A Combative Media Guest: Smart To Attack The Interviewer?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 28, 2011 – 6:22 AM

I’m frequently asked whether it’s a good idea to attack the media (or a reporter, or a reporter’s questions) during a media interview.

Generally speaking, the answer is no. But the more nuanced answer is that it depends on your goals.

Phil Kent, a member of Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review board, serves as a perfect example. When he sat down with a reporter from Atlanta’s 11Alive News last week, he attacked several of the reporter’s questions (and even questioned whether the reporter fell asleep during Journalism 101).

That’s not necessarily a surprise – the conservative firebrand once served as Sen. Strom Thurmond’s press secretary, acts as the national spokesperson for Americans for Immigration Control, and has written incendiary books such as The Dark Side of Liberalism

But are his attacks on the media effective? Watch this must-see video below and decide for yourself:

If Mr. Kent’s goal is to build his name recognition to sell books to a relatively narrow (but enthusiastic) base of supporters, then his attacks are effective. But if his goal is to persuade other people to agree with his beliefs, I’d argue he is squandering his opportunity. His smug delivery may turn on people who already agree with him, but it almost certainly alienates many viewers who might otherwise have been open to his ideas.

I draw an analogy between Mr. Kent and Sarah Palin. Like Mr. Kent, the former Alaska governor has made sport of attacking the “impotent” “lamestream” media for asking “gotcha questions.” If Ms. Palin’s goal is to build a relatively limited but enthusiastic base that will allow her to increase her appearance fees and remain a darling on the conservative speaking circuit, she’s been effective. But if her goal is to build a wide-enough base to win a national election, I’d argue that her attacks have been counterproductive.

Reporter Doug Richards's questions elicited annoyed responses from Phil Kent.

Here’s my bottom line: If you want to use the media to influence the widest-possible group of people, attacking the media is rarely a good long-term media strategy. If you’re a political candidate or interest group on the political right or far left, it might be.

A grateful to tip of the hat to reader Juliet Charney, who forwarded me this clip.

In the category of things that sound dirty but actually aren’t, I want to tweet you. Follow my Twitter feed at @MrMediaTraining to keep up with the latest media and presentation training tips. 

Related: How To Beat an Unfair Host During an Interview

Related: Five Tactics Reporters Use to Intimidate You

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Comments (6)

  1. By Juliet:

    Charney, not “Cha”. And thank you, I thought you’d find it useful!!

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    So sorry for the error – your last name came up on my Facebook as “Cha” for some reason! I will make the change as soon as I’m back in front of my computer tonight. Thanks again!

  3. By Christopher:

    You’ve covered how to deal with aggressive reporters, perhaps a refresher on how to deal with clearly biased reporters is in order?

    Is there a way to call a reporter on a leading question and shift audience support from the interviewer to yourself, without attacking as this subject did?

  4. By Brad Phillips:


    Thank you for your question! It’s a good one – I’ll plan to answer your question as a full blog post sometime in October. I’ve been answering reader emails as a blog post occasionally, and this would be a good one to tackle.


  5. By Brad Phillips:

    Fixed. Thanks again!

  6. By Héctor Héreter:

    Extremists are all the same, either they are from the right or the left, when dealing with media. While seen this interview to Mr. Phil Kent I remembered an equally episode with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez during a Press Conference with the international media assigned to Caracas. During a questioning about human rights by London’s Financial Times correspondent, Chávez told him that he “better get the facts straight or get out of the country”. I think that these extremist believe they are the sole owners of truth and everybody else in wrong just because they have a different opinion. The only time I saw Chávez against the ropes was with BBC’s program HardTalk, the interviewer didn’t back down to the dictator’s attacks, but on the contrary, used them for his advantage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DROnWLtx6WI&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL7C84BAC68087CEF7)

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