Archive for the ‘Media Training Disasters’ Category
Reader Bob LeDrew recently made me aware of a media interview featuring a Toronto School Board trustee named Sam Sotiropoulos. (By the way, what is the deal with Toronto public officials lately?)
Mr. Sotiropoulos generated some controversy late last month when he sent out the following tweet:
Shortly thereafter, a reporter from Canada’s Global News interviewed Mr. Sotiropoulos about his incendiary comments. The interview was an utter disaster and is worth watching in its entirety.
As I watched this interview—which lasted almost nine excruciating minutes—I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t he walk away already? Does this man not have feet?”
It’s clear that Sotiropoulos thought his rapier wit was winning the interview, but he appeared blithely unaware that he was coming across as a smug dope who failed to score a single point.
Among the tactics he tried were:
- Repeating the same talking point almost verbatim numerous times
- Giving the reporter the silent treatment
- Denying that he had sent another controversial tweet that had appeared in his timeline
- Telling the reporter that while he could speak about his current tweet, he couldn’t discuss previous and related tweets he had sent
- Attacking the reporter for suggesting that there is a stigma attached to mental illness
- Claiming that his tweet was not expressing an opinion, but merely reserving the right to “form” an opinion
His last point was particularly disingenuous. He refused to acknowledge that his inference that transgenderism may be a form of mental illness could reasonably be read as a suggestion that it is. (For the record, the American Psychiatric Association ruled that “gender dysphoria” is not, by itself, a mental illness.) Using his logic, it would be completely fair of me to tweet the following:
But doing so would be a smear, and Satiropoulos would have a right to be upset at my inference. (I preceded and followed that tweet, sent yesterday, with an explanation that it was intended only as part of this story, not as a personal attack.)
Mr. Satiropoulos is entitled to his views, but he shouldn’t have sent his tweets if he was unprepared to defend them. For the same reason, he shouldn’t have agreed to an on-camera interview; a written statement would have served him far better.
Instead, he agreed to an on-camera interview without a time limit, during which he committed at least half a dozen interview errors. But of all his interview sins, the one that demonstrated his lack of judgment most is that he stood there like a punching bag instead of having the sense to end the interview and walk away.
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Tags: LGBT, media training disaster, media training disasters, Sam Sotiropoulos
Posted in Media Training Disasters | 3 Comments »
John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, is known for being rather provocative.
He has a lot of fans who appreciate his “un-CEO” style which, as described by Business Insider, consists of a “trademark uniform of a black jacket over a pink T-Mobile shirt, jeans, and pink Converse All Star sneakers.” It also consists of a lot of swear words.
Many analysts have praised his effectiveness during his almost two-year tenure as CEO, with Business Insider writing that T-Mobile has enjoyed a “remarkable turnaround,” and is “growing faster than its competitors in terms of revenue and subscribers.” According to Wikipedia, J.D. Power and Associates “ranked the company highest among major wireless carriers for retail-store satisfaction four years consecutively and highest for wireless customer care two years consecutively.”
To get a sense of Legere’s unconventional style, check out this video from a company event earlier this month:
In just that one presentation, Legere used the following salty language:
- “They’re out of their goddamn mind.”
- “That is a complete crock of bullshit.”
- “They’re greedy bastards.”
- “We are absolutely kicking their ass.”
- “A cacophony of the biggest bullshit in history.”
- “What the fuck do I care?”
- “The fuckers hate you.”
- “I don’t give a crap.”
- “Every goddamn note you listen to.”
- “I don’t give a shit.”
I understand what Legere is trying to do. He wants to appear “authentic” and stand in marked contrast to the CEOs of his competitors, who he feels are treating customers badly. Personally, I don’t love the CEO of a public company talking like a drunk at the local bar. Regardless, his curse words aren’t the reason he made this list. Rather, it was his highly publicized comment about his main competitors, AT&T and Verizon, that earned him widespread condemnation:
“These high and mighty duopolists that are raping you for every penny you have.”
