The Candidate Who Got Crushed By A Smarter Interviewer

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 13, 2014 – 6:02 AM

The House Majority Leader, Virginia Republican Eric Cantor, is trying to win re-election this year against a little-known Democratic opponent named Mike Dickinson (See update below).

Mr. Dickinson entered the national spotlight late last week after he appeared on Fox News to speak with anchor Greta Van Susteren.

Van Susteren wanted to know more about Dickinson’s “War on Fox News,” which the candidate launched because he thought Fox News often misrepresented the facts. (That shouldn’t exactly be a tough position to argue.) But Van Susteren—a skilled criminal defense lawyer—decided to do some research about Dickinson’s past. And the resulting interview was simply devastating.

Watch this interview, then tell me: Is it me, or did Dickinson look like SNL’s Darrell Hammond doing a parody of a local politician?

The first lesson is this, as stated by Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard: “Pro tip: If you’re running for Congress and pledging a “war on Fox News” then it’s probably best not to appear on Fox News.” But I only agree with that partially. Appearing on Fox News while pledging a war on the network could have turned this local Democratic candidate into a popular national Democratic hero—if he was a skilled debater who could have held his own against an experienced host.

Second, if you have skeletons in your closet (consulting for strip clubs), you should probably have a good response ready. Instead, Dickinson just took Van Susteren’s punches without offering any counter response. For example, he could have said:

“You know, I know that’s not a popular profession with some people. But I want to be clear about how my policies would benefit women—and how Eric Cantor’s have hurt them [insert examples].”

Mike Dickinson

But the worst moment came when Van Susteren cornered him into admitting that he had lied about calling himself the CEO of a company (he wasn’t). He admitted to being a liar. Again, a skilled candidate would have had a better response prepared:

“I’m embarrassed by that and wish I could do that one over again, but let’s be very clear about one thing: I haven’t spent my entire professional career misrepresenting who I am and what I believe. Eric Cantor has. For example…”

Dickinson is trying to use heightened rhetoric to earn free national media coverage. Other politicians have used that strategy as well: Democrats Alan Grayson and Anthony Weiner, and Republicans Louis Gohmert and Michele Bachmann, among others. But there’s a key difference: they were all good at that game, and Dickinson is not.

As Van Susteren told him, “You’re a piece of work.” The problem for Dickinson is that I suspect many of his potential voters agree.

UPDATE: After writing this article but before posting it, news emerged that Mr. Dickinson failed to meet the filing deadline to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 7th District. He reportedly failed to inform Fox News that he wasn’t officially a candidate; nor did the network appear to verify his claim otherwise.

Like the blog? Read the book! The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview is available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

A grateful hat tip to reader John Barnett.

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Comments (17)

  1. By Brett:

    I love your update to this story. That Fox News did enough research into this fellow to attack him but failed to do basic fact checking to confirm he was officially a candidate tells you everything you need to know about this “news” channel.

    The whole idea of declaring war on something a politician doesn’t like seems awfully tired (War on poverty, drugs, Republican war on women), as does the idea of attaching the “gate” suffix after every scandal. I know it’s an easy way for media/politicians to describe a concept, but surely there’s got to be someone with a little creativity out there that can craft a more modern and compelling message. Brad, perhaps you could do a public service and help them out!

    Besides, I don’t think there needs to be a war on Fox. That kind of polarization just leads to people becoming more entrenched in their opinions. If people simply applied the same kind of social pressure to Fox News believers that they do to those who sincerely think Elvis is alive or that UFOs visit our planet just to trouble farmers and their cattle, we’d all be just fine. :)

  2. By Brett:

    PS – Sorry if you received that comment multiple times, I kept getting a message saying that I’d gotten the wrong answer on the math question below. But I’m pretty sure that 8 x 1 still equals eight. :)

  3. By Jeff Domansky:

    Brad, thanks for a very entertaining post! A pox on Fox and a lie detector for every politician :-)

  4. By Bob LeDrew:

    Oy oy oy, what a mess.

