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.

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A grateful hat tip to reader John Barnett.


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Rutgers Official: I Hope The Local Newspaper Dies

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 7, 2014 – 2:21 pm

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.”

Julie Hermann

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.

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The Media Interview That Cost A Man $3.5 Million

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 2, 2014 – 6:02 am

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. 


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Friday Classic Clip: If Your Wife Were Raped And Murdered

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 21, 2014 – 12:02 am

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.

Michael Dukakis Tank

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:

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“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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Pausing Is Great Most Of The Time. Not This Time.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 11, 2014 – 5:59 am

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.”

Todd Wilemon Daily Show

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. 

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January 2014: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 30, 2014 – 6:02 am

2014 is off to a booming start—at least as it applies to media disasters.

Among other uncomfortable moments, this month’s list features a violent politician, a tone-deaf CEO, and a journalist who had a very exciting “breaking news” story to cover.

Without further ado, here are the five worst video media disasters of January 2014!

Oops Sign

 

Number Five: Another Month, Another Drunk Rob Ford Video

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford needs help. His well-documented struggle with alcohol and some-time drug use has produced more than a few embarrassing moments, including one I named the worst media disaster of 2013. In this month’s entry, Mr. Ford was caught slurring his words in a Toronto restaurant, sounding something like a Jamaican version of Saturday Night Live’s Drunk Uncle.  

 

Number Four: I’ll Sip Some Water During Your Water Outage

Gary Southern, the president of West Virginia’s Freedom Industries (the company responsible for contaminating the local water supply for 300,000 residents), delivered a dreadful first press conference. Although much of it was a mess, most of the media coverage focused on his unfortunate habit of sipping bottled water throughout the press conference—a strange message to send considering that hundreds of thousands were without water.

That wasn’t the only problem with his press conference. Click here to read about an odd moment in which a reporter demanded that Southern return to the microphones.

 

Number Three: We Have an Important “Breaking News” Story

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell was having an important conversation about the NSA with a former congresswoman when she abruptly cut off the conversation to report some “breaking news.” 

What was the breaking news? Well, this one you have to watch for yourself. Just try to do it without shaking your head.

 

Number Two: I’ll Break You In Half. Like a Boy.

When a reporter asked Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) about an ethics scandal moments after the State of the Union, Grimm ended the interview abruptly. But after the reporter wrapped the piece—and Grimm presumably thought they were no longer on camera—he approached the reporter and issued a violent threat. (The fact that Grimm is a former FBI agent added a particularly menacing quality to his threat.)

The audio is tough to hear—but Grimm tells him:

“Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony…You’re not a man. I could break you in half.” 

Grimm’s on-camera threat inspired other reporters to resurrect Grimm’s ethical charges. His threat—not the reporter’s fair question—put his scandal back into the headlines.

 

Number One: A Famous Film Director Flees The Stage

Michael Bay—the director and producer whose films include Armageddon, Transformers, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—had a real-life horror moment during the opening seconds of a speech he was set to deliver at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month.

When he hit the stage, his teleprompter wasn’t in the right place. And without a scriptwriter nearby, Bay was at a complete loss. So he stopped. And restarted. And stopped again. And then, when all else failed, he walked off the stage, accompanied only by a mumbled “I’m sorry.”

Bay has created a lot of cringe-worthy scenes in his career. But none have been this difficult to watch.

Learn from his mistake by clicking here to see five things Bay could have done to rescue that moment.

 

Bonus: Actress Jacqueline Bisset Accepts an Award

Actress Jacqueline Bisset waited 47 years to win her first Golden Globe, so it’s easy to understand why she became overwhelmed when finally awarded the coveted prize. But there’s a fine line between “excited” and “bizarre”—and her acceptance speech was so loopy that the anchors of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” took notice.

The real version:

 

Saturday Night Live’s version:

 

 

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The Three Worst Video Media Disasters of 2013

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 2, 2014 – 5:22 am

It’s not easy to be named the worst video media disaster of the year. Someone has to do something spectacularly dumb to receive the honor.

In 2010, the award went to BP CEO Tony Hayward, who told cameras “I’d like my life back” after his company’s massive oil spill killed 11 workers.

In 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) nabbed the award, for obvious reasons.

