent me a clip from a few years back that I missed at the time – and despite being six years old, it’s a perfect example of why it’s rarely a good idea to argue with the media.

On September 20, 2005, Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore gave a press conference about Hurricane Rita, which was fast approaching the U.S. coastline. Reporters asked him to compare the government’s response to Rita to that of Hurricane Katrina, which had occurred just a month earlier.

It was a fair question. But Mr. Honore didn’t like it:

Mr. Honore’s goal was understandable. A major storm was fast approaching, and he wanted to give people in the affected area the information they needed to protect themselves. Questions about Hurricane Katrina, though fresh in people’s minds, were not going to allow him to accomplish his mission.

But when he accusingly pointed at a reporter and said “You are stuck on stupid,” he undercut his own objective. His belligerent answer became a news story, taking up precious column inches and minutes of airtime that should have been used to convey the information he needed people to know.

Mr. Honore simply could have said:

“Folks, there will be plenty of time to answer questions about Hurricane Katrina after Hurricane Rita passes. Right now, our mission is to keep people safe from this storm. I’d ask your help to get the critical information to people that they need to know, and will focus all of my answers on the imminent threat facing us.”


Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore (Retired)

Debating the media – even when justifiable – is rarely a smart move (unless the debate itself is part of an intentional and well-planned media strategy). That’s because the debate itself usually becomes the news story, obscuring the message you hoped to disseminate. 

Next time you think about debating the media, hear my voice in your head. It will be saying: “You are stuck on stupid.” 

Do you have a favorite classic clip? Please leave your favorite links in the comments section below – we will occasionally classic clips on Fridays.

Related: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters of May 2011

Related: The 10 Worst Video Media Disasters of 2010

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Is “I’m Going To Rehab” Still A Viable PR Strategy?

Written by Brad Phillips on June 16, 2011 – 12:01 am

Anthony Weiner is the latest in a long line of politicians who screwed up and quickly announced he or she is “going to rehab.” Here’s a brief list of a few who came before him:

  • In 2006, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) entered rehab after crashing his car into a Capitol Hill barricade. 
  • In 2006, former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) entered rehab after sending explicit emails to underage boys working as Congressional pages.
  • In 2007, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) entered rehab after having an affair with his campaign manager’s wife.
  • In 2008, former Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) entered therapy for sex addiction after being caught using a prostitute.

Anthony Weiner Is Entering Rehab After His Sexting Scandal

That’s just Washington. Hollywood has a long line of scandal-plagued stars who have also entered rehab, from Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears to Mel Gibson and Kelsey Grammer.

I’m a big believer in therapy and serious rehabilitation programs, and many of the people I’ve named above clearly needed an intervention. This article isn’t intended to disparage the profession of psychological counseling or those who seek it out. I admire those who have the strength to call upon professional help when they need it most.

Rather, this article is about the public relations benefit those in public life seek by publicly announcing their intention to go to rehab. At one point, probably not long ago, going to rehab was a viable tactic to help get a public figure off the front pages by admitting weakness and seeking help.

But in a case like Anthony Weiner’s, it’s impossible not to question his motives for seeking therapy,  announced within hours of calls for his resignation from the Democratic House Leadership. His previous lies call into question whether he’s entering rehab to deal with an obvious problem, or whether it’s a ploy intended to buy time and forestall resignation.

So all of that leads to this question:

From a P.R. Perspective, Can Announcing a Stint In Rehab Still Be an Effective Tactic?

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UPDATE: Numerous sources are saying Mr. Weiner will resign later today. That still doesn’t change the main question in this article, as it’s impossible to know whether his announcement to enter rehab was originally motivated by a desire to buy time.

Please weigh in! What do you think of rehab being used as a PR tactic? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Related: Weiner Press Conference: Responsibility Without Sacrifice

Related: Charlie Sheen: Why #Winning Isn’t Funny

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Kill The Jargon: The 12-Year-Old Nephew Rule

Written by Brad Phillips on June 15, 2011 – 6:24 am

If you’ve ever visited New York City, you’ve probably seen sidewalk signs telling you to “Curb Your Dog.”

