One Question I’ve Never Been Asked…Until Now

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 11, 2013 – 6:02 am

I recently provided media training to a man who deals with a few controversial issues in his line of work.

When we sat down to do a mock interview, he answered the more straightforward questions with relative ease. But when I began asking him about some of the particularly thorny issues he contends with, I noticed that one of his hands began to shake.

As a journalist, that change in his body language signaled something important to me. It told me that he was uncomfortable with the more difficult topic—and that he might have been hiding information from me.

As it turns out, I read the situation completely wrong.

The man shared with me that he has Parkinson’s disease. Although his increased stress level could have resulted in tremors, there’s a chance that his hands would have started shaking anyway.

So he asked a question I’ve never been asked before: “Should I tell reporters that I have Parkinson’s?”

After pausing for a moment, I answered that he should. Journalists occasionally report on an interview subject’s body language—and without knowing about the man’s disease, they too could form an incorrect conclusion.

I’d offer a caveat for high-profile executives of companies where continuity is an issue (Apple’s Steve Jobs comes to mind). In his case, information about his medical prognosis would have been deemed newsworthy—and reporters would likely have included that information in their stories.

But in my client’s case, there’s no compelling reason to include his personal medical record in a news story. And I suspect that most journalists would allow him to redo a take in which his tremors were particularly noticeable.

What do you think? Would you have offered him the same advice, or would you have encouraged him to keep his disease private? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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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.

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    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.

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    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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