In 2012, Senate candidate Todd Akin (R-MO) became notorious for his claim that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Who will join their ranks this year? Read on…

Disaster Strikes

Number Three: Lance Armstrong Rides Into Infamy

After years of denying doping allegations, suing former teammates, and bullying everyone who got in his way, cycling champion Lance Armstrong finally admitted what many people already knew: that he was a dishonest cheat.

Armstrong selected Oprah Winfrey for his on-air confessional, a lengthy interview aired on two consecutive nights. But Armstrong’s carefully parsed and evasive responses did more harm than good, leaving an indelible impression that he was still being untruthful (Oprah even asked whether he was a sociopath). 

For example, Armstrong denied doping after 2005. But evidence presented by the USADA suggests he doped through 2009; if true, he lied during his admission. 

CYCLING-ARMSTRONG/

One of his lowest moments came when discussing a phone call with Betsy Andreu, wife of cyclist Frankie Andreu. When recounting the phone call, Armstrong seemed to find it funny that although he admitted calling her “crazy” and “a bitch,” he didn’t call her “fat.” He grinned at his apparent wit, as if he was a mischievous kid who thought his cruelty was somehow funny.

In another stunning moment, he admitted that he couldn’t remember everyone he had sued because he had sued so many people.

A Survey USA poll taken shortly after the interview found that only 17 percent of respondents thought he was being completely honest. Those are probably the same people who tell pollsters the U.S. Congress is doing a good job.

In the clip below, Armstrong tells Oprah that he “deserves” to be allowed to compete again.

 

Number Two: Paula Deen Cooks Up Trouble

Paula Deen, the Food Network’s southern-cooking celebrity chef, found herself in hot water (or, more appropriate to her style of cooking, a vat of butter and lard) in June after The National Enquirer released details of racist remarks she’s made in the past.

During a legal deposition in a workplace discrimination suit, Deen admitted using the N-word in the past and making racist jokes.

Paula Deen

But the most shocking moment may have come when she admitted that she wanted to emulate a wedding she had recently attended in which the wait staff was made up of  “middle-aged black men.” That wedding, she said, evoked fond feelings for her of a Civil War-era “really southern plantation wedding.”

Deen made the mistake of waiting two days to apologize personally—and when she did, her apology (her first of several) was a mess—one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

A few days later, Ms. Deen sobbed through a bizarre, out-of-control, and uncomfortable interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show.

With better crisis management, Deen could have come through this crisis less scarred. Yes, she would have paid a price—but I’m convinced that her poor crisis response contributed mightily to the magnitude of her disaster, which included the loss of her Food Network contract and several lucrative endorsement deals.

She may eventually redeem herself enough to make a good living again, but it’s unlikely she’ll ever reclaim her one-time success.

 

Number One: Rob Ford Cracks Up

It’s hard to imagine too many people keeping their jobs after the year Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has had.

In May, the U.S. website Gawker published a report claiming they had seen a video of Ford smoking crack. Ford denied those allegations for months, until finally admitting that he had, in fact, smoked crack.

Rob Ford Pussy Apology Wife

But Ford didn’t simply admit smoking crack. He blamed reporters for his earlier lack of candor by claiming their questions months earlier had been asked using the wrong tense (“Do you smoke crack cocaine?” as opposed to “Have you ever smoked crack cocaine?”)

He also added a new page to the crisis communications playbook by casually blaming his drug use on being in a “drunken stupor.”

But Ford’s lowest moment—and the one I’m naming the worst video media disaster of the year—has to do with his casual mention of the amount of oral sex he receives at home.

During a press scrum, Ford denied charges that he had sexually harassed a former special assistant named Olivia Gondek. But the manner in which he did it was shockingly crass and unnecessarily graphic.

 

Ford capped off that 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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Friday Fun: When Interviewers Don’t Prepare

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 13, 2013 – 6:02 am

Bob Newhart is one of my favorite comedians, so I was excited to come across this clip from his old show Newhart, on which he played a local television host and innkeeper.

In this clip from 1984, Newhart’s character, Dick Loudon, interviews retired Air Force Colonel Lloyd Menenger about his book, Up The Amazon.

The problem? He didn’t read his guest’s book prior to the interview.

I hope you enjoy this clip from the lighter side. Have a great weekend!

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

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