I’ve never owned a dog and didn’t know what that sign meant, so I looked it up. Some websites say it means you should pick up your dog’s poop. Others say it means you should train your dog to “go” at the curb, as to allow urine to flow easily into drains and prevent unsightly sidewalk stains. And yet another site says it means to keep your dog leashed. 

I like to think I’m a pretty bright guy, so I’m guessing that if that sign leaves me clueless, it leaves some other people clueless as well. And for those one in five American households that speak a primary language other than English at home? Well, if they have dogs, I’m pretty sure many of them have no idea either. 

Here’s one more, courtesy of New Jersey Transit:

Egress? I know what that means because I’ve owned a home before, but I’m guessing many daily commuters aren’t familiar with the term (it means exit). Why not just say that?

Media spokespersons and public speakers commit the same sin of using unclear jargon all the time, making those of in the audience think, “For the love of god, tell me what you mean!”

Here’s a trick from a former ABC News colleague to help you avoid industry jargon that prevents your audience from understanding your meaning. She once interviewed a jargon-filled scientist. After 20 minutes, he still hadn’t said anything we could use on air. She ended the interview, thanked him, and said, “Could I ask you a favor? My 12-year-old nephew loves science. Would you mind doing one take I could show to him?” He agreed, and delivered a terrific answer without any jargon – and that’s the take we used that evening.

If you have young people in your life, run your messages by them. If they can paraphrase them back to you in their own words, you’ve successfully eliminated the jargon.

I’m guessing they’ll just say “clean the poop” and “keep the exit clear.” And that’s when you know you’ve succeeded.

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Related: Five Reasons The Reporter Didn’t Quote You

Related: I Think That Maybe Media Spokespersons Perhaps Might Hedge Too Much

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Posted in Media Training Tips | 4 Comments »

Scorecard: June 13 Republican Presidential Debate

Written by Brad Phillips on June 13, 2011 – 10:55 pm


Seven contenders – a mix of the likely, unlikely, and fantastical – squared off tonight in the first high-profile debate of the 2012 election series.

Other websites will review how well the candidates did tonight. But this scorecard is based on seven specific communications criteria that have accurately predicted the outcomes of every general election in the 24/7 media age, which began in 1980.

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:


Who She Is: Bachmann is a Congresswoman representing Minnesota’s 6th district since 2007 and a founder of the House’s Tea Party Caucus.

How She Did: Tonight, Michele Bachmann became a star. She successfully reversed her image from one of a scary fringe figure to one of a thoughtful, articulate, and serious contender. The storyline that dismisses Bachmann and Sarah Palin as two women fighting for the same turf ends tonight. There’s a clear difference between the two: Michele Bachmann demonstrated the discipline and seriousness to win. Sarah Palin has not.

Bachmann stole the show from her very first answer, when she made news by officially announcing her candidacy for the presidency. She continued by aligning her answers to the concerns of the public and forging a deep connection with questioners in the audience, many of whom she addressed by name.

Bachmann catapulted herself to the top tier of candidates tonight, and will now become a source of national conversation. People will inevitably talk about her 23 foster kids; many will judge raising such a large family as an altruistic act; others will find it eccentric. Nonetheless, get used to hearing her name.

Grade: A

TIM PAWLENTY (2nd Place)

Who He Is: Pawlenty, also known as “T-Paw,” was governor of Minnesota from 2003-2011.

How He Did: Gov. Pawlenty did better in this debate than the first one. He looked affable but tough, loosened up a bit, and appeared presidential. He has a knack for delivering tough news with optimism – a trait voters have consistently rewarded since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980.

He came back to his record as Minnesota record numerous times, helping to elevate his answers above rhetoric and instead educating viewers about what he did as governor.

When offered a chance to knock Romney over “ObamneyCare,” Pawlenty treaded carefully, saying, “We took a different approach in Minnesota. We didn’t use top-down government mandates.” That careful answer will help avoid the Pawlenty vs. Romney headlines he clearly doesn’t want this early in the race. He proved that he deserves to belong in the first tier tonight. 

Grade: B

NEWT GINGRICH (3rd Place, tie)

Who He Is: Gingrich was the Speaker of the House for four years in the 1990s, and is widely associated with 1994’s successful Contract With America. His staff recently quit en masse, upset with Gingrich’s unaggressive campaign strategy.

