March 2012: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 30, 2012 – 6:12 am

What do sluts, hoodies, and a popular children’s toy have in common?

If you said that they all made it onto March’s month-end media disasters list, you’d be right. (If you came up with any other answer to that question, you’re probably a bit twisted.)

Without any further ado, here are the five worst video media disasters of March, along with two fun bonus disasters. Here we go!

5. Singer Sings “Fuck You” At Presidential Fundraiser

I like singer Cee Lo Green. He’s a talented musician, and he’s a fun coach on NBC’s The Voice. But he exercised lousy judgment when he entertained a crowd at an Obama fundraiser by singing the uncensored version of his hit song “Fuck You.” If that wasn’t enough, he also gave the crowd the middle finger.

For the record, I own that song. I like that song. But context matters, and creating an unnecessary distraction for the President made the fundraiser more about Cee Lo than the President’s re-election bid. And by the way, National Review editor Rich Lowry never heard of Cee Lo? Come on, Rich, you’re just a few years older than me. Get with the program!



4. President Obama Gets Caught On An Open Mic

At a meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, President Obama got caught on an open microphone:

President Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space.” 

President Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you … .”

Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”


Sure, most people understand that this type of interaction is common in international diplomacy. But by making his comment with microphones present, President Obama not only gave his Republican rivals an opening, but reportedly put Poland on edge. Plus, the President appeared a bit over-confident about his chances for re-election. He should know better than to make such comments in the presence of microphones.  


3. Mitt Romney Advisor Compares Him To An “Etch a Sketch”

When asked whether Mitt Romney would shift toward the ideological center during the general election, top advisor Eric Fehrnstrom answered: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Given that Mr. Romney’s professed commitment to conservative values is already viewed with deep suspicion by many conservative voters, few gaffes could hurt him more. His opponents – Republican and Democrat alike – pounced on the mistake. Expect this gaffe to stick with Gov. Romney through the rest of the campaign.

Click here to read the full story, “Why Mitt Romney’s ‘Etch a Sketch’ Moment Matters.”

2. A Gun Didn’t Kill Trayvon Martin – His Jacket Did

Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, was gunned down last month by George Zimmerman, a man of mixed ethnicity (Hispanic and white). Mr. Martin’s death has spawned national outrage and a heated discussion about race, particularly because many signs point to Martin’s innocence – and the shooter’s guilt (Zimmerman has not been jailed).

But Fox News Host Geraldo Rivera cast blame somewhere else – at Martin’s clothing. “The hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,” Rivera argued. In making that argument, Rivera unfairly shifted the burden of blame away from Martin’s killer – and onto the victim and his parents. 


1. Rush Limbaugh’s “Slut” Attack

Bombastic right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh isn’t known for mincing words – but his vicious attack on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke was extreme even by his own loose standards. 

Ms. Fluke testified before a Democratic House panel that Georgetown – a Jesuit university – should be required to provide contraceptive care as part of its health insurance plan. Mr. Limbaugh responded by asking if she was a “slut” or “prostitute” who is “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.”

He didn’t seem to understand that the cost of a woman’s contraceptive care doesn’t correlate directly to the amount of sex she’s having; nor did he factor in the many health reasons women use contraception. But his advertisers understood, and they fled his show in record numbers.

Although Limbaugh made these comments at the end of last month, the controversy reached its peak in March.


Bonus Disaster #1: Colorado Governor Introduces His Lieutenant Governor As a What?!?

This one speaks for itself. Colorado’s Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper, has a bit of a Freudian slip when introducing his Lieutenant.


Bonus Disaster #2: Herman Cain Releases a New Video

What better way to get attention for your new issues organization than by releasing an ad that murders a rabbit? Or by featuring a girl who should be cast in the sequel to The Shining? Or by casting a man who looks creepily into the camera?

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How Do I Become A Media Trainer?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 29, 2012 – 6:12 am

I recently received a tweet from Heather Harder, a North Carolina college student, who asked: “What should college students interested in media training be doing now to prepare?”

That’s a good question, one I hear not only from college students, but also from other professionals hoping to make a career switch. So in today’s post, I’ll give you my thoughts regarding making your way into our exciting industry.

First, check out my article about how to select a media trainer. It offers 11 tips buyers should consider when shopping around for a trainer – and it will offer you some insights into what I consider to be important qualities in a trainer.

Since media training is not an entry-level job, Heather will need to gain professional experience first.

