When [Expletive Removed] Bad Takes Happen

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 25, 2015 – 4:25 pm

Immediately following last week’s State of the Union Address, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) responded by recording a video criticizing the President. Unfortunately, his staff uploaded the wrong version, a version in which Cruz stops and asks to start over again.

Bad takes happen all the time when recording straight-to-camera video, and Mr. Cruz reacted the exact right way by stopping, asking to begin again, and recording a clean version. (A cynic might say that this “wrong” video was a wily strategy intended to attract more people to his message; I doubt that’s true, but it had the same effect.)

Unfortunately, not everyone handles bad takes this well. In our video training sessions, people routinely mess up their takes—it’s normal and part of the process—but a few of them become quite frustrated and swear or make silly faces into the camera.

That’s a bad idea for a few reasons. First, the wrong video could accidentally be uploaded instead of your “correct” take. Second, someone could use the tape maliciously against you. Third—and I get this request all the time—your co-workers might want that video for a holiday party “gag reel.” (I don’t comply with those requests, because training should be a safe place to stretch your comfort zone and make mistakes.)

Bill O'Reilly Doing It Live

When the camera is on you—even if you aren’t “live” and can redo the take—act as if that’s the tape the world will see.

Perhaps the most infamous example of a behind-the-scenes bad take belongs to current Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, who is still dogged by this piece of tape from his Inside Edition days (this is definitely not suitable for work — but it is terrifyingly hilarious):

And that’s the same lesson a young reporter named A.J. Clemente learned a couple of years ago, when he preceded his first (and last) newscast by swearing before he realized he was on the air.

The next time you have a bad take, realize that the pros have them all the time. Stop, take a breath, and do it again. But whatever you do, don’t pull an O’Reilly and let tape of your worst on-camera moment follow you around for years.

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Athlete Fails To “Execute” During Train Wreck Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 22, 2015 – 4:02 am

Russell Westbrook, an All-Star point guard with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, recently gave an interview that didn’t go so well.

As you’ll see in the clip below, he gave the same defiant answer repeatedly: “Good execution.” He gave that answer even when it didn’t answer the question. And, in a moment of candor that spokespersons occasionally fantasize about, he flat out told one reporter, “I don’t like you.”

Westbrook’s interview seems even stranger in light of the fact that his team won the game—and he had a terrific night.

To see how fans were reacting to Westbrook’s passive-aggressive interviewing approach, I delved into the comments section of several sports websites. It turns out that many fans defended Westbrook. Their argument went as follows: We hate the media, Westbrook gave them a taste of their own medicine, and good for Westbrook for doing so.

I think they’re wrong. Representing your brand well matters whether you’re a corporate vice president, a political candidate, or a professional athlete. And Westbrook made the fundamental error of forgetting that his audience wasn’t the reporter, but the people watching the interview—you know, the fans who pay his salary.

To get another perspective, I contacted a friend of mine, the communications director for a major sports team who deals with top-level athletes every day. He wrote:

“We grow any of the games we work in through young kids, and for them to see this does not help the game…I want players in my room respecting the media and the media respecting the players and the job they do. It is my job to keep that scale as even as possible throughout the season.  Dealing with players, their goal is to make their team and themselves look the best they can, both on and off the field.”

If he had a player interact with a reporter the same way Westbrook did, he would do the following:

“First thing I’m doing is having the conversation with my player as to what set them off to do so. After that talk, I would speak to the writer if I feel it is necessary to make sure they know there is a problem brewing. After that, I judge whether it would be best to bring a writer in to speak to the player one-on-one to talk it out, with everything off the record.”

Russell Westbrook Interview

He also says he wouldn’t have allowed the interview to continue for as long as Westbrook’s:

“I’m cutting it off…immediately, when I see what is going on and not allowing reporters to continue to ask questions. The player wants it to be a spectacle to embarrass the reporter and have people talking about it. The reporter(s) want to keep going because it allows him/her to continue to provoke the same answer which makes the player look ridiculous. So, I’m cutting it off immediately and allowing the reporter to write about me cutting it off if he wants. Then, I’m setting up this meeting between the player and this reporter he supposedly hates to clear this thing before it becomes more and more of a spectacle.” 

