The 14-Year-Old Who Crushed An Arrogant Interviewer

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on August 9, 2013 – 6:02 AM

If everybody performed in interviews like 14-year-old Rachel Parent, Brad and I would be out of a job.

The young Canadian activist founded an organization called “The Kids Right To Know” that campaigns for mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She has organized and spoken at rallies against GMOs and just happens to be one amazing spokesperson.

Here’s the proof: Ms. Parent challenged investor and TV host Kevin O’Leary to a debate after he called GMO protesters “just stupid” and suggested on his show that they “stop eating” as a way to “get rid of them.”

Mr. O’Leary accepted, and last week, Ms. Parent was a guest on the show he co-hosts, “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange,” from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Mr. O’Leary made it clear early in the interview he had no intention of taking it easy on Ms. Parent because of her age. That’s not unfair given Ms. Parent’s activism and visibility in her movement. Still, there’s a fine line between respectfully challenging and bullying. Mr. O’Leary managed to end the interview looking like a condescending bully due to Ms. Parent’s stellar performance.

One of the first questions he asked her, “You know what a lobbyist is, right?” set the tone for the 13 minutes that would follow.

So how did this 14-year-old succeed? She did some very big things right.

1. She didn’t let Mr. O’Leary change the debate.

More than once in the interview, O’Leary pushed to expose Ms. Parent as ignorant and anti-science. The savvy 14-year-old would have none of it. She was laser-focused on her issue of labeling GMO food and brought her answers back to that repeatedly.

2. She refused to engage in hypotheticals.

Mr. O’Leary used some hypothetical situations, including one in which nutrient-enriched rice, called “golden rice,” was being fed to starving communities around the world. When he asked what she would say to malnourished children about GMOs, Ms. Parent was ready. She used facts about the rice and why it wasn’t effective rather than play into Mr. O’Leary’s hypothetical example.

3. She ignored his insults.

Mr. O’Leary more than once alluded to Ms. Parent’s youth and even accused her of being disingenuous. A particularly low point for Mr. O’Leary was when he accused Ms. Parent of becoming a “shill” for groups that want to use her, saying, “You’re young, you’re articulate, you’re getting lots of media and I’m happy for you on that. But I’m trying to figure out whether you really deep down believe this.” Even with that, Ms. Parent never sank to Mr. O’Leary’s level in the debate.

4. She knew what she was walking into.

Ms. Parent was obviously familiar with Mr. O’Leary. But she did more than just come prepared for a spirited debate. She did her homework. At one point, Mr. O’Leary brought up a documentary his daughter produced about the GMO debate. Ms. Parent had already seen it and offered to clarify some of the points made in the film.

5. She brought on the challenge.

Ms. Parent smartly realized that her credibility would soar if she could effectively debate the hostile Mr. O’Leary. She was right.

Ms. Parent accomplished in that interview what most adult spokespeople dream of. She took on a tough challenger, managed to stay on message, and walked off the set knowing she likely brought some skeptical viewers to her cause. Plus, she scored a viral video in the process. Bravo!

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Comments (18)

  1. By James Bigg:

    What an extremely articulate interviewee. I actually didn’t see Kevin O’Leary as being arrogant, as the article suggests – although that may be because I’m immune to his typical interview style having watched his show for so long.

    That said, many more experienced subjects have crumbled and failed to engage Mr. O’Leary in a serious, even-handed debate when appearing on the Lang and O’Leary Exchange.

    Great job Rachel – and a great debate all round.

  2. By Jackie Fox:

    What a poised young lady. Bravo indeed! One other general comment about something she did well-her answers were concise. We’ve all had clients who tend to ramble when we answer.

  3. By Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina):

    So true! Great observation, thanks for mentioning that!

  4. By Jackie Fox:

    CORRECTION TO EARLIER COMMENT–said “we,” meant “they ” (Freudian slip?)

    What a poised young lady. Bravo indeed! One other general comment about something she did well-her answers were concise. We’ve all had clients who tend to ramble when they answer.

  5. By Rose Marie Burroughs:

    Terrific interview – amazing for her age. Great to hear and see her during the interview. Learned by watching this. thank you!

  6. By Dana McCullough:

    Awesome. She did a great job!

  7. By Art Aiello:

    I’m going to take something of a contrarian viewpoint, because I think it’s very easy for us to applaud Ms. Parent because of her age and vilify Mr. O’Leary for his. First, I don’t think Mr. O’Leary was arrogant at all. Yes, he asked her if she understood what lobbying was. But overall, I think he was respectful but tough, and treated Ms. Parent in the way he would any other interviewer. Challenging her, calling her a “shill”–I don’t think that he would have been viewed as arrogant if his interviewee wasn’t 14 years old. Ms. Lang also asked some hard questions and wasn’t perceived as having been arrogant.

    Having said that, while I think Ms. Parent did a wonderful job, her dogged adherence to her message about labeling–and her unwillingness to engage on the question of whether there was any merit to modifying food if it could save lives–did her a disservice. After a while, I got tired of hearing her say, “Not necessarily, which brings me back to the labeling issue.” Perhaps she was unprepared to answer the issue of the ethics of genetically modified foods in general, but I would suggest that she should have a statement prepared to address such questions. I found myself wanting to research this topic because of Mr. O’Leary’s point, not because of Ms. Parents. She brought nothing new to a very extensive interview where she could have expounded upon the issue at large. I don’t feel this was a particularly effective debate, because Ms. Parent didn’t really debate anything. She stuck to her message, which is laudable, but she didn’t engage further. Thus, while she showed a great deal of media savvy for a 14-year-old, I don’t think this was the runaway success that you’re touting it to be. She held her own, but I don’t think she crushed it, and I don’t think her interviewer was arrogant.

