Save Your Indignation, Rahm. This One’s On You.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was interviewed at a live event this morning by Politico reporter Mike Allen.
Mr. Emanuel—who is facing one the biggest crises of his political career over his handling of a high-profile police misconduct case—lashed out at Allen for asking a question he didn’t like.
But the question wasn’t exactly a hard-hitting one. It was about his winter vacation plans.
Mike Allen, Politico: “We were saying backstage that…you want to take your young people on fascinating trips around the world, headed these holidays to Cuba. Why?”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel: “Well, first of all, thanks for telling everybody what I’m going to do with my family. You had a private conversation with me, and now you decided to make that public. I really don’t appreciate that…I’m expressing to you now publicly my displeasure. My family’s trips are my family.”
Emanuel later threatened to give Allen’s cell phone number to his wife so that Allen could explain to her directly why he had broken their secret vacation plans. When Allen tried to apologize, Emanuel—who looked like he could barely contain his rage—snapped: “I don’t know if you know this, it’s not gonna work.”
So did Allen break a trust? According to him, no. He told The Washington Examiner late this morning that his conversation with Emanuel was not off the record. Given that Emanuel described it as a “private” conversation and not an “off-the-record” one, I’m inclined to believe Allen’s version of events.
Mr. Emanuel should save his rage. He’s been in politics long enough to know there’s no such thing as a “private conversation” without an explicit agreement stating otherwise. The fact that he is taking his family to Cuba is interesting—and if I was interviewing him after learning that information, I would have asked him about it too—unless the Mayor had explicitly asked me not to.
Lesson seven of my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need To Know Before Your Next Interview (Support the blog! Buy now!), is called “Why There’s No Such Thing As An ‘Official’ Interview. It reads, in part:
As the crew packs up, you make some polite small talk with the reporter. He casually asks you about one of your competitors, and you make a mildly negative comment about their work. When the piece airs, you’re shocked to find that the reporter introduces the story by quoting your offhand, off-camera remark about your competitor.
You may feel betrayed, but the reporter didn’t do anything wrong. The interview didn’t officially “begin” when the cameraman pressed the record button or “end” when he turned it off. Anything you say before, during, or after the “official” interview—including any telephone or email exchanges—can be quoted in a news story.
Sorry, Rahm. This one’s on you.
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