She can get that experience in one of two places: by working as a journalist or by working with journalists as a public relations representative. Heather should be able to find an entry-level job with a community newspaper, a small radio or television station, or as a staffer in the communications shop of a company or not-for-profit organization.

If she really wants to challenge herself, she should accept a position with an organization in crisis. For example, I recently noticed that the Komen Foundation – which just endured a bruising public relations battle – was hiring a senior communications professional. Although Heather won’t qualify for the senior position, she should keep her eyes out for an entry level position with a similarly scandal-struck group. There’s no better way to learn than being thrown straight into the fire.

Media training requires not only knowledge of the media, but also the ability to teach the information in a way that’s likely to resonate with trainees. So Heather should look for every opportunity to lead workshops, develop session agendas, and coach people. Knowing the facts is one thing; knowing how to teach them is quite another.

There are a few other things Heather can do now. She can write for her college newspaper or write a blog, keeping an eye out for opportunities to analyze the communications skills of public figures. She should read books and blogs written by media trainers. And she should follow a few journalism websites as well, to help make sure she’s getting the broadest perspective possible.

Thanks for the message, Heather. I look forward to hearing great things from you in our industry!

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Should You Ban PowerPoint In Your Office?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 28, 2012 – 6:12 am

Should you ban PowerPoint from your company’s internal meetings?

At least one high-profile business executive did. According to Walter Isaacson’s terrific biography of Steve Jobs, the late Apple founder hated PowerPoint and banned it from company meetings:

“’Steve would summon the teams into the boardroom, which seats twenty, and they would come with thirty people and try to show PowerPoints, which Steve didn’t want to see,’ [friend Phil] Schiller recalled. One of the first things Jobs did during the product review process was ban PowerPoints. ‘I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,’ Jobs later recalled. ‘People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.’”


If your PowerPoint slides look like this, you're doing it wrong.

It’s hard to argue with Apple’s success, but I’m not sure Mr. Jobs was right to ban PowerPoint from business meetings entirely.

Studies have consistently demonstrated that people learn less by hearing information than they do by hearing and seeing it. When properly selected, visual images reinforce the spoken word, allowing audiences to better retain the presenter’s messages. 

(Click here to see the five most common PowerPoint mistakes.)

The problem isn’t PowerPoint itself – PowerPoint is merely a tool – but rather the way most people use it. Mr. Jobs seemed to understand that, as he used PowerPoint during his public presentations, such as when he introduced the iPad2 last spring:

Note how he used it. His slides didn’t have a lot of text. And his best slides were almost entirely visual, such as when he elicited audience applause simply by showing a before and after photo of the “thinner” model.

As Mr. Jobs demonstrated through his actions, PowerPoint presentations aren’t the enemy; only thoughtlessly created ones are. So use it at your company meetings on occasion. But think different and use it well.

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Should We Just Stop Apologizing All The Time?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 27, 2012 – 6:12 am

A public figure says something insensitive.

People get angry about it. They air their discontent on Facebook and tweet their demands for an apology.

The insensitive public figure goes into high gear, drafts a statement, and apologizes for the infraction.

The public moves on, at least until the next time a public figure says something insensitive.

Is that predictable cycle – the one that begins with a high-profile infraction and ends with an apology and public punishment – too much? At least one controversial figure thinks so. Writing in The New York Times, comedian Bill Maher (whose misogynistic comments recently landed him in hot water) wrote:

“When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like? In the last year, we’ve been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried…

Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront.

If that doesn’t work, what about this: If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial.”


Maher has a point. I’ve noticed recently that some social media “disasters” have a half-life confined to a single afternoon, after which the supposedly “outraged” flock moves on with their lives, never to mention the alleged infraction again.

But Maher takes his point too far. The public was right to blast comedian Tracy Morgan for saying he would “stab” his son “to death” if he was gay. Or to criticize Gilbert Gottfried for “joking” during the horrific Japanese tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people that “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.’” Or, yes, to knock Maher for calling Sarah Palin a “c*nt.”

Is Maher right? Do we apologize too much?

I’m glad that we live in a time when we can use the power of social media to hold people accountable for their most horrific statements, even if the public occasionally deploys those tools with too little provocation or too much frequency.

Maher continues by writing:

“If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes.”