  8. By Brad Phillips:

    Art —

    Thanks for your comment! My colleague Christina wrote this piece, so I figured I’d respond to you with my opinion.

    I agree with you that Kevin’s tone wasn’t arrogant, but I found some of his questions and comments to be condescending. For example, asking Ms. Parent if she knew what a lobbyist was — when any brief examination of her previous YouTube videos would have demonstrated she did — was a belittling way to begin the interview. That continued when he suggested that she was a “shill” — too young and naive to know the difference — a point he returned to at the end when he expressed his hope that her thinking would evolve as she got older. That’s obviously not something he would have said to an adult guest, which is why I felt that he condescended to her.

    And while she did continually return to a message, she also deftly answered questions head on. For example, she knocked down his assertion about golden rice, corrected the co-host about the difference between hybridization and modification, and was prepared to rebut Kevin’s daughter’s video. Based on those examples, she did appear to me to engage the hosts well beyond any prescribed talking points.

    Thanks for your counter view – I really enjoy it when smart readers and PR pros express their views here, especially when they do it as well as you do!

    Have a great weekend,

  9. By Jeff:

    Parent did engage on the question of the worth of food modifications if they provide benefits. She said claims of safety and benefit cannot legitimately be made due to the state of the research. She favored responsible science, conducted by independent researchers to make the research credible.. What she didn’t explicitly say, but was the ultimate implication of her position, is that such an approach to GMO research is what’s needed to determine whether claimed benefits are legitimate without producing harmful side effects. Mr. Lang’s line of questioning was based in the premise that the benefits of GMO are beyond question. Her position is we may not be able to say GMOs are evil, but we sure can’t say the’re safe because the science/research has not been conducted responsibly.

    I don’t think the interviewer was arrogant; he was condescending.

  10. By Brad Phillips:

    Well said, Jeff. You may be right on your word choice. Since I titled the piece, not Christina, I’ll take the responsibility for the choice of “arrogant” over “condescending.”

  11. By Jeff:

    Not trying to be argumentative or corrective. Just offered it up as an observation of how our language is rich with words that can be similar, yet different, due to nuance. I mean, after all, condescension taken too far then becomes arrogance, right?

  12. By Brad Phillips:

    Jeff —

    No worries! I didn’t take you to be argumentative or corrective at all. I thought you made a good point, and “condescending” certainly would have been an apt description.

    Thanks again,

  13. By Davis O:

    She outwitted them both!!!

  14. By John J Kelley:

    Great conversation here, with comments offering a number of good points. I simply wanted to add my observation of how refreshing it felt to see a CBC broadcast. Some time ago, during a 2 1/2 years stint in Canada, I grew to appreciate the quality of their news programming – on nearly any topic.

    Regardless of how one feels about the merits of Ms. Parent’s arguments, the conversation was generally respectful and – egads! – informative. And it didn’t descend immediately into the sinkhole of political polarization so ubiquitous these days. An audience might actually learn something from this exchange, and leave with legitimate questions. That, in my opinion, is a far cry better than simply receiving reinforcement of their own myopic views and idle speculation of how the topic might shape the next election 😉

  15. By Robert Hart:

    Great job MS.PARENT. Even though it is hard to educate the ignorant, keep trying. Your dedication to affecting healthy change is refreshing as well as inspiring. Informing the populace of the many possible down falls of GMO foods will make a person pause and think, do I really want to ingest this unregulated, untested (3 months on rats)(many grew large tumors)(herbicides mixed into the genetics of the food)FRANKINSTIEN FOOD? Just a thought, perhaps you should stay away from individuals such as oleary and lang who will push for any agenda when it will make them money. Time has changed the once proud name CBC. Hopefully TVO @ the AGENDA OR GLOBAL TV WITH Tom Clark will have you come in to do an intelligent interview. Best of luck for you! Bob Hart.(PS. ANY TIME YOU HAVE TO ASK AN INTERVIEWER NOT TO CALL YOU STUPID IN THE INTERVIEW YOU SHOULD RUNNNNNNNN!

  16. By Robert Hart:

    There were no miss truths, no swearing, nothing that cannot be referenced in past film footage regarding their love of money, oleary was ignorant to the facts about the ill effects caused by gmo foods. CBC for unknown reasons has used poor judgment having oleary as a participant in any segments of your broadcasts. He is hate filled, vile and repugnant to the vast majority of my family as well as friends. lang made reference to it being a good time to buy stock when the collapse in 2008 happened, said, on air that people should be more responsible with their money and they would not be in the mess they were in. Give me a break.

  17. By Robert Hart:

    Please excuse my poorly worded paragraph at 10:35 pm. I had to go out unexpectedly and I rushed it. I will write out what I wanted to say more precisely tomorrow. If you would like to inform yourself a little more about GMO, go to GMO Global Alert You-tube.

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