How The Media’s Fast Reporting Hurts Athletes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 2, 2013 – 6:02 am

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kimber Auerbach, the Director of Communications for the New York Islanders. He wrote this to supplement a post I wrote last month about the challenge of notifying families about a death before they learn about it from the media. 

I do not want my comment to come across as demeaning the bigger picture of, “Should you wait until the family is notified of a death.” That’s obviously an issue of greater severity than the one I’ll write about today, but I wanted to share an issue we deal with in sports regarding “Information being released before a player is notified.”

The trade deadline is one of the busiest days of the season in hockey (or any sport) for management as they try and better their team for either a playoff run or the future. Players are on edge because they don’t know if they’ll be on the ice skating one moment and get pulled off the next to be informed that they’ve been dealt.

Reporters are so connected to their smartphones that it has literally become a race to see who can tweet the information first. Who can write the better story about how BLANK player will fit in with the team or how this deal helps the future seems to have become secondary. The media are too fixated on tweeting the news first, as reporters want to be the one sourced in all the articles as “BLANK reporter (@BlankReporter) tweeted the news first.”

There have been players that said they found out about being traded from watching TSN TradeTracker:

It really is a shame that players wind up finding out about a trade this way. For them, it’s life altering news that means they’re going to have to pick up their world and move it to another city. Yes, the media are doing their jobs in reporting the news as quickly as they possibly can, which in one way you can’t fault them for doing. However, there should be something that prevents them from doing so until all players are notified and the information is properly filed to the league, much like there seems to be in news reporting when someone tragically passes away.

It goes the other way as well. Sometimes, the media speculate about where a player may be dealt, and family and friends of a player see the rumors before a deal is even done. We’ve had players call to ask if it’s true that they’ve been traded, only to find out the reports are false. But because the media are so into breaking the news—and are often times correct—a player’s world gets turned upside down for no reason.

Until the day when there is a system to allow a period of time between the finalization of a deal and alerting the media, we as PR reps for teams are left to confirming the news that the media has already reported.

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Lance Armstrong Doping Allegations: Deny and Defend?

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on June 14, 2012 – 2:00 pm

Editor’s Note: This article is by Christina Mozaffari, Senior Media Trainer, Phillips Media Relations.

As a media trainer and a former journalist, I tell my clients never to lie to reporters, especially in a crisis. Once the truth comes out—and it usually does—you lose any credibility you may have had and become a completely unreliable source in the future.

Which is why I’m torn thinking about the recent developments in Lance Armstrong’s current battle against doping charges. The Washington Post reports the seven-time Tour de France winner is being accused by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of a “massive doping conspiracy” from 1998-2007 witnessed by more than 10 cyclists.

Armstrong released a strong statement on his website yesterday denying the allegations, saying:

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence.”


This is not the first time Armstrong has faced these charges. The US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles investigated Armstrong for two years before terminating its inquiry in February without charging him. In that case, two of his former teammates testified in public that Armstrong was doping.

Which gets us to the big question: Assuming, for the sake of argument, Armstrong did dope, what should he do? Should he come clean and put this whole mess to rest, relinquish his seven Tour de France titles and jeopardize his fundraising prowess for his Livestrong Foundation? Or, should he continue to deny the allegations and defend himself in the court of public opinion?

Complicating the matter, a confession would not send Armstrong to jail. The USADA cannot prosecute him criminally; it can only strip him of his titles and prevent him from competing in future events. So this really is solely a matter of Armstrong’s reputation.

Mark McGwire's reputation never recovered after he admitted using steroids.

Past athletes who have admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs have not fared well. Take Mark McGwire, for example, who in 2005 pleaded “no comment” when asked during a Congressional hearing whether he had ever taken steroids. The public convicted him of being a cheat, and his reputation has never recovered. He finally confessed the obvious in 2010, and has been on the outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame looking in ever since. 

Former Olympic champion Marion Jones faced a similar fate when she confessed to taking performance-enhancing drugs and lying about them to a grand jury. She was stripped of her five Olympic medals and the promising career and sports endorsements she once had.

Our firm wouldn’t represent a client that we knew was lying. But assuming that Armstrong is guilty, is his best PR move to deny and defend? Is this an exception to the “never lie” rule?

UPDATE: June 29, 2012: According to one of Lance Armstrong’s lawyers, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency voted today to officially charge Armstrong with doping and being part of a doping conspiracy.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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“That’s a Clown Question, Bro.”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 14, 2012 – 6:04 am

Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals’ 19-year-old rookie outfielder, hit a homerun on Tuesday night to help his team beat the Toronto Blue Jays.

He hit another homerun after the game.

During a post-game press availability, a reporter pointed out to Harper that people can drink legally at age 18 in Canada, so he wondered whether he might celebrate by drinking his favorite Canadian beer.