How He Did: Mr. Gingrich had a tough week, with 16 of his staffers resigning over his campaign strategy. Despite the turmoil, Gingrich delivered an effective performance at times. A few of his answers later in the debate were delivered at a slow, emphatic tempo – a change to the rapid-fire pace of the debate which helped him stand apart and re-gain the audience’s attention.

His sound bite that “The Obama Administration is an anti-jobs, anti-business, anti-American energy, destructive force” was memorably crafted.

But his dour, unsmiling demeanor and negative language (he twice referred to our economy as a “depression”) are unlikely to play well. And his disagreement with the moderator that the U.S. is a developed country (“We’re not a developed country,” Gingrich said) was plain bizarre.

Gingrich is still talking the process language of Congress and referring to studies from think tanks. He’s still in the second tier – and in order to move up, he’ll need to abandon the negativism and use more of the soaring rhetoric successful presidential candidates employ.

Grade: C+

RICK SANTORUM (3rd Place, tie)

Who He Is: Santorum is a former two-term Senator from Pennsylvania who was voted out of office in 2006 by an embarrassing 17-point margin.

How He Did: Mr. Santorum delivered a much stronger appearance in this debate than the last one, but still didn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd. He demonstrated his mastery of policy, but articulated that mastery an unengaging, unmemorable manner. Like other Senators who have run before (John Kerry, Al Gore, John McCain), he’s stuck in the language of Senatorial process (even President Obama suffered from that malady at the beginning of his presidential run).

In the end, he improved, but did not elevate himself from the middle of the pack to the top tier tonight.

Grade: C+

MITT ROMNEY (5th Place)

Who He Is: Romney is a former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate widely thought to be a frontrunner for this year’s Republican nomination.

How He Did: You know a candidate had an unimpressive night when he earns his biggest applause by announcing the score of a hockey game.

It’s not that Mr. Romney had a bad night – he answered questions articulately enough, stayed on his message, and didn’t commit any gaffes. It’s just that he didn’t really announce his presence tonight, adding little to the evening’s proceedings and failing to deliver a single memorable line.

Romney still hasn’t handled deflected the “Obamneycare” issue strongly enough, and it’s likely to haunt him when his opponents finally take aim against him in future debates.

His best line of the night may have been when he scolded moderator John King for asking irrelevant questions by saying, “ We oughtta be talking about the economy and jobs, but given that the fact you’re insistent…”

His main message, which came close to the end of the night, is this:  “[President Obama] has failed on job one, which was to get this economy going again. He failed on job two, which was to restrict the growth of government. And he failed in job three, which is to have a coherent and consistent foreign policy.”

Grade: C

HERMAN CAIN (6th Place)

Who He Is: Cain is the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

How He Did: Herman Cain, who stole the show during last debate, was drowned out by Michele Bachmann this time around. Mr. Cain is going to need to bulk up on policy issues quickly; even when asked for specifics, he’s unable to answer with anything other than platitudinous generalities.

As someone who hasn’t served as an elected office, he’s not going to have a lot of time to prove his policy bona fides. And answering a question about Muslims serving in his administration by saying he would not be willing to appoint Muslims who wanted to kill us to his administration borders on the surreal.

Grade: C-

RON PAUL (7th Place)

Who He Is: First elected to the House of Representatives in 1976, Dr. Paul is a libertarian popular with the Ayn Rand crowd.

How He Did: Rep. Paul’s fan base is vocal, and I’m surely going to hear from them over ranking him at the bottom of the pile.

But the purpose of this blog is not to criticize the wisdom of his policy positions, but rather the manner in which he delivered them. His professorial answers about money policy are predictable, and he failed to break through the pack tonight. At moments, he looked annoyed and angry. Does he have reason to be? Perhaps. But Americans have not rewarded someone who lacks such optimism by electing him to the White House since the beginning of the 24/7 media age, and they’re unlikely to begin now.

Grade: D+

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? If you disagree, what elements of your favorite candidate’s communications style do you think I missed? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Related: May 5, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: 2012 Election Preview: The Final Rankings

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Posted in Election 2012 (GOP) | 9 Comments »

Poll: Who Was The Best Communicator In Tonight’s Debate?