That may be overstating it a bit. Colorful characters still break through and succeed – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former VP nominee Sarah Palin, and Vice President Joe Biden immediately come to mind. This isn’t an “either/or” debate. We can have color, personality, and spontaneity without having bigotry, anti-gay rhetoric, and jokes about thousands of dead innocents.

All of that aside, I’m not sure this debate really matters for PR professionals. It’s usually outside of our power to change societal sensitivities. Our job is to help our clients present themselves in the most positive light while helping them sidestep unnecessary controversies, all within the confines of the societal sensitivities that already exist.

That means that in most cases when my clients screw up, I’ll continue to recommend that they apologize. I know that will likely upset Bill Maher. Sorry, Bill.

What do you think? Is Maher right that we’ve become a world of over-apologizers? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Rick Santorum’s “Bullshit” Moment: Does It Matter?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 26, 2012 – 1:44 pm

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum took issue with a question from New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny yesterday while campaigning in Wisconsin, telling him that his question was “bullshit.”

Here’s the video:

It’s rarely a good idea to swear at the media, but in this case, it’s unlikely to hurt Mr. Santorum for at least three reasons.

First, many conservatives harbor a deep distrust of the mainstream media – and no news organization encapsulates the “liberal” media agenda to them more than The New York Times. Santorum isn’t the first person to rail against the Times, either – candidate George W. Bush called reporter Adam Clymer a “major league asshole” while on the trail in 2000:

Second, Santorum is trailing badly in the race for delegates and needs a game changer. Sometimes, a dramatic curse word can help a candidate change the narrative and gain more attention for their issues. In this case, Santorum’s “bullshit” will help him gain more exposure for the issue he was discussing – Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial record on health care reform – which is deeply unpopular with conservatives. Any discussion about that topic will likely help Santorum’s campaign.

Finally, his anger seemed genuine, not manufactured. That will play well to his supporters and other sympathetic conservative voters. But he may have seemed a bit too angry, and he would have benefitted more if the exchange had been a bit shorter.

Michael Sebastian, the managing editor of Ragan’s PR Daily, wrote a terrific piece helping PR folks advise their clients on “how to swear at the media.” It’s a fun read. Among other points, he wrote:

“Make sure the cameras are rolling. What good is an obscenity in print? Check for cameras—cell phones will do—and let loose. Santorum, as Zeleny later said, “knew the cameras were rolling.”

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How Answering Media Questions Is Like Playing Football

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 26, 2012 – 6:12 am

I often work with media training clients who respond to every question I ask during our mock interviews with unnaturally short, clipped answers.

They’re far from alone – many spokespersons answer the questions they’re asked, but fail to do anything else to advocate for their views. They might offer a five-word answer – not even a complete sentence, just blurted words that do nothing more than answer the specific query.

What should they be doing instead? They could begin with that five word answer, supplement it with a captivating and memorable message, story, and/or statistic, and finish it with a closing call-to-action. That doesn’t have to take long. They can do it all in 30 seconds or less.

Here’s a different way to think about it: being a great media spokesperson is like being a great football player.

When reporters ask you a question, they’ve handed you the football. If you answer with five clipped words, you’ve gained no more than a yard before giving them possession of the ball again. But if you take their question, run with it while advocating for your position in a memorable way, you’ve just given yourself a first down – and possibly scored a few points.

Here’s an example:

Question: “Why should your museum get more money from taxpayers? Times are tough for everyone – shouldn’t you have to sacrifice like everybody else?”

One-Yard Gain: “Absolutely, and we have.”

First Down: “Absolutely, and we have. It’s important to remember that we are only asking for enough money to keep our doors open and our artwork safe.”

Touchdown: “Absolutely, and we have. It’s important to remember that we are only asking for enough money to keep our doors open and our artwork safe. Last year, we were robbed because we couldn’t afford a nighttime security guard – and it cost us more than it would have to hire two guards for three years. That’s why we’re asking the public to contact the governor’s office and ask him to give us the funding we need, to make sure that parents can continue bringing their children to our museum for years to come.” 


This technique isn’t intended to allow spokespersons to filibuster, but rather to allow them to take advantage of their precious limited time while in possession of the ball. Be generous with the reporter by sharing the ball; but don’t give it back until you’ve fully advocated for your position.

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Why Mitt Romney’s “Etch A Sketch” Moment Matters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 22, 2012 – 7:15 pm

For the past 36 hours, the airwaves have been filled with constant re-airings of the latest gaffe from the Romney campaign – and many pundits are declaring this the worst misstep yet.

