Archive for the ‘Media Training Disasters’ Category
I’ve been writing the “worst video media disaster” series since August 2010. This is the first one I’m embarrassed to publish.
The graphic nature of this post makes me uneasy—but personal discomfort aside, this month’s worst video media disaster wasn’t even a close call.
Toronto’s Rob Ford—the crack-smoking, drunk-driving, alcohol-abusing mayor of Canada’s largest city—used vulgar language to deny charges that he had sexually harassed a former special assistant named Olivia Gondek.
“Oh, and the last thing was Olivia Gondek. It says that I wanted to eat her pussy. Olivia Gondek. I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married, I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
It’s important to remember that no one asked the sue-happy mayor that specific question during the media scrum (he was asked about “allegations” in general). He brought the topic up himself and could have chosen to respond in any manner he wanted. The casual nature with which Ford made those stunningly disrespectful remarks show that he probably speaks with similar vulgarity on a regular basis.
A primary rule of crisis management is to never use the negative language of your accusers in your defense, since doing so only reminds the audience of the charge. In this case, he could have simply said: “The charges made regarding Olivia Gondek are false.”
Or, if he had even a single gentlemanly instinct and opted to respect his former aide’s privacy, he could have left her name out entirely: “There are reports out today about something I allegedly said to a former assistant. They are false.”
Ford capped off his ignominious day with yet another spousal indignity. He called a press conference to apologize for using such graphic language to describe his sex life. As he stood before reporters, his humiliated wife stood on the side of the stage, her eyes cast downward.
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Tags: media training disaster, Olivia Gondek, rob ford
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Twenty years ago tomorrow—on November 9, 1993—Vice President Al Gore and billionaire businessman Ross Perot appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live to debate the merits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). More than 16 million people tuned in to the high-profile debate.
NAFTA was a controversial piece of legislation that created a trade bloc among three nations—the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It narrowly passed the U.S. House one week after this debate and went into force less than two months later.
Whatever your views on NAFTA, one thing is clear: Al Gore crushed Ross Perot in the debate.
If you remember this debate at all, it’s probably for Mr. Perot’s demeanor. Time Magazine described the difference between the two men thusly: “A calm, suave Gore literally towered over a snide and snarling Perot.” The Independent declared that “by any objective yardstick, a cool, slightly condescending Mr Gore won out over a petulant Mr Perot, by a mile.”
To get a sense of Perot’s temperament, watch about a minute of this clip, beginning at the 2:25 mark. Keep in mind that he was speaking to a sitting U.S. vice president at the time.
Mr. Gore won this debate for one reason: He found his opponent’s Achilles’ heel—Perot’s temper—and exploited it at every opportunity. Perot, unaccustomed to being interrupted and hectored, predictably bristled, snapping at Gore to “give me your whole mind” and asking him “Are you going to listen? Work on it.”
According to journalist James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic:
“There was genius, or at least cunning, in the decision to prepare Gore to push Perot’s flaw to the breaking point — to stake the debate on Gore’s ability to make Perot lose his temper. ‘If you’re dealing with a hothead, you make him mad,’ Greg Simon, a longtime Gore aide who was then Gore’s domestic-policy adviser and part of the team that prepared him for the debate, told me. ‘You’ve got a crazy man, you make him show it.’”
“Their starting point was that Perot was like an overbearing grandfather. ‘He’ll be fine as long as everybody sits there and listens to him,’ Simon said. ‘But if you start interrupting him, he’ll lose it.’ Perot, a graduate of the Naval Academy, was extremely proud of his image as a self-sacrificing patriot. Several aides reasoned that if Gore could find a way to gibe at or raise doubts about that reputation, Perot would be unable to contain himself. Perot had virtually no experience with being treated disrespectfully.”
How ineffective was Perot’s peevishness? Before the debate, only 34 percent of Americans supported NAFTA. Immediately following the debate, support surged to 57 percent.
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Tags: al gore, cnn, Friday Classic Clips, James Fallows, Larry King Live, NAFTA, ross perot
Posted in Classic Clips | 1 Comment »
A reader sent me a link to a recent CBC Radio interview with Officer Murray Swift, a Canadian border guard tasked with conducting sensitivity training for his fellow officers.
