Like most in this business I have done a number of media training programs. We usually look for good examples to show of what to do and what not to do. Here’s a great example of someone who hasn’t been media trained–or if he has, the lesson didn’t take.
The story is about the hot topic on the internet and twitter right now about the arrest of Harvard scholar and TV personality Louis Gates Jr. He was arrested after “breaking into” his own home. Despite the fact that he was in his home and showed his ID, the Cambridge police arrested him. Their reports are he was angry, called them racist and refused to step outside. Pres Obama stepped into this in a news conference saying the police “acted stupidly.” Right now the White House is trying to defuse it by saying, well, he really didn’t mean the police were stupid, or the officer was stupid or anyone was stupid but you are taking the words “acted stupidly” wrong. Geez, they would have been keeping their mouths shut and let it lay.
Back to the video. What did he do wrong. One, he said he wasn’t going to say anything–then he said exactly what they hoped he would. He claimed that he had not been told not to say anything, but then made clear that he was not saying anything because, well, sort of,. Third, he looked quite a bit like a deer caught in headlights–nice persona, good joking about his lawn and all, but clearly caught off guard and looking quite uncomfortable. He kept engaging them–they did a great job, just like a good telemarketer, of keeping him engaged. You could see his guard dropping further and further and then they went in for the kill: will you apologize. And that’s where he made his headline-creating mistake. He not only said no, emphatically no, in effect hell no, he said he never would and when asked if it meant losing his job, he spoke for his department by saying it aint going to happen, won’t ever happen. Now he backed himself into a corner big time but also the whole police department.
Nice guy, maybe just doing his job, probably a great police officer–I don’t know. But if I was his boss, I’d send out the order–keep this guy away from the news crews.
It’s not fair and that’s the point. If only he had been to Dick Brundage’s media training. He would have given the reporters no more than twelve seconds of “I’m proud to be a Cambridge police officer and proud every day of the job I do protecting the citizens of this wonderful city.” Period. End. No story. No headline. No national controversy, and no great media training video.