The moment occurred when one of Mitt Romney’s top advisors, Eric Fehrnstrom, was interviewed on CNN Wednesday morning. Here’s the exchange:

Question: John Fugelsang: “It’s fair to say that John McCain was considerably a more moderate candidate than the ones that Governor Romney faces now. Is there a concern that the pressure from Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?”

Answer Eric Fehrstrom, Senior Romney Adviser: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”


I’d argue that many of the previous Romney “gaffes” were taken out of context by the media. Not this one. Mr. Fehrstrom was asked a direct question about Romney’s ideological positioning, and his answer seemed to clearly suggest that Mr. Romney would indeed move to the center.

Given that Mr. Romney’s professed commitment to conservative values is already viewed with deep suspicion by many conservative voters, few gaffes could hurt him more. His own top aide suggested that he would be ideologically malleable, confirming for many voters what they already suspected: that he is a shape-shifter who will say whatever it takes to win. Fellow Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich quickly seized on the gaffe, bringing Etch a Sketches to public events.

This image, created by Zuma Press, Newscom, and TPM, will likely haunt Mr. Romney for months

The imagery of an “Etch a Sketch” will follow Mr. Romney for the rest of his campaign. Will it doom his candidacy? I wouldn’t go that far. But when candidates reinforce the worst fears about themselves with a gaffe that turns them into a caricature, it’s near-impossible to reverse the narrative.

Just how potent is the Etch a Sketch image? Consider these four losing candidates for office who became their own worst enemies:

In 1988, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis confirmed fears about his strength as a leader when this image of him riding in a tank was released during the campaign. He lost a 17-point lead with three months to go and was defeated by George H.W. Bush.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was viewed by many Americans as “out of touch” when running for a second term, due to his own personal wealth and his ineffectual handling of the economy. So when he went to a grocery store and appeared to express amazement at a bar code scanner that had been out for years, it confirmed the “out of touch” meme. (Bush aides insist that he was actually not amazed by the scanner, saying he was indeed aware of the technology. Nonetheless, the image took hold.)

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore was tagged with the image of being a serial exaggerator. He confirmed that perception when he seemed to suggest that he had created the Internet:

In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry was widely seen as a “flip flopper.” So when he explained a vote on a wartime funding bill by proclaiming that, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," he gave his Republican opponents a perfect opening to attack his changing positions.

All four of the above examples lasted mere moments, but each came to symbolize an entire candidacy. Mitt Romney’s “Etch a Sketch” moment now joins those historical moments, and Mr. Fehrnstrom’s gaffe will likely be remembered for decades to come.

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The One Sentence Most Public Speakers Get Wrong

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 22, 2012 – 6:12 am

One of the most important sentences in any speech often comes at the very beginning.

The speaker walks to the lectern, sets down her papers, looks up, and says, “Thank you very much – I’m very excited to be here.”

But the majority of the time, the speaker utters that line without any discernible excitement. They’re saying that they’re happy to be there, but their voice and body language sends the exact opposite message.

When I mention that to our trainees after a practice speech, they’re usually surprised. They thought they had delivered the line well. I suspect that their nervousness restrained them, that their internal adrenaline rush deceived them into thinking that they were coming across more energetically.


Yes, I know. He\’s very, very excited to be there.


That type of “message disconnect” is problematic because when you send your audience one message with your words and another with your voice and body language, the audience isn’t going to believe your words.

It’s not just “I’m very excited” that gets speakers in trouble; it’s any similar line, such as:

“I’m thrilled to announce this new product.”

“Thank you so much for traveling from all over the world to join us at this conference.”

“I’m deeply honored that you’ve selected me for this year’s award.”

And that’s not all. Speakers regularly commit yet another speaking faux-pas when delivering those lines: they often read them to their audience.

Yup, their heads are down, their voices are flat, and they read “I’m so glad you joined us at this year’s conference” to the audience from their prepared text. If you have to read your notes to be able to tell your audience that you’re “glad” they’re there, you’re not really glad. You’re just reading. Speakers who read “sincere” greetings will have an audience full of people who doubt their sincerity.

So next time you open a speech with a warm greeting, leave the notes behind. Your specific words don’t really matter, but your tone and sincerity do. Welcome people, express gratitude, and exhibit genuine excitement without notes. And make sure your audience knows you mean it.

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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.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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