That was a silly question for at least a few of reasons. First, answering that question could create negative headlines, such as “Underage Nationals Star Names His Favorite Beer.” Second, as a Mormon, Harper isn’t supposed to drink at all. Third, what type of question is that, anyway?

Bryce Harper, Photo Credit: MissChatter

Harper reacted perfectly, refusing the question and telling the reporter, “That’s a clown question, bro.” Priceless. It’s worth watching the brief exchange.

That clip brings up another important media management question: when is it appropriate for a PR handler to jump in and interrupt an on-camera interview?

You may have noticed that just after the question was asked, a PR rep standing off-camera interjected and told the reporter to “ask something else.” In this case, the interruption was unnecessary – Harper’s initial reaction made it clear that he wasn’t going to answer the question. But the P.R. rep’s instinct to jump in was right.

That goes against the advice I typically dispense on this blog. Generally speaking, I advise PR pros to avoid jumping in during live interviews. Doing so at the wrong time can create a much larger story, as illustrated by this infamous 2004 Meet the Press clip:

Still, there are moments when jumping in is the better of two options. In Mr. Harper’s case, the PR rep felt he had two choices: to allow Harper to answer the question and potentially embarrass himself and his team, or cut off the line of questioning and potentially take some heat for doing so. Especially given the irrelevant nature of the question, I’d argue the PR pro made the right choice. (I’m not sure I’d feel the same way if the reporter was asking about a legitimate scandal, instead.)

Of course, there’s a third and better choice than the two mentioned above: Give all of your players media training and trust that they’re able to handle these situations without needing outside help (I’m guessing that did happen in this case). Mr. Harper looked to have the interview under full control, meaning he was able to deflect the question and move on with ease.

In this case, his PR rep had reason to be confident enough to allow his well-prepared player to handle the situation alone, using the same skill he regularly demonstrates on the field.

A grateful h/t to @FitzFiles.

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April 2012: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 30, 2012 – 6:10 am

Racial epithets, communists, anti-woman sentiment, and uninhibited profanity.

The most recent episode of Mad Men, you say? Nope. That nonsense didn’t end in 1968.

Without further ado, here are the five worst video media disasters of April 2012!

5. Fox Commentator Drops The F-Bomb On The Air

It’s not so much that liberal commentator Bob Beckel said the f-word with gusto on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show. It’s his reaction that makes this clip priceless. Mr. Beckel didn’t know they were on the air – and his tonal shift from defiance to finger-pointing to contrition unfolds in a couple of highly amusing minutes. 

Although this clip only ranks at number five on the list, it’s my personal favorite of the month.


4. Washington, DC Councilman Marion Barry Blasts Asian Business Owners

Former DC mayor and current councilman Marion Barry slammed Asians when he said: “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go.”

Well, at least it’s not like he’s the chair of DC’s Committee on Aging and Community Affairs, which is responsible for Asian issues, right? Oh, wait, he is? Wow. That’s quite a gaffe.


3. Look Out, Joseph McCarthy. You Have Competition.

Did you know that there are between 78 to 81 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who are members of the Communist Party?

Nope, that’s not a headline from 1954. That McCarthy-esque statement came from Rep. Allen West (R-FL) during a town hall meeting earlier this month, evoking the worst days from the Red Scare.

I’m just waiting for someone to ask him, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”


2. Football Coach Pays Players to Injure Competitors

In a remarkably violent and vulgar audio tape, former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams was caught offering players money to injure members of the opposing team. About one player, he said:

“We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head…we want his head sideways.” About another player, he said, “we fuckin’ take out that outside ACL.”


Mr. Williams’ disgusting rant earned him an indefinite suspension from the NFL. May he never spend another moment on a professional, college, high school, or youth football field.


1. Hilary Rosen Slams Ann Romney

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen handed Republicans a giant cudgel when she said that Ann Romney “has never worked a day in her life.” Many women were genuinely offended at Ms. Rosen’s assertion, especially given that Ms. Romney was a stay at home mother who raised five boys.

Ms. Rosen should have known better, especially since these types of comments have drawn scrutiny in the past. In 1992, Hillary Clinton caused her husband’s campaign unnecessary heartache when she declared that, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.”

Ms. Rosen’s comment, which helped Republicans neutralize the “war on women,” quickly drew condemnation from within her own party. Within days, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, White House Spokesman Jay Carney, and Campaign Communications Director David Axelrod all condemned her remark. 


Bonus 1: Woman-Lover Herman Cain Says Men Are Better Informed

Why do men support Mitt Romney more than women? It’s because men are better informed, according to former GOP frontrunner Herman Cain. Is it me, or can you not wait for this “war on women” to end?