One commenter in an earlier PR Daily piece pointed out that the word “rape” is a metaphor in this case, writing, “I have never been literally ‘killed’ but that’s a common term for how one team defeats another….that’s why they are called metaphors.” But Mr. Legere’s job isn’t to push the boundaries of accepted speech. He’s the CEO of a company whose job is to avoid unnecessarily offending large swaths of his potential customer base by using words that are particularly salient in our culture.
In an open letter published on the website MomsRising, five of Mr. Legere’s female employees blasted his use of language:
“Trivializing the brutality of sexual assault is not an edgy corporate communications strategy. For many women, this is not funny. It’s traumatizing.
Being courteous to our customers is one of our highest priorities as customer service representatives. But what would happen if we ever swore on the phone? What would happen if we used the same rape metaphor in a conversation with a customer? That would certainly be our last day on the job. It’s not even a question. T-Mobile would escort us to the door — and rightfully so.
We don’t really think he’s sorry, despite his short apology on Twitter, about what he said. And that’s even more upsetting. It’s hard enough as it is to be women working the male-dominated world of tech. Our CEO’s language is just another reminder of how we don’t belong in the “boys club.”
We understand that Mr. Legere’s comments were all part of some flashy marketing scheme to get press and to appeal to young people. But is this the kind of message we want to send?”
Legere apologized for his use of the word. Nonetheless, that one word commandeered the headlines for the entire event, overshadowing any of the underlying points he had hoped to make.
Brendan Greeley of Bloomberg Businessweek summarized Legere’s shtick quite well:
“Every time he makes a public appearance, he needs to be just offensive enough to get our attention. That means he has to be slightly more offensive than the last time he got our attention. This is a machine with a ratchet, and it has now produced the deeply unfunny word ‘rape.’ Perhaps no word is sacred, but that’s a defense for an act of art—not a corporate communications strategy. John Legere sells phone plans for a living. He’s not Sarah Silverman or Lenny Bruce.”
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: crisis communications, John Legere, T-Mobile
Posted in Media Training Disasters | 4 Comments »
This was the worst media apology I’ve ever seen.
L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling—who was caught on tape telling his girlfriend not to be photographed or attend basketball games with black people—attempted to apologize during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Sterling did apologize. But he also took the opportunity to attack Magic Johnson for getting “those AIDS” and made new racist remarks by claiming that wealthy African Americans “don’t want” to help their own communities like Jews do.
I already deconstructed Sterling’s pathetic interview earlier this month. But as I’ve continued to think about this case, one additional point is worth making.
It’s important to remember that the comments that originally got Sterling into trouble were covertly recorded during a private conversation. Many public figures spanning the full ideological spectrum—though disgusted by his comments—were deeply concerned about the privacy issues in this case.
Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote:
“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime.”
Conservative pundit Bernard Goldberg made a similar point:
“I’m wondering who else among us has said things in the privacy of our homes that would get us in trouble if somebody recorded them and made our remarks public.”
And liberal comedian Bill Maher agreed:
“Last week when President Obama was asked about the Sterling episode, he said, ‘When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, just let them talk.’ But Sterling didn’t advertise. He was bugged. And while he may not be worth defending, the 4th Amendment is.”
But with his interview, Sterling erased that entire argument.
Sterling could have argued that because his comments were made in private and (possibly) illegally taped, he shouldn’t have to sell his team or endure a lifetime ban. But since he willingly made additional racist remarks during his very public televised interview with Anderson Cooper, that line of argument evaporated.
Sterling’s decision to do this interview without the presence of legal or public relations counsel was stunningly reckless. That he chose to do it at all sealed his fate as a racist.
Tags: Bernard Goldberg, Bill Maher, Donald Sterling, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, media training disaster, media training disasters
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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].”
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.
A grateful hat tip to reader John Barnett.
