October 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

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

Florida Governor Rick Scott failed to take the stage for several minutes during a live gubernatorial debate earlier this month against his opponent, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Why? According to the moderators, Scott refused to debate due to a small fan placed beneath Crist’s lectern, which may have violated the debate’s prohibition against “electronic devices.”

Charlie Crist Lectern

 

For four minutes, Crist benefitted from the optics of appearing on stage alone and an opponent who refused to show up due to the presence of a small fan. Sure, he may have broken the debate rules, but the specific violation struck many people as petty and unimportant. The sublimely ridiculous political moment instantly became the stuff of ridicule, launching a #fangate hashtag on Twitter that trended nationally. 

 

When he finally walked onto the stage and was asked why he refused to join the debate for the first four minutes, Governor Scott gave an answer that bordered on incomprehensible.

 

”Well, I waited until we figured out whether he was going to show up. He said he wasn’t going to come to the uhhh, he was, he said he was going to come to the debate, so why come out until he’s ready?”

That not-ready-for-primetime response solidified the moment, confirming for many viewers and members of the press that Mr. Scott was the victim of his own intransigence.

But that storyline, compelling as it was, may also be false. According to CNN:

“[Scott’s] campaign said later that it was actually Crist who was in the midst of intense behind-the-scenes conversations with debate organizers over whether his fan would be allowed — and that Scott was just waiting to see what happened. He hadn’t realized that Crist had gone on stage.

Scott said on CNN’s ‘The Situation Room’ with Wolf Blitzer on Thursday that he had been waiting in a trailer for debate officials to tell him to head to the stage. ‘They said he wasn’t going to show up, that he was balking about his fan,’ Scott said, adding that he didn’t care if Crist had a fan, a microwave or a humidifier.

The organizers of the October 15 debate backed up Scott’s version of events Thursday, saying Crist clearly broke the rules — and ignored instructions given an hour before start time — by having an aide place the fan on stage.”

Charlie Crist Fan

 

It’s worth reading the entire CNN story; the timeline suggests that Mr. Scott’s version of events is true and that he had never told event organizers he wouldn’t debate.

Assuming that’s true, the quickly formed narrative about this debate—that Rick Scott refused to debate due to a fan—was false.

But political watchers know that facts and narratives don’t always line up, and it’s the responsibility of Mr. Scott and his advisors to ensure that he’s where he’s supposed to be at the moment he’s supposed to be there. That reporters predictably latch onto these types of stories is obvious; it’s the campaign’s job not to give them the opportunity. 

“Fangate” was not a failure borne of stubbornness, as the media suggested. But it did represent disorganization and a lack of vigilance (did no one have a television monitor on behind the scenes, on which they would have seen Crist standing alone at the lectern?), and as a result, this debate will be remembered as the debate at which Mr. Scott appeared to refuse to debate because of a fan.

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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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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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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.

Thank you to the anonymous tipster who forwarded this story to me. Have a tip? Send it to Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.


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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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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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  • 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.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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