Officer Swift’s interview with Peter Oldring of “This Is That” was jaw-dropping. In rather stunning fashion, Swift bullied the host throughout the entire interview, leading to a final answer that literally left me with my mouth agape.
I couldn’t wait to write about this media disaster, which surely would have landed on my top ten media disasters list for the year. But after exploring a bit further, I learned that “This Is That”—which I wasn’t familiar with—is a satirical program. (Thank goodness I did my due diligence!)
That normally would have killed this blog post. But the interview is just too great not to post here. So enjoy today’s post from the lighter side, even if “Officer Swift” is merely the product of a clever host’s imagination.
You can listen to the clip here.
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Tags: CBC, comedy, Officer Murray Swift, This Is That
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National polling makes clear that the Republican Party—and House Republicans, in particular—are getting the majority of blame for the government shutdown.
More pundits than not agree that Republicans are in a precarious political position. The consensus of the mainstream media and much of the public is that Democrats are far likelier to “win” the political stare down between the two parties.
Assuming, for a moment, that all of that is true, Democrats have to be careful not to overplay their hand or commit the types of tone-deaf gaffes that can begin to turn the political narrative.
Enter Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who was asked a straightforward question earlier this afternoon about Republican efforts to restore specific programs one at a time. One such proposal would restore funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has halted new clinical trials.
CNN’s Dana Bash: “If you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?”
Harry Reid: “Why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force Base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own.”
Let’s give Mr. Reid the benefit of the doubt here, that the “that” in his response referred to accepting a piecemeal approach to reopening government, not children with cancer.
Whether you accept that explanation or not, the bottom line remains the same. Reid’s answer should have been a slam dunk—and it would have been, had he remembered a critical communications maxim: always align your response with the victims. He should have said something such as:
“Hearing these stories about children with cancer going untreated is infuriating—and that’s exactly why we keep saying we need to end this shutdown now. And it’s not just kids with cancer who are suffering: there are many single mothers who don’t know how to feed their kids without the WIC program, there are adults who are being denied critical medical care, and there are many families who are fearing what life means for them without a paycheck. The moment the House speaker puts a clean continuing resolution on the floor without gimmicks, we will pass it.”
Instead, Reid’s answer evoked memories of Michael Dukakis’s heartlessness when he was asked during a 1988 presidential debate whether he would support the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered. (“No I don’t, Bernard,” he responded without a hint of emotion.)
Reid’s sound bite is unlikely to turn the political tide, even if it generates a lot of chatter on cable news and social media. But during such a high-stakes moment, politicians on both sides should take particular care to avoid committing these types of dreaded seven-second strays.
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Tags: Harry Reid, media training disaster
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Clothing designer Kenneth Cole has a nasty little habit of newsjacking world events for his own benefit.
You may remember that he tried to get publicity for his new clothing line in 2011 by using the Egyptian Revolution that killed more than 800 people as a marketing hook:
At the time, Cole issued an apology:
“I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”
It turns out he didn’t mean his apology. Earlier this month, Cole repeated the stunt as the threat of war in Syria loomed:
I can’t even imagine how families with children serving in the armed forces must have reacted to Cole’s callous tweet. When faced with the inevitable social media backlash this time, however, Cole turned defiant.
Let’s be clear here: His insistence that he was trying to “provoke a dialogue about important issues” is either knowingly false or downright delusional. His tweets had nothing to do with substance. It appears that they were both intended to promote his products.
Even the phoned-in quality of the video reinforces his flip attitude. This controversy is worth addressing, but barely, the overly casual aesthetic seems to say.
But at least he kind of apologized, right?
Nope. According to an upcoming interview in the October issue of Details Magazine (as reported by The Huffington Post), Cole said:
“If you look at lists of the biggest Twitter gaffes ever, we’re always one through five. But our stock went up that day, our e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of our stores improved, and I picked up 3,000 new followers on Twitter. So on what criteria is this a gaffe?”
“Within hours, I tweeted an explanation, which had to be vetted by lawyers,” he added. “I’m not even sure I used the words I’m sorry — because I wasn’t sorry.”
Got that? Cole apologized after the 2011 incident, but he didn’t mean it. And now he’s claiming he was just trying to “provoke a conversation” when it seems clear that profit was his motive.