And in case you’re still not convinced that athletes should take their media interactions more seriously, these final lines should make them think again:

“From the management side, I’ve seen it happen when the attitudes of players prevents teams from ‘investing’ in them. As important as it is to compete on the playing field/ice/gym, when it comes time to sign a free agent or make a trade, all of these things go into an organization’s evaluation process. Is ‘said player’ worth disrupting the current team?”

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Elected Official: I’ll Sue You If You Publish My Name

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 6, 2015 – 8:38 am

If you’re a reporter and want to write about an elected official, do you need to obtain permission from the politician in advance to include their name in your news story? 

Of course not. You could imagine the chilling effect on journalism if people elected to positions of power could shut down media inquiries they didn’t like by denying the reporter permission to write about them.

Kirby Delauter, a county council member in Frederick County, Maryland, doesn’t appear to agree. He took to his Facebook page yesterday to denounce a local reporter, Bethany Rodgers of The Frederick News-Post, because he “did not authorize any use of my name.” He also included this rather menacing line: “You need to know who you’re dealing with.”

To cap off his post, Mr. Delauter threatened to sue her: “Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an attorney.”

Kirby Delauter

I’d like to give Mr. Delauter the benefit of the doubt. It’s possible that he doesn’t have a lot of media experience and truly believes that he has the right to prevent a journalist from using his name without his authorization. Therefore, I want to use this post to write something productive.

Sir, you have no legal standing on which to sue a journalist for using your name without authorization. In order for a public figure to prove libel, you would need to show that Ms. Rodgers knew her statements to be false or had a reckless disregard for the truth. That’s a legal standard that’s extremely difficult to meet.

As you’ve seen from the reaction to your Facebook post (which appears to have been deleted), you only helped to attract more attention to Ms. Rodgers’ original article; among others, The Washington Post has now helped to make this a national story. 

Kirby Delauter Photo

But you’re not without rights.

First, if Ms. Rodgers (or any other journalist) is going to write a story about you with or without your participation in it, you might consider granting her an interview—or at least providing her with a short written statement. Although it might seem paradoxical to exert control by speaking to a reporter you view as unfair, it may not be. The reason for that is something I call “The Rule of Thirds.” I made a video about that here.

If Ms. Rodgers is being unfair, as you assert, this post offers you seven things you can do to respond to a negative news story. To protect yourself, you can insist on only communicating in writing (so you can maintain a paper trail) or recording your interviews (some states require two-party notification before recording, so just tell her you’re recording). You can even call into question her fairness as a reporter by offering evidence that proves she has “lied,” as you stated she did. What you can’t do—at least not credibly—is threaten to sue her for mentioning your name.

There’s one other thing I’d ask you to consider. Whether you like it or not, The Frederick News-Post is going to continue to cover you. Therefore, think about what’s going to serve your interests over the months and years to come. It might be that reducing the antagonism between you and the newspaper serves you best; if so, you might consider requesting a meeting with Ms. Rodgers and her editor to discuss your complaints with the paper’s coverage, point out any inaccuracies, and establish a more productive future working relationship.

The point is that you do have some control here—but it needs to be exercised the right way to be effective. Good luck.

Facebook screenshot via Kai Hagen; photo from Kirby Delauter’s public campaign page.

UPDATE: JANUARY 7, 2015, 10PM

Mr. Delauter issued the following apology today to The Frederick News-Post. It strikes the right tone, appears authentic, and reflects an appropriate amount of self-awareness. It should help put this issue behind him.

“The first amendment is alive and well in Frederick County. As a public figure working to maintain and improve the county, it can be very frustrating to feel misrepresented or misinterpreted by a local media outlet.

Over my career I have fired off my fair share of angry e-mails, which in hindsight I wish I hadn’t.  I can’t think of one that had a positive effect.  Usually, they only served to escalate the conflict.  I thought I had long ago learned the lesson of waiting 24 hours before I hit the send key, but apparently I didn’t learn that lesson as well as I should have. 

Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county — that comes with the job.  So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. 

I got elected to serve all the citizens of northern Frederick County, Democrats as well as Republicans.  I look forward to the local papers covering my effort in that regard.”

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The Three Worst Video Media Disasters Of 2014

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 31, 2014 – 4:02 am

It’s hard to believe, but this is the fifth consecutive year I’m naming the worst video media disaster of the year. 

In 2010, the award went to British Petroleum 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.”

In 2013, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford nabbed the prize for making a vulgar comment about oral sex.