Written by Brad Phillips on June 13, 2011 – 10:00 pm

Seven candidates for the 2012 Republican nomination just finished squaring off in a presidential debate.

Who do you think was the most effective communicator tonight? Please cast your vote below, and remember: this isn’t a vote for your favorite candidate, but rather the person you thought communicated his or her views best during the debate.

Who Do You Think Was The Best Communicator In Tonight's Debate?

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Now that you’ve voted, here’s my take on the winners and losers tonight.
Please leave your thoughts about tonight’s debate in the comment section below.

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Posted in Election 2012 (GOP) | 1 Comment »

Tracy Morgan: When Does Edgy Humor Go Too Far?

Written by Brad Phillips on June 13, 2011 – 6:22 am

Late last week, 30 Rock star and comedian Tracy Morgan made headlines for a stand-up performance he gave in Nashville that seemed to encourage violence toward gays.

According to one audience member, Morgan said: “If my son was gay, he better come home and talk to me like a man and not [mimicking a gay, high pitched voice], or I would pull out a knife and stab that little [Nig***] to death.”

Morgan went on to say that gay people were “pussies” for complaining about bullying, which he minimized as not that bad.

Comedian Tracy Morgan. Photo Credit: David Shankbone

Another comedian, Christopher Titus, also got into trouble last week for saying he would “hang out on the grassy knoll all the time” if Sarah Palin is elected president, “just loaded and ready.”

Both comedians apologized for crossing the line, but that raises an interesting question: What, exactly, is the appropriate line for comedians? Surely, comics and social satirists should have more license for politically incorrect humor than, say, a politician. But where, exactly, should the line be drawn?

My opinion is beneath the following survey; please cast your vote before reading my opinion so my own views don’t sway yours!


Do Comedians Go Too Far When They Use Violent Imagery In Their Routines?

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My View: I‘m a strong believer in free speech and want comedians to have the right to express their controversial and occasionally ugly views, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. But yes, there’s a line, and violence directed at a specific group crosses that line most of the time.

“Joking” about killing a gay son in our post-Matthew Shepard world has consequences, giving tacit approval to those who would commit violence against homosexuals.

And “joking” about killing a politician in our post-Gabrielle Giffords world is cringe worthy at best, if not outright dangerous. 

Tracy Morgan deserves this fallout, and I hope other comedians take note. They may have the “right” to say violent things – but I hope their careers suffer for saying them. And just to be clear, I don’t want their careers to suffer as a result of government censorship, but rather from audience rebellion.

That’s a lesson Seinfeld’s Michael Richards learned the hard way.

What do you think? Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Related: Charlie Sheen: Why #Winning Isn’t Funny

Related: Five Types of Political Humor: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

P.S. The below video features an interview with audience member Kevin Rogers. Watch until the end – I found the end quite moving. 

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Posted in Media Training Analysis | 2 Comments »

Think Like a Sociopath, Act Like A Saint

Written by Brad Phillips on June 10, 2011 – 6:26 am

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in a week-long series about crisis communications. These guest posts were written by Jane Jordan-Meier, who recently released her book, “The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management.” You can read all five articles in this series here and purchase her excellent book here.

Ian Mitroff, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California, coined the phrase, “Think like a sociopath, act like a saint.”

To be fully prepared today, organizations need to adopt the thinking of sociopaths – thinking like paranoids in order to come up with “unpalatable and unthinkable scenarios.” The more bizarre the better.

Would Domino’s Pizza have thought that two of its employees would do very vile things to food, film themselves and then post that outrageous behavior to the internet for the world to see? Perhaps not. Then again, they are in the food industry – and that act, disgusting as it was, is not beyond the realm of “normal” thinking.

Think Like Bernie Madoff.

So what defines a sociopath ? According to, the key characteristics are:

  • Having no conscience
  • Inability to treat others as human beings with feelings and rights
  • Inability to learn from experience and life
  • Habitual dishonesty

“Sociopaths treat other people as toys and hanker after the power to control and hurt their ‘nearest and dearest’,” bluntly states.

So there you have it – please put on this paranoid hat when you are in crisis management planning mode – make those dollars you spend (and you may need some deep pockets for good training and testing) count. 