Bonus 2: West Virginia Senate Candidate Compares Smoking Ban to Hitler

John Raese (R-WV) thinks that a smoking ban is the “same thing” as Adolf Hitler’s policy that forced Jews to wear a Star of David so they could be more easily identified. A hint to all politicians and pundits: the Hitler/Nazi analogy rarely works.


Bonus 3: CNN Reporter Says F-Word And N-word Live On Air

While quoting a Facebook page of an Oklahoma criminal suspect, veteran CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti used a rather vulgar phrase. I understand why she wouldn’t want to dilute the stark language by replacing epithets with euphemisms. But on CNN, which is blared in businesses, restaurants, airport terminals and hotel lobbies across the country? Bad idea, and Ms. Candiotti should have known better. 


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The New York Yankees’ Major League Media Training

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 17, 2012 – 6:10 am

The New York Yankees have won more World Series championships than any other baseball franchise in history.

But that’s no guarantee of media success, especially because the “Bronx Bombers” play in arguably the world’s most challenging media market. Anyone who’s glanced at the front cover of the New York Post or New York Daily News knows just how cruel the New York press corps can be.

It turns out that the Yankees have reacted to intensity of the media spotlight in exactly the right way. According to Paul White of USA Today, the Yankees might just have the best media training program in baseball.

“No team in baseball gets more attention and scrutiny. And no team goes to greater lengths to make sure its players are prepared to deal with the media and avoid the trouble that can accompany their positions with one of the most-followed sports franchises in the world.

‘We want to be the guardrail at the top of the cliff,’ says general manager Brian Cashman of his team’s media training program. ‘Rather than the ambulance at the bottom.’

He mandates the first act of spring training every year for Yankees players is watching a 25-minute video as part of their media training. They also receive a four-page handout, which includes advice from journalists and former Yankees, plenty of examples of how not to deal with the media and photos of all the journalists who regularly cover the team.”


Mr. White’s terrific article included (at least) four additional points worthy of mention:

1. Stay In Your Lane: In the handout, pitcher Andy Pettitte offers players this advice: “To save yourself a little grief and a headache, stick to baseball.” That squares with advice I’ve often given on this blog for spokespersons to “stay in their lanes.” If you speak about controversial issues, you’re going to create a distraction similar to the one Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas sparked earlier this year, or that Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen recently caused when he spoke about his affection for Fidel Castro. 

Yankee Nick Swisher offers wise advice about Twitter

2. Twitter Doesn’t Kill People, Tweeters Do: Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher says in the Yankees training video that: “Twitter is like having a gun. If you take care of it, you’re OK. But you can shoot yourself.” That’s good advice, as everyone from Anthony Weiner and Gilbert Gottfried to Chris Brown and Roland Martin have learned the hard way.

3. Remember Your Audience: Former pitcher Mike Mussina says in the handout that he “didn’t adjust very well at the beginning. It doesn’t say in your contract that you have to be hospitable to the media, but they’re the ones that communicate with the millions of fans on a daily basis.” Mussina eventually learned how to interact well with the press, even becoming a media favorite. He learned something I discuss on this blog a lot: that reporters aren’t the audience – the audience is the audience.

4. Don’t Leave Loose Ends: Finally, the handout dispensed one final phrase of wisdom that represents a perfect ending to this post: “That which is not resolved today will find you tomorrow.”

A grateful h/t to Dave Statter. Nick Swisher photo credit: Keith Allison.

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You Can Say It, But You Can’t Walk Away From It

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 14, 2012 – 6:12 am

He’s at it again.

You may remember that last month, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refused to attend a White House ceremony celebrating the Bruins’ championship. At the time, he posted his rationale on his Facebook page (he believes the government has grown too large).

Mr. Thomas followed up with another post to his Facebook page last week, this one standing with the Catholic Church over the Obama Administration regarding contraception:

“I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom.

‘In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.’ — by Martin Niemöller, prominent German anti-Nazi theologian…”

As you might imagine, the media had questions about his post. But in this remarkable interview, Mr. Thomas refused to answer any “personal” questions that didn’t have to do with hockey:


Mr. Thomas makes the case that his views live in his “personal” life and that he shouldn’t have to answer for his provocative personal posts in his “professional” life.

Let me be clear: Thomas has the right to say whatever he wants. But this article isn’t about his rights. It’s about his refusal to accept that there is a predictable cause and effect when dealing with the media.

If you make controversial statements, reporters are going to ask about them. The media don’t draw a neat line between “personal” and “professional” lives, and no one man has the power to change the way the media operate. Mr. Thomas’ behavior suggests that he wants the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded movie theater and then refuse to answer any questions about his actions afterwards.

Nor can Mr. Thomas credibly say he’s making those statements in his “personal” life. His Facebook page isn’t restricted to friends and family – the moment he allows fans to enter his network, he’s no longer communicating solely in his “personal” life. Cultivating and communicating with one’s fan base is, at least to some extent, a professional activity.