Who will join their ranks this year? Read on…

 

Disaster Strikes

 

 

3. Bill Cosby’s Crisis Management Backfires

If Bill Cosby is innocent of the 20 or so accusations of rape and sexual assault being leveled against him, he is engaged in one of the worst reputation management strategies in recent memory.

Bill Cosby AP Screenshot

Cosby’s media interviewing downfall began when he agreed to speak with NPR about his art collection. But when the interviewer asked him about the accusations, Cosby refused to speak, forcing the host to repeatedly inform listeners that his guest was simply shaking his head back and forth.

Shortly thereafter, The Associated Press released video of Cosby refusing to answer questions about the accusations on camera—and trying to intimidate the reporter by invoking his “integrity” and insisting that they “scuttle” that part of the interview. In so doing, the once-beloved television icon demonstrated how he exercises power behind the scenes.

It’s impossible to see how the 77-year-old reclaims his career and restores his reputation. His scheduled NBC program has been canceled, Netflix pulled a comeback special, and concert venues pulled out of scheduled stand-up dates. At this point, the accused serial rapist might consider himself lucky to be living life outside a prison cell.

 

2. Michael Bay Flees The Stage

This entry is less consequential than the other two on this list. But when Michael Bay—the director and producer whose films include Armageddon, Transformers, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—had a technical failure during a January speech at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, he lived the public speaking nightmare that keeps so many people up at night.

Bay fumbled when he realized 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.”

This one is painful to watch. (And credit goes to his interviewer, who tried to bail him out and treated the moment with respect.)

 

 

1. Donald Sterling’s Racist Tirade

When Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist comments about black basketball players, many people—including me—were conflicted about the violation of his privacy (the recordings were made without his knowledge). His comments were loathsome, but few of us would want our private comments to be leaked to the world.

All of those concerns flew out the window, however, when Sterling voluntarily agreed to an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. His feckless apology led quickly to another burst of racist comments, such as this one:

“Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African Americans, maybe I’ll get in trouble again, they don’t want to help anybody.”

He also took the opportunity to attack NBA legend Magic Johnson (who announced he was HIV positive in 1991) by insisting Johnson was a bad role model:

“Here is a man who…acts so holy. I mean he made love to every girl in every city in America. And he had AIDS, and when he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him…Is he an example for children?”

Shortly after this interview, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he would force Sterling to sell the team. By the summer, Mr. Sterling was no longer the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

 

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November 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 30, 2014 – 8:20 am

I’ve rarely seen a beloved celebrity fall from grace as abruptly as Bill Cosby.

Within just a few days of numerous rape and sexual assault allegations being leveled against him, Cosby’s brand as the venerated Dr. Cliff Huxtable devolved into a much darker public perception: serial rapist. 

If he’s completely innocent of all of the allegations being leveled against him—and the reported facts make that difficult to believe—his attempts to mitigate the stunning damage to his career, reputation, and legacy have been disastrous.

I already covered some of the mistakes Cosby made in an earlier post. This month-end post will add a few new thoughts.

Bill Cosby AP Screenshot

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Cosby’s attempt to manage this scandal by refusing to speak when asked about the charges during a nationally broadcast NPR interview only brought more attention to the allegations.

Several of my blog’s readers said that Cosby did the right thing by offering no comment, arguing that any comment would have only fueled the story. But even if they’re right, Cosby should have turned down the interview outright if he wasn’t prepared to deliver a substantive response to an obvious question.

Video of Cosby applying pressure to a reporter from the Associated Press was, in many ways, even more telling. When the reporter did his job by asking Cosby about the allegations, Cosby challenged the journalist’s “integrity,” and asked him to “scuttle” that part of the interview. If Cosby is indeed guilty of some or all of the allegations against him, this video offers an insight into his modus operandi. 

Cosby made other major crisis communications mistakes along the way. His lawyer’s original statement read as follows:

“Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true. Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment. He would like to thank all his fans for the outpouring of support and assure them that, at age 77, he is doing his best work. There will be no further statement from Mr. Cosby or any of his representatives.” – John P. Schmitt, lawyer for Bill Cosby

Cosby’s attorney had to retract and reissue that statement in order to clarify that it did not apply to one of Cosby’s accusers. And when accused of being a serial rapist, how is it germane to include that, “at age 77, he is doing his best work?”