But also remember that according to an industry rule-of-thumb, you can save $9 in recovery for every dollar spent. If you invest $50,000 in a facilitated exercise and crisis planning, that investment will be peanuts compared what it could cost you IF no training, planning and testing are done.  If you fail to plan, then plan for failure – your costs in repairing the damage will be at least $450,000. That is a sizeable sum of money that will put a very big strain on your budget and reputation.

And if the dollars fail to convince you, then think about the influence and power of crowd panic, the paranoia if you will, and the speed of Twitter.

Act Like Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A tweet with inaccurate or damaging information can be shared and sent around the world in minutes, if not seconds – by the crowds. Australia’s flagship airline, Qantas, that prides itself on its safety record, suffered at the hand of a so-called “innocuous tweet” from Indonesia claiming there had been a crash. The tweet spread like wildfire, caused mass panic and dented the Qantas share price.

The crowd is no longer the passive audience (really never has been) receiving the information through a mediated party (the mainstream media). They are now fully engaged, active in gathering the information, swapping and sharing facts, and opinions – their versions of the truth. Not to mention the ability of the crowds to topple governments and implement real change through dialogue and dissemination of pertinent information.

No longer do organizations, unless they are very, very prepared, set the agenda. That is the realm of the crowds, we, the people, the delightfully and scarily flawed human beings that we are, who spread the word and make the truth – all at the speed of light. So think like a sociopath.

As for saints, we honor them.

Click here to read all five articles in this special crisis series.

Click here to order Jane’s excellent book.

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Posted in Crisis Communications | 1 Comment »

Head and Heart: Choosing The Right Spokesperson in Crisis

Written by Brad Phillips on June 9, 2011 – 6:31 am

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a week-long series about crisis communications. These guest posts were written by Jane Jordan-Meier, who recently released her book, “The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management.” You can read all five articles in this series here and purchase her excellent book here.

Rudy Giuliani became a household hero as New York Mayor on September 11, 2001. President George W. Bush’s slide began when he took three days to properly respond to Hurricane Katrina. BP’s Tony Hayward was sidelined not long after his, now infamous, “I want my life back” quote during the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Crises are defining moments. In a crisis, you need speed, decisiveness, authority, honesty – and often significant courage.

It takes courage to step out of the “safe” business mode and step into the public arena. Not only do you need to demonstrate significant compassion and transparency, you need to convey strong conviction for the actions you are taking. And do this all under the glare and scrutiny of millions of eyes and ears, thanks to the relentless 24×7 news cycle.

In a Crisis, A Great Spokesperson Needs to Communicate From The Head AND The Heart

In today’s lightning-fast digital age, where a single tweet can send out multiple shock waves, spokespeople have but a millisecond to prove their authenticity and their likeability. Words are actually not the heart of the matter at all. The ideal spokesperson is one who can bring both the head and the heart together. They must be totally believable when they are expressing “concern.”

Many times the spokesperson will have been told to say something – that’s the head part – yet their body language and the tone of their voice – the heart – does not match their words. Cognitive dissonance occurs, the audience won’t believe them, and credibility immediately disappears.

Couple the head/heart principle with the media’s demands to speak with front-line personnel, and you have the spokesperson dilemma. Who really is best to speak in a crisis? And when?

Choose your spokespeople:

1. According to the stage of the crisis

2. Depending on the severity of the crisis

3. That uphold the values you and your constituency hold close

The bottom line is this: Are your spokespersons capable of connecting with stakeholders in a compelling, compassionate and credible manner? Do they have grace under fire? Can they keep their emotions under control? Are they authentic and convincing in what they say and do?

For me it’s a mix of spokesperson – operational staff and executives working as a team. Even though the CEO may know less about the details, his or her physical presence sends two powerful messages: “I care and I am accountable.” The head of operations and/or the key technical staff must also be there to deal with the detail, the technology – the nitty gritty.

Invest in both and test, test and test again to validate their skills to ensure they will pass the grace under fire, head/heart test. Your reputation may very well depend on their ability to perform.

Click here to read all five articles in this special crisis series.

Click here to purchase Jane’s excellent book.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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