February 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 2, 2015 – 5:34 am

It’s difficult to think of a high-profile American journalist whose career toppled faster and harder than NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. (Dan Rather’s resignation under fire comes to mind, but he was in third place at the time, not first, and had already weathered several strange incidents.)

Williams, who admitted to “misremembering” being shot down while covering the Iraq war, was quickly challenged about other inaccuracies, including claims of seeing dead bodies and contracting dysentery after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and observing a missile fly directly beneath his helicopter while covering the Israel-Hezbollah war.

The moment I’m calling the worst media disaster of the month is Williams’ insufficient and glib on-air apology, which only added fuel to his reputational crisis (Williams reportedly later admitted to colleagues that he knew his apology was lame.)

Days later, Williams followed that on-air apology with a memo that said he was pulling himself off the air for a few days. That, too, looked self-serving and glib; it was NBC News’ role to remove him from “his” broadcast for the time frame they deemed appropriate, not his.

When the news division did act, their punishment was severe: a six-month suspension without pay. The question of whether Williams will ever return is still officially open—but it’s hard to see how NBC, which has stripped Williams’ name from the broadcast, can welcome him back. Only if the constellations align—the ratings drop precipitously under temporary replacement Lester Holt, Williams embarks on a redemption tour that exceeds expectations, and Nightly News staffers warm to the idea of his return—is he likely to return to his chair. 

More likely, Williams will look to resurrect his career elsewhere. Ethical questions aside, he remains an exceptionally gifted anchor with a fast wit and terrific sense of humor. It’s conceivable that CNN, for example—the network that gave disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer a comeback show—could put him on the air in prime time to host a Larry King-style, personality-driven news show. If his reputation can recover sufficiently, he’d be great at it.

Brian Williams NYPost

Williams’ exaggerations also prompted other public figures to come under scrutiny this month. Fox News ratings juggernaut Bill O’Reilly appears to have exaggerated or made up several stories. He and Fox aggressively blamed the attack on ideologically motivated news organizations—which may be an effective PR strategy—but facts are facts, and the evidence against him, supported by a cavalcade of former O’Reilly news colleagues who refute his claims, is growing by the day.

President Obama’s new Veteran Affairs Secretary, Robert McDonald, faced similar questions of misrepresenting his experience when he told a homeless vet who had served in the Special Forces that he, too, had served in the Special Forces (he didn’t). Like Fox, the White House stood by its man. 

I’ll end this post with an actionable tip. Look at your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and/or other online bios. Make sure everything is accurate (and preferably verifiable). It’s better to have a slightly less impressive but accurate bio than one that sets you up for a fall. 

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January 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 1, 2015 – 2:02 am

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has a reputation for his erratic media interviews—and he has been fined thousands of dollars by the NFL for his occasional refusal to speak to the press.

In the week leading up to tonight’s Super Bowl, Lynch agreed to comply with the NFL’s requirement that he speak to the press, if only to avoid receiving a reported $500,000 penalty. But he only followed the letter of the rule—not the spirit of it—and defiantly said, “I’m here so I won’t get fined” dozens of times.

 

By refusing to interact with reporters, Lynch turned himself into a headline-grabbing spectacle who magnified the amount of attention his interview would receive instead of diminishing it. And he doubled down the next day.

“I don’t know what story y’all trying to get out of me. I don’t know what image y’all trying to portray of me. But it don’t matter what y’all think, what y’all say about me. When I go home at night, the same people that I look in the face — my family that I love. That’s all that really matter to me. So y’all can go make up whatever y’all want to make up because I don’t say enough for y’all to go and put anything out on me.”

I’ve followed the conversation about Lynch’s interviews for the past week, and there’s a stark split in opinion. Many people support him, pointing out that the NFL demands more availability of its players than its executives, while others, including many sports reporters, find his defiance infuriating.

Count me in the latter camp. Mr. Lynch is a professional athlete. And nothing about his public persona conveys a sense of professionalism.

I’ve seen people arguing that his job is to perform on the field, not in front of microphones. I find that argument to be insulting toward professional athletes, several of whom I’ve counted as clients. After all, we would never say, “That Fortune 500 executive is great in the board room, so his defiance in front of the cameras is hilarious,” or, “That politician who told the press to shove off for four minutes is great at policy, so it’s fine for him to repeat the same phrase 30 times.” So why do we accept that behavior from professional athletes representing a professional sports franchise and sport?

Marshawn Lynch Interview

Earlier this month, a friend of mine—the communications director for a major professional sports franchise—told me why this poor media relations strategy matters. In a post on my blog, 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.”

And he also wrote that athletes such as Lynch should remember that their media performance could have larger impacts on their careers:

“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?” 

I hope the NFL fines Lynch for breaking the intention of the rule. Media availabilities are opportunities to positively sell the sport—something the NFL is in dire need of, particularly in a season that has been dominated by headlines about domestic abuse and brain injuries. This doesn’t help. And in the end, team sports should be about the team, not serve as an opportunity to advance your own performance art.

Agree? Disagree? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 


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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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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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May 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 29, 2014 – 2:35 pm

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.

Donald Sterling Anderson Cooper

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.

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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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November 2013: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 1, 2013 – 6:02 am

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. 

 

Rob Ford apologizes as his wife stands at his side

 

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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