Who Control A Media Interview?
By Judy Hoffman
Wednesday, 7th September 2011
There was a pretty amazing piece of TV footage captured this past month; whether you saw it when it happened on Piers Morgan's talk show, caught one of the numerous replays of the incident, or just heard about it, it will likely be remembered for a long time.

I'm referring to the interview Piers conducted with Christine O'Donnell, who had agreed to conduct a remote interview to talk about her new book.

Ms. O'Donnell has been talked about a great deal in the past year or so as one of the rising stars of the Tea Party movement. Earlier, she ran into some tough times, admitting on another talk show that she had once - in her youth -- belonged to a coven. The media, of course, had a field day with that revelation and it was part of what derailed her run for a Delaware Senate seat in 2010. But she still had a devoted following. Her hope was that her new book would provide further support for the principles she believes in.

A Recap Pf What Happened On The Show

Piers Morgan reviewed her rise to a very public position within her Party--both the positive and the negative things. In her
answers, Ms. O'Donnell often said, "As I say in my book..." Then came the trouble. Piers indicated that he wanted to talk to her about her position on gay marriage. Ms. O'Donnell became visibly flustered, called Piers "rude," and told him that was not what she came on his show to discuss. She even said, "Don't you think, as a host, that if I say (this)is what I want to talk about, that's what we should address?" Piers replied, as would any reporter I know, "Not really, no."

He was genuinely surprised, he indicated, because he was merely asking her about something she had written in the book that she was so actively promoting on his show. At this point, her eyes obviously shifted off stage as she began looking for her staff members stationed off camera. One of them positioned himself between her and the camera so all you could see was his back while she was taking off the microphone and getting ready to walk off the set.

Don't Be Naive If You Are Being Interviewed

I find it difficult to believe that Ms. O'Donnell really thought she could control the questions she would be asked by a talk show host. The same can be said for any reporter to whom you have granted an interview. When you step in front of the camera, you are open to any and all questions. Some people could possibly be blindsided by a question based on a long-past incident. But that was not the case in this instance. This was especially amazing, because the question Piers asked is one that is part of the current political debate and something she had written about in the book Piers was holding in his hand!

Never forget: You do not have the ability to control the questions you will be asked. You can only control your answers. Therefore, in preparation for an interview of any sort, you should have thought through all of the probable questions you could be asked. You should carefully word and rehearse your answers, seeking to bridge from the questions asked to one or more of the key messages you want to have the listening public understand, believe, and remember about your positions.

The Negative Impression of Bailing Out

Without a doubt, whatever answer Ms. O'Donnell would have given to Piers' question about her position on gay marriage might have given rise to some controversial media coverage. On such a divisive issue, she surely would have displeased some segment of the electorate, no matter what she said. But whatever fallout might have occurred paled in comparison to the coverage she received after walking off the set in a huff. She looked inexperienced and unable to defend her beliefs. The clip was shown over and over not only on YouTube, but also when Piers Morgan made a point of re-airing the entire segment and soliciting the opinions of various experts as to whether or not he had been out of line. (The next day
Ms. O'Donnell went so far as to characterize his treatment of her as sexual harassment, which was clearly not evidenced by the way he asked her questions. These accusations only made her look more foolish.)

I have no idea what Ms. O'Donnell's future in politics will be. This type of incident, however, is one that will go in every media outlet's archives to be pulled out and shown again whenever her name comes up, especially if she should choose to pursue public office. Let her experience be a lesson for you. Recognize that media interviewers can and will ask you anything that they believe is relevant for the public to know. You shoud try to plan your answers ahead of time and rehearse them so that you can remain calmand controlled when you deliver them. The impression you leave will be much more positive than a damaging clip played for days on end on YouTube and in the traditional media!

Feel free to distribute this to others who might be interested in my monthly comments on current crises and tips for dealing with the media. Or tell them to go to my website to sign up themselves. It's free.

Until next month...KEEP COOL!

Judy Hoffman
Author of "Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis"
(919) 550-8302


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