    I can’t help but feel this candidate (or is that “candidate”?) was possessed of such self-assurance that he didn’t bother with an instant of prep for this interview, and holy hell, did it show!

  5. By Nancy Daniels:


    Yes it is a shame that this fool went up against a lion – I doubt he even understands that he lost this one.

    What I question is you mentioning your own ‘politics’ in this or any of your articles. While you live in a city, the majority of which are democrats, not all of your clients lean left. When you show your obvious distaste for a news station, you may be stabbing yourself in the foot.

    It would be wrong to assume that all who watch this particular news station are country bumpkins. Among Fox’s viewers (which according to Variety “drew more viewers than the combined averages of CNN, MSNBC and HLN” in 2013), there is probably a large number of business people who need media training and would want to come to NYC to work with the best. Why alienate half your potential clientele?

    In my own business, I never mention politics or religion because I am selling neither. Of course, you may be in a position in which you do not need business from the right. I’m not in that position: I’m an equal opportunity voice coach.

  6. By Brad Phillips:


    I’ve made no assumptions about “country bumpkins,” nor any mentions of my own politics. What I said specifically is that it should be easy to make the case that Fox News often distorts the facts. That’s a factually accurate and easily demonstrated statement.

    But I also named CNN, which many people say leans left, the worst media disaster of March. And I’ve also put left-leaning anchors Chris Hayes and Chris Matthews of MSNBC on my “worst media disasters” list. None of those analyses are political. They’re rooted in defensible fact.

    I challenge you to find a single instance out of my 1,000+ posts of calling viewers of Fox News (or any other networks) names. You won’t find it. I don’t make those assumptions about a network’s audience, and I’m surprised that you interpreted this otherwise.


  7. By Pat Carlson:

    This “candidate” was barely literate.

    Brad, please give me one example where Fox News intentionally misrepresented a fact. Nancy is right, but I’ll take it one step further. Your liberalism affects your credibility. Fox News is the same as all the oher networks; it reads the pablum put out by the government. Some of the “facts” are false, some are “distorted;” but none of the networks — in their news departments — deliberately falsifies the news.

    One last point I’m surprised no one has mentioned:
    At the end of the interview, Greta says, “I hope you’ll come back.” Huh? He agrees to do so. Huh? She says, “Good luck in your campaign.” WTF???

  8. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Pat,

    As I stated in my comment, I’ve criticized Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. I’m not sure how that makes me a liberal, but you’re entitled to your view.

    If you truly believe that Fox News has never distorted a news story to fit its world view, nothing I type here will change your mind. And you’re right – they’re not the only network to do that. But they were the focus of this specific story, so I commented on it.


  9. By Brad Phillips:

    As for one example, how about when Steve Doocy said that President Obama was raised a Muslim and attended a Madrassa?

  10. By Nancy Daniels:

    Yes, they sure did blow it there, Brad. Thanks for sharing that.

  11. By Colin Killian:

    Brad, you make the common mistake of of grouping Fox’s opinion shows with its news programs. Fox does an excellent job of covering the news, but I suspect views on its opinion shows vary according to one’s own biases.

    MSNBC is much more reckless and biased in programming it labels as “news” to a much greater extent than Fox. You also mention CNN, but you don’t mention CBS, ABC and NBC, which seems to lend them an undeserved credibility. They have their own obvious biases and make mistakes accordingly. All media outlets do.

  12. By Pat Carlson:

    LOL, Brad. Yes, that settles it.

    Pointless addendum: I’m glad you profess to value honesty and call others on their lack of it; but seriously, Brad, that comedy clip doesn’t give you the right to play fast and loose with the truth. I’m really disappointed in you, Brad. Not because you falsely malign Fox News, but because you won’t own up to it. Changing what you said and turn it on me should be beneath you.