Although many PR professionals have written posts about Bill Cosby, the truth is that if he’s guilty, his is not a PR problem. No amount of good communications can rescue a serial rapist—and NBC, Netflix, TV Land, and several concert venues that have either canceled or postponed his appearances seem to agree. 

What can Cosby do now?

If he is innocent, he should have already loudly, publicly, and consistently declared so. At this point, he might give a prime time interview to a trusted anchor and answer every question posed to him directly. Some of my readers argued against that, saying he’s in a “no win” position. I disagree. Viewers are smart enough to decide for themselves whether he appears credible—which he should, if he’s innocent. He’s unlikely to do that, of course, which signals to many people that there’s truth to the allegations.

If he’s guilty, there’s only one thing he can do to restore any part of his legacy: Admit it, pay the legal and financial consequences of his actions, and dedicate the rest of his life and resources to sexual assault and rape causes. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen, either.

Instead, Cosby has chosen the middle ground—allowing his attorney to attack the women who accused him of sexual assault and trying to muddy public perception just enough to allow Cosby to maintain a portion of his career. Cosby’s attorney has every right to challenge inconsistent facts, of course—but instead, he’s called into question the very idea that an honest accuser would have waited so long to tell their stories (in many cases, they tried to—but their stories were reportedly “scuttled,” often as a result of pressure from Cosby and his team). And Cosby may have benefitted from a lack of physical evidence: a Pennsylvania district attorney who considered sexual assault charges against him in 2005 recently said, “I thought he did it.”

There’s virtually nothing Cosby can do at this point to prevent these allegations from being included in the first paragraph of his obituary. Based on the available facts and paired with his incomplete responses, that seems entirely well deserved.

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September 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 1, 2014 – 2:24 am

There were many media disasters from which to choose this month.

I could have chosen NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference, which failed to satisfy anyone. I could have selected President Obama, who gave his critics easy ammunition by saying, “We don’t have a strategy” to deal with ISIS. Finally, I could have named this Toronto school board trustee for delivering an illogical interview.

Despite good arguments for all of those media moments, I kept coming back to an interview Mike Tyson conducted with a Canadian news anchor earlier this month (this monthly feature was always intended to highlight the serious, the sublimely ridiculous, and everything in between).

According to Mashable, Tyson was “in Canada to promote his one-man show,” during which time he met with and endorsed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (who subsequently dropped out of the race due to serious health issues).  But when Tyson sat down with Nathan Downer on Toronto’s CP24, one of the host’s questions upset him—and he looked like he might take a chunk out of Downer’s ear. 

Warning: This video contains numerous obscenities and one scary-looking tattoo.

The question that sparked Tyson’s expletive-laden tirade was this:

“Some of your critics would say, ‘This is a race for mayor, we know you’re a convicted rapist, this could hurt his campaign.’ How would you respond to that?”

Those “some say” questions—which can be journalistically dubious—are ripe for rebuttals that challenge the premise. Tyson did exactly that, beginning his answer reasonably:

“I don’t know who said that. You’re the only one I know who said that.”

But then Tyson lost it, calling the anchor a “piece of shit,” saying “fuck you” on live television twice, and threatening the host when reminded he was on live TV (“What are you going to do about it?”).  

Nathan Downer Tweet

Tyson should expect to face questions about that conviction, which can be easily deflected (“I paid my debt to society, have been out of prison for almost 20 years, and am here to talk about my one-man show.”).

Instead, interviews like this one show that he still has the same volatile temper he’s always had—the same one that led to charges of domestic abuse in his marriage to Robin Givens, a rape conviction, and being disqualified from a heavyweight title fight for biting off a piece of his opponent’s ear.

Despite all of those incidents, Tyson has enjoyed an improbable comeback in recent years, including an HBO airing of his one-man show and a scene-stealing cameo in The Hangover (below).

I’ve always had reservations about the wisdom of Mike Tyson receiving a full Hollywood comeback; my uneasiness aside, “Brand Tyson” has been doing quite well in recent years. But this interview might—hopefully, in my view—slow his public return to favor just a little.

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Media Disaster: Just Walk Away Already!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 14, 2014 – 3:19 pm

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:

Sam Sotiropoulos 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:

Sam Satiropoulos Tweet Mr Media Training

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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June 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 30, 2014 – 12:02 am

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.”

John Legere

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.

John Legere Tweet

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.

 

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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.

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