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. 


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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Seven Reasons Rob Ford’s Crack Admission Failed

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 5, 2013 – 2:25 pm

Back in May, The Toronto Star and the U.S.-based website Gawker published the sensational allegation that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was the star of an unreleased video in which he purportedly smoked crack.

Mayor Ford vociferously denied the allegations, attacking his accusers and defiantly pledging to run for a second term.

Here’s the video of his initial denial, just days after those reports emerged:  

As I noted at the time, Ford left himself some wiggle room with his carefully parsed statement:

“Notice specifically what he said at the beginning of this statement: “I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” He used the present tense (“I do not use…) rather than the past tense (“I have never used…”), a Clintonesque and lawyerly verbal construction that guilty people frequently hide behind.”

Given that his guilt seemed rather obvious at the time, it didn’t come as a huge surprise to me that Ford finally admitted his guilt today. But the manner in which he did so won’t help him score many sympathy points.

Ford obviously should have come clean sooner. But let’s assume, for the sake of this post, that he hadn’t. What should he have done today instead of giving the defiant and disorganized press conference above?

First, he should have given an interview to one reporter—someone fair but tough—to whom he could have come completely clean. Doing so would have avoided the deer-in-headlights look of a man in the middle of a media scrum who, it should be noted, was whisked away after being asked whether he was high right now.

Second, he needed to convey humility and contrition, not defiance. (Yes, I know that’s not in keeping with his character. But if ever there was a time to debut the trait…)

Third, he shouldn’t have attacked the media. An admission of responsibility must be self-focused, not externally focused. Instead, he incredulously claimed “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions.”

Fourth, he shouldn’t have re-litigated the wording of the exact question about his crack use from five months ago. The spirit of the original question was clear to any reasonable viewer. Doing so made him look as ridiculous as Anthony Weiner, who claimed he couldn’t say “with certitude” whether pictures of an erect penis in a pair of briefs were of him. 

Fifth, if he was going to do a media scrum, he should have made his statement without asking the reporter to first re-ask the question he had asked in May. Doing so made it look like Ford was playing a “gotcha” game in which he was trying to catch a reporter using slightly imprecise language.

Sixth, he should have articulated a plan for getting himself the help he needs immediately.

Seventh, he should have pledged to work with police and spare the people of Toronto additional and unnecessary investigatory expense.

Even with as much baggage as Ford was carrying, today’s admission still offered him one final chance to come clean the right way. Had he done so, I suspect that many people would have felt at least a shred of empathy for a man with understandably human failings. But a politician only gets so many last chances, and Ford blew his. 

And if you think that Ford’s “last chance” passed by months ago, think again. A poll released today—TODAY!—found that Rob Ford still has a 43 percent approval rating. According to Gallup, that’s two points higher than President Obama’s approval rating, which stands at 41 percent.

UPDATE: November 5, 2013, 4:55 P.M.

Mayor Ford just issued another statement on camera. The tone of this one was much different. Whereas he appeared arrogant and dismissive earlier this afternoon, he appeared shaky and chastened this time around. He also apologized to the people of Toronto, his staff, and his brother for misleading them.

Apologies aside, he also made clear that he isn’t going anywhere.

Mr. Ford would have been better served by issuing this more humble statement first. As a result of blowing the first admission earlier today, he’s likely to gain less public sympathy than he otherwise might have. Plus, media stories will now focus on the odd contrast of Ford’s demeanor earlier today vs. later today.

In my view, an admission of this sort without a specific pledge to seek immediate help is pointless. Mr. Ford has repeatedly exhibited the behavior of an addict — and unless he receives the type of serious treatment that addicts can benefit from, his verbal pledge to “never” let this happen again is nothing more than a well-intentioned but empty promise.

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May 2013: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 31, 2013 – 7:13 am

The mayor of the fourth largest city in North America was accused of smoking crack cocaine by three journalists who viewed an unreleased video earlier this month. Not just any mayor, but Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, long known as a bombastic loudmouth who isn’t afraid to go on the offensive.

But in this case he didn’t go on offense for several days. His lack of doing so was noteworthy since it was inconsistent with his previous actions—and it led large swaths of the public to reach the conclusion that he’s guilty of at least something.