  13. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Colin,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I’d like to re-post the line in my article that has caused some controversy here: “Van Susteren wanted to know more about Dickinson’s “War on Fox News,” which the candidate launched because he thought Fox News often misrepresented the facts. (That shouldn’t exactly be a tough position to argue.)” That line doesn’t differentiate between Fox’s news and opinion programming — and nor am I sure it should. What is Steve Doocy, for example? Is he a journalist or an opinion host? If he’s an opinion host, does that give him license to cite a “fact” that isn’t true?

    Another more recent example was the assertion by a couple of Fox hosts that the White House “lied” about the Obamacare enrollment numbers. They didn’t offer evidence, but just believed that was true and put that assertion on the air. Regardless of whether it was a news or opinion host, is that a responsible thing for a news organization to allow on its platform? I think not.

    I’m surprised that some people believe that pointing that out is an ideological bias. My bias is toward accurate information. When CNN got many stories wrong, I called them on it. When ABC’s Brian Ross wrongly said that the Aurora shooter was a member of the Tea Party (with the same negative inference one might reserve for the KKK), I called him on it. I don’t believe that liberals have cornered the market on facts; nor do I believe that conservatives have.

    The parenthetical in this article aside, the rest of this post was about Greta Van Susteren’s superior interviewing skills over an inferior Democratic candidate. I’m not sure this post is the best example of liberal bias.


  14. By Brad Phillips:


    You asked for examples of Fox News misrepresenting facts. The Wikipedia page at the following link offers many instances of bias, distortion, and video manipulation: Here are a few other examples:

    Here’s my line that caused your concern again: “Van Susteren wanted to know more about Dickinson’s “War on Fox News,” which the candidate launched because he thought Fox News often misrepresented the facts. (That shouldn’t exactly be a tough position to argue.)” The links above offer several examples of that; ten minutes of research would turn up many others.


  15. By Lee Fister:

    Brad I find this all fascinating. I am an oxymoron. I am a Republican, a Gay male married to my partner, and an active Lutheran which is a Christian, I use to watch Good Morning America (ABC). I loved that show. Then Robin went on this TV love affair with our President. I received my degree in economics from Gettysburg College. That degree made me realize that the future President of the US, really didn’t know what he was talking about. I switched to Fox. What i noticed was that Fox reported all of the news which included anything that was anti Obama/Pelosi/Reid. I want to know the truth about the IRS, Benghazi, NSA, and everything else that this administration is sweeping under the carpet. I don’t vet what the news channels report on, but i do want all of the news. Guess who i am sticking with. God Bless Fox.

  16. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you for your comment. Your point is well made, and it’s the reason I don’t make vast generalizations when it comes to a network’s viewers – I suspect many Fox News viewers are not the stereotypical “angry white male” and that they come to the network for many reasons.

    Your email reminds me of something Ted Koppel used to say when people asked him why they should trust him. “You shouldn’t,” he said. He continued to tell people that he believed that they should watch and read the reporting of 4 or 5 news organizations that each report news from a different vantage point, and then decide for themselves what the true story is. But they needed the raw data, more than a network with a clear ideological tilt will provide. I believe that it’s a good thing to constantly remain skeptical of news reporting — not closed to it, but smartly skeptical — and to consume news from many different sources.

    Finally, one of the things I’ve always been struck by is that any criticism of the Fox News Channel immediately triggers charges of liberalism, as if any criticism of the network must be rooted firmly in personal political belief. I bring to this discussion less a personal political ideology and more a desire to see news presented with complete arguments, not just the ones that confirm an existing belief. Fox is not the only network guilty of that, but they are the focus of this post. As I’ve pointed out, I’ve been more critical of CNN than Fox, and have called out MSNBC’ers Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, and Ed Schultz, among others, as well. Interestingly, I don’t tend to get charged with liberal bias when my posts criticize liberals.


  17. By Eric Cantor (R-VA) is unexpectedly crucified in primary elections; is Michael Grimm (R-NY) his Judas? | spotlight | shed light:

    […] Greta van Susteren, “a piece of work”. Please, please, please take a moment and watch the video. –Good. Now that you’ve done that, I can feel free to characterize him as a political […]

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