All of this makes Cole the most insidious kind of marketer—one that uses tragedy and war to sell products. And based on his shifting explanations, it appears to make him a dishonest one, too.
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Tags: crisis communications, Kenneth Cole, media training disaster, Twitter
Posted in Media Training Disasters | 5 Comments »
Since beginning this blog in August 2010, I’ve written about hundreds of media disasters.
Today, I decided to go back and look at the most outrageous things people have said over the past three years and compile the most jaw-dropping sound bites I could find.
My list is subjective. If your personal favorite isn’t on this list, please leave it in the comments section below, preferably with a link to the video or news story.
Without further ado, here are 10 of the most jaw-dropping media interview answers from the past three years!
If you’re watching this at work, please note that a few slides contain bad language.
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Tags: Anthony Weiner, Barbara Morgan, Helen Thomas, Jerry Sandusky, Joseph Maturo, media training disasters, Michele Bachmann, Stephen Duckett, Todd Akin, Tony Abbott, Tony Hayward
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On Wednesday, Tony Abbott became Australia’s 28th Prime Minister.
That he would become prime minister seemed unlikely in February 2011, after he was caught on video seemingly minimizing an Australian soldier’s death in Afghanistan by saying, “Well, sometimes shit happens.”
Mr. Abbott was right, of course: sometimes, shit happens in war. But his statement struck a lot of people as cruelly dismissive—particularly because the victim was a married 28-year-old soldier who left behind a young daughter and a second child on the way.
You might think the Friday classic clip is the video above. It isn’t.
The classic clip is from what came next, when an interviewer from Australia’s Channel Seven asked Mr. Abbott to explain his remark.
Instead of apologizing or explaining his comments, Abbott went silent for 26 painful seconds.
As you’ll see in the clip, an Australian political editor named Laurie Oakes summed it up this way:
“To say nothing, to just glare at the reporter for 24 seconds, was ridiculous. It revealed Mr. Abbott as a politician who’s totally flat-footed when he gets into trouble, and now that he’s exposed as a politician who bungles something this badly, you can expect some serious talk about his leadership of the liberal party…I think Tony Abbott will pay dearly for it.”
Mr. Oakes was right about the first part of his statement. But Mr. Abbott—now Prime Minister Abbott—paid for this gaffe (and others) by earning a promotion. And that serves as a helpful reminder to us pundits to think twice before counting a politician out.
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Photo credit: MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy), Wikimedia Commons
Tags: Australia, Friday Classic Clips, Laurie Oakes, Tony Abbott
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It’s not uncommon for politicians to mangle a fact or two.
But during an interview earlier this month, Stephanie Banister, a 27-year-old Australian running for a seat in parliament on the fringe One Nation ticket, took fact-mangling to a new extreme.
Under normal circumstances, a candidate who was unable to name her opponents would be subject to ridicule. But that moment was almost entirely obscured by other, much larger gaffes and misstatements, which included these:
“I don’t oppose Islam as a country.” (Islam isn’t a country.)
“Less than two percent of Australians follow Haram.” (She likely means the Koran.)
“Jews…have their own religion, which follows Jesus Christ.” (I must have missed that week in Hebrew School.)
“I believe the national disability scheme is working at the moment.” (The reporter notes it doesn’t begin until 2016.)
After the interview went viral and subjected Ms. Banister to international ridicule, she complained about the manner in which her interview was edited. According to The Age:
“Ms Banister told Fairfax Media she felt she had been misrepresented and had corrected herself many times but it had been cut from the interview.
‘Unfortunately, they’ve completely twisted all my words and made me out to be a stand-up criminal and a stupid moron,’ she said.
She said she knew Islam was not a country and meant to say ‘Islamic countries’”.
Assuming that’s true, it still doesn’t explain her other gaffes. No one made her say that Jews followed Jesus Christ or mislabel Islam’s central religious text. Based on her seemingly evident lack of knowledge in multiple places, I’m skeptical that she corrected each of the errors during her interview.
Even if she did, her stunning number of inaccurate statements were revelatory and arguably worthy of being aired.
How big of a problem did this interview become for Ms. Banister? Shortly after this interview aired, she dropped out of the race.
Tags: Australia, media training disaster, Stephanie Banister
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