Here’s the story: On May 16, journalists for an American website and a Canadian newspaper said they had been shown a “secret” video of Rob Ford appearing to smoke crack. The next day, Ford faced reporters and issued this uninspired denial:

If you were falsely accused of smoking crack, wouldn’t you issue a stronger denial? Eight days later—on May 24—Ford finally spoke to the media again to issue another denial. But trucks could have driven through the holes in his vague statement:

Notice specifically what he said at the beginning of this statement: “I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” He used the present tense (“I do not use…) rather than the past tense (“I have never used…”), a Clintonesque and lawyerly verbal construction that guilty people frequently hide behind. Nor, for the record, had anyone asked whether he was an “addict,” making that statement downright bizarre.

The vacuum caused by Ford’s lack of a solid response led to other charges, including a possible connection to murder. His administration is a mess. His chief of staff, press secretary, and deputy press secretary have all resigned. It will be interesting to see if Ford can survive this scandal—and if so, whether he can get anything done. True to his defiant nature, Ford has pledged to seek a second term.

A note about the Obama Administration’s IRS scandal

The other leading candidate for the worst video disaster of the month was the scandal involving the IRS and its targeting of Tea Party-affiliated groups. The particular moment worth citing was when Lois Lerner, the director of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt organizations office, disclosed at a meeting that her office had indeed been guilty of such targeting.

In addition to other reasons, that moment is worthy of mention because of the ham-fisted way she tried to disclose the scandal. Instead of notifying the press, disclosing everything she knew, taking responsibility and appearing forthright, she tried to slip it out casually during an otherwise routine meeting of the American Bar Association. Worse, she planted the question by arranging for it to be asked by an attendee at the meeting.

Attendees at the meeting were shocked by her bombshell disclosure. Those meetings are usually uneventful; several attendees remarked afterward that it seemed like an odd venue to bring it up.

From a PR perspective, Ms. Lerner used one of the worst possible techniques to disclose damaging information—and in so doing, she diluted her own trustworthiness while increasing the public’s suspicion. This was never going to be an easy scandal for her—or the Obama Administration—to manage. Ms. Lerner made a difficult task even harder.

Rob Ford photo credit: Gawker

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Toronto’s New Mayor Needs Media Training

Written by Brad Phillips on November 11, 2010 – 7:02 am

In three weeks, a Canadian politician named Rob Ford will be sworn in as Toronto’s new mayor.

Mr. Ford is no stranger to controversy. He’s uttered ethnic slurs, been arrested for drunk driving, and was even ejected from a sports arena for instigating a shouting match.

He agreed to an interview recently with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running radio program, As It Happens, heard throughout Canada and the United States. Ford’s communications director scheduled the interview while the mayor-elect was coaching a football game.

Let’s just say he didn’t do well.


Here are three reasons Mr. Ford failed so spectacularly:

1. He Was Unfocused: Ford interrupted the interview numerous times and admitted he was “being distracted.” That he agreed to conduct an internationally-broadcast interview from an active football field was a staggeringly bad idea.

Let’s look at this in context. Toronto’s baseball stadium seats 49,539 people. Mr. Ford’s radio interview was surely heard by at least that many people. If given the opportunity to address a sold-out crowd at the stadium for three minutes, Ford likely would have given it his full attention. But when given the chance to address the same audience over the airwaves, he didn’t.

2. He Was Rude: When asked about what specific expenses he planned to cut, Mr. Ford said: “I just told you, I’m going to get rid of the $60 car registration tax and land transfer tax, so maybe I’m not making myself clear.” Actually, it was the first time in the interview he had said that, so he didn’t “just tell her” that. And even if he had, he should have remained polite and simply repeated his message.

3. He Lost His Message:  Yes, Mr. Ford repeated his message of fiscal restraint numerous times. But the radio audience was surely distracted by his odd behavior. And the tens of thousands of people who watched this YouTube video wanted to hear his bizarre interview, not his message.

As a result, Mr. Ford blew an opportunity to advance his ideas. Worse, it’s tough to imagine that this interview inspired great confidence in investors around the world considering business in Toronto.

I’d love to continue this article. But in the words of Mr. Ford, “I gotta let you go here. I can’t talk to you right now, really I’m on a very tight schedule, so I hate to be rude but I gotta let you go.”


Hat tip: Jeff Domansky, The PR Coach

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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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    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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