Tags: Eric Cantor, Fox News Channel, Greta Van Susteren, Mike Dickinson
Posted in Media Training Disasters | 17 Comments »
Many people have fantasized about their opponents in the media being put out of business. But most of them have the good sense not to give voice to their dark wishes.
That didn’t stop Rutgers University Athletic Director Julie Hermann from publicly fantasizing about the demise of her media nemesis, New Jersey’s Star-Ledger. According to Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi (and originally reported by Rutgers University student website Muckgers):
“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann told the Media Ethics and Law class. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
“They might die again next month,” a student said.
“That would be great,” she replied. “I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”
Now that’s a new one. Giving such a juicy headline in a quote about not giving the newspaper a headline?
Worse than the quote itself is Ms. Hermann’s timing. Last week, the Star-Ledger laid off 167 staffers. That a local college official appears to be dancing on their professional graves during a tough economy makes her look vindictive, petty, and small.
Worse yet, Ms. Hermann’s response isn’t much better than her original comments.
According to The Detroit News:
“The university said in a statement that Hermann’s remarks to a media ethics and law class in February came before she knew about deep layoffs at the Star-Ledger…Rutgers said her statements were “intended to give the students some understanding of the challenges she has faced” and were not expected to be made public. She did not apologize.”
Ridiculous. That Ms. Hermann had any expectation for privacy in a public setting is ludicrous. (How many times have I written about this already?)
Plus, what kind of message is that to send to a media ethics class—that if you don’t like the coverage you’re receiving, you should wish for the news organization’s demise? Ms. Hermann owes the newspaper—along with the men and women who work for it and the students she was lecturing to—an apology.
Thank you to the anonymous tipster who forwarded this story to me. Have a tip? Send it to Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.
Tags: journalism, Julie Hermann, media training disasters, Rutgers, Star-Ledger, Steve Politi
Posted in Media Training Disasters | 1 Comment »
Australian rugby player Andrew Fifita recently made a comment that cost him a four-year, $3.5 million contract ($3.2 million U.S.).
The 24-year-old announced that he would be changing teams, from the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. But before he even put on his new uniform, he expressed disloyalty to his new team. Here’s the story via news.com.au:
“On Friday he let slip in an interview that he wished he’d chosen rugby union [a different league] instead. Then yesterday, the Dogs effectively said fine, forget the whole deal.
Oh, the Bulldogs cited a bunch of legalese. But reading between the lines, they appeared to be saying “You’ve got no loyalty? Then we don’t want you.”
What caught my eye were comments made by his teammate, Paul Gallen, who offered this solution:
“I think he’s really going to have to be micromanaged, I really think they have to get him some kind of media training or something.”
The columnist agreed:
“Gallen is right. If Fifita doesn’t have any natural humility, he desperately needs a slick professional to drum it into him.”
Both Gallen and the unnamed columnist have a distorted view of media training.
A media trainer’s job is not to “drum” humility into someone. Good practitioners are not slick professionals who attempt to create personality traits where they do not exist (we can help people emphasize traits they do possess). Doing so would be doomed to failure, as the public can usually tell when someone is faking it.
We can only be successful when working with somewhat self-aware people who have a desire to change. If Fifita is not naturally humble, I would never try an approach intended to make him fake humility.
What would I do? I’d focus on helping him reduce the likelihood of a future “seven-second stray.” I would try to accomplish that by invoking his competitive spirit and analogizing his public comments to rugby. Every time he prevents himself from making a potentially controversial comment, he should award himself a point. Every time he makes one, he should view it as voluntarily allowing the other team to score.
That’s it. No drumming false humility into him. But by getting him to be as competitive with the use of his words as he is during play, it might serve the same purpose—he’d learn to bite his tongue more often, which might result in him genuinely appearing more humble. And it wouldn’t take a “slick” professional to help him do it.
That’s my take. What’s yours? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Andrew Fifita, media training analysis, media training disasters, sports
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In the summer of 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis was a sure bet to become the next President of the United States.