Mr. Thomas can continue to speak out as he wishes. It’s a free country, as he would say, and he has the right to say what he wants. But I wish he would recognize that his statements come with a price. Reporters are going to ask him about his comments, and they’re going to write their stories with or without his participation. (In fact, a defensive “no comment” answer followed by a walk-off makes it a better story.)

When they ask Thomas about his statements, it creates a distraction for his team, begging this question: When should a team player subordinate his public statements to the greater interest of his team? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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“This Is the Only Statement I Will Make On This Matter”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 27, 2012 – 12:00 pm

There may be no “I” in “team,” but there are two in “Bruins goalie.”

When members of the Boston Bruins NHL championship team went to the White House this week for the Stanley Cup winners’ annual meet-and-greet with President Obama, goalie Tim Thomas refused to attend. On his Facebook page, Mr. Thomas explained his decision:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People…Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic.


Photo Credit: Jewel Sanad/AFP/Getty Images

What caught my eye (other than his odd grammatical choices) was the last sentence of his statement. But Thomas wasn’t alone in taking that “one and only statement” stance. Bruins President Cam Neely released his own statement:

"As an organization we were honored by President Obama’s invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team’s achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject."


Mr. Thomas has received mixed reviews for his decision, some seeing his move as selfish and others seeing it as principled. I side with those who labeled his a selfish act, since it hijacked the headlines for his own beliefs instead of allowing the spotlight to shine solely on his team’s achievement.

But the two statements got me wondering: Is it a good idea for media spokespersons to release a statement that says, “This is the only comment I will be making?”

Generally speaking, I’d say no. Anthony Weiner and Herman Cain also released similar statements – but the questions kept coming anyway, and both men were forced to abandon their pledges not to discuss their sex scandals any further.

That happened in this case, as well. Despite his Monday pledge not to talk about this issue any further, Cam Neely talked about it again on Tuesday. His pledge lasted less than 24 hours.

Goalie Tim Thomas' Decision Hijacked The Headlines

There’s good reason for a goalie to put up a defensive guard on the ice, but there’s little reason for media spokespersons to do so in a public statement. Doing so can make them look obstructionist, controlling, or both – and they could accomplish the same result without taking that risk.

Both Mr. Thomas and Mr. Neely should have left that sentence out. When reporters inevitably asked them about the incident, they could have simply said:

“You know, I’ve said everything I’m going to about this matter. It’s time to put the focus back on our play in the ice, and I’m not going to allow this to create any distractions.”


Note: I bolded the last line of each statement for emphasis. They were not bolded in the original statements.

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Why Ending An Interview Early Is a Bad, Bad Idea

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 25, 2011 – 6:24 am

I rarely write about media disasters involving sports figures. I suppose that after years of watching steroid scandals, vicious on-court fights and player strikes, I’ve come to expect little from professional athletes.

But this interview from late last week caught my eye, mostly because of the lessons it offers all of us who aren’t professional athletes.

The trouble started in last week’s Monday Night Football game, when New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis intercepted a pass intended for a Miami Dolphins player and returned it 100-yards for a touchdown. Replays of the interception showed that Mr. Revis might have committed a penalty for making contact with the receiver, but he got away without a penalty being called.

Darrelle Revis races toward end zone after controversial interception

Radio host Mike Francesa interviewed Mr. Revis late last week and relentlessly went after him for what he viewed as an uncalled penalty.

That’s where things got interesting. Fast forward to the 2:00 mark to hear part of the exchange – and stay tuned to the 5:00 mark to hear the surprising end to the interview.  

After the testy exchange, a Jets P.R. staff person named Jared interrupted the interview by picking up the phone and saying, “Darrelle, hang up.” He did. And that’s when this mostly non-newsworthy interview suddenly became a story.

What lessons should you learn about ending an interview early? 

1. It Always Makes The Story Bigger: Just ask Emily Miller, who, as a member of Secretary Colin Powell’s staff in 2004, infamously pulled the plug on an interview with Meet the Press Host Tim Russert.  

2. It Gives Credence To The Charges Made Against You: If you weren’t guilty of whatever you were being accused of, why look so defensive and cut off the interview early? Mr. Revis could have laughed off the charges or said, “Mike, we’ve covered that ground and disagree. What else do you want to talk about?” Instead, his defensive reply suggested he knew he got away with a penalty.  

3. The Host Usually Looks Better, The Guest and P.R. Representative Usually Look Worse: The host usually comes out looking like the victim of an overly-aggressive P.R. person, while the guest and P.R. person almost always diminish themselves by abruptly ending the interview. That’s even more true in this case, since Mr. Revis was doing a decent-enough job at handling himself on-the-air before being cut off by his media minder.

A grateful h/t to John Barnett, who tweets at @jocmbarnett.

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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.

    Brad Phillips

    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.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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