Days after the successful Democratic National Convention that July, Dukakis led his Republican opponent, George H.W. Bush, by a whopping 17 points with just over three months to Election Day.
But in those three months, his candidacy came under siege—from his opponents, who launched the infamous “Willie Horton” ad against him—and from within, when Dukakis tried to show his military toughness by wearing a military helmet that turned him into a late night punch line.
By the time the candidates met for the second debate on October 13, 1988, Vice President Bush had opened up a six-point lead over the Massachusetts governor. Dukakis needed to seize the opportunity to help turn his candidacy around.
CNN anchor Bernard Shaw opened up the debate with an inflammatory question that many pundits thought was unfair:
“Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
Dukakis proceeded to deliver a wonky and emotionless answer, one that led people to conclude that he lacked the requisite fire for the presidency and, in the words of ABC’s Ted Koppel, didn’t “get it.”
Dukakis forgot that inflammatory questions about a loved one require an emotional—or at least a more human—response. He could have handled the question in one of two ways:
Approach One: “Bernard, if that happened to my wife, I would want to pull the switch on the man who did that to her myself. But public policy shouldn’t be set from a standpoint of revenge, and here’s why…”
Approach Two: “Bernard, to invoke my wife’s safety during a presidential debate is beneath a journalist of your standing. You should know better. I’ll answer your question in general—but don’t even think about bringing my wife into this debate again. And I’d like to suggest that you don’t think about making Barbara Bush an issue in this debate either.”
According to Wikipedia, “Before the second debate, Dukakis had been suffering from the flu and spent much of the day in bed.” Perhaps his poor debate performance—like Richard Nixon’s before him—was simply an unfortunate consequence of feeling ill.
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Tags: 1988 Presidential Debate, Bernard Shaw, Friday Classic Clips, George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis
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I recently wrote about an intern I hired several years ago simply because he had the confidence to pause at the exact right moment during a job interview.
Pausing also offers tremendous benefits to media spokespersons during non-controversial taped interviews: they allow spokespersons to collect their thoughts, deliver a confident answer, steer clear of verbal filler, and avoid drifting off message.
But there’s one time when pausing can—and often will—be used against you.
In The Media Training Bible, I wrote that spokespersons should avoid long pauses “during hostile interviews, when journalists may use your lengthy silences as an indication of your guilt.” A segment on last Thursday’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart offered a perfect case in point.
Correspondent Aasif Mandvi conducted an interview with Todd Wilemon, a Fox Business commentator and NYSE Euronext Managing Director, about Obamacare.
When Mandvi asked Wilemon about America’s poor, who he said already receive insufficient healthcare, Wilemon went into a 16-second spiral of silence and stumbling that evoked memories of Rick Perry’s painful stumble.
But that stumble was only the prelude to this jaw-dropping sound bite: “If you’re poor, stop being poor.”
In Wilemon’s case, the pauses didn’t indicate guilt, but rather an utter inability to defend his own position. The pauses made him look uninformed and thoughtless—even unintelligent—and undermined his views. He made several strategic errors:
First, he agreed to the interview in the first place. He should have known that his views would be unpopular with The Daily Show’s politics.
Second, if he was going to do the interview, he should have prepared answers to those obvious attacks on his position. No, he couldn’t have anticipated exactly where Mandvi was going to take the interview, but he should have had some data ready to support his position.
Third, he should have remembered that unpopular views go down better with some sugar. Instead, his tone reeked of “out-of-touch rich guy” instead of “thoughtful man whose views can lead to a more effective solution.”
Whether it’s used the right way or the wrong way, one thing is clear: the pause is a powerful tool. Just make sure you deploy it at the right moments, when you can benefit from its rewards.
Avoid committing your own media disaster! Read The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in paperback, for the Kindle, and the iPad.
Tags: Aasif Mandvi, jon stewart, media training disasters, The Daily Show, Todd Wilemon
Posted in Media Training Disasters | 2 Comments »