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The 15-Seconds Blog

  • The Silent Treatment

    Bob Woodward spilled the beans on a favorite journalistic trick. 

    Appearing on CBS TV’s “Face the Nation” Sunday he mentioned a media technique that we warn our clients about: Silence.

    Here is what he said: 

    BOB WOODWARD: ….I mean you’re talking about silence and the power of silence. In the CIA, they often talk about let the silence suck out the truth. And you know as a journalist if you just sit there sometimes and let there become silence, people will fill it up with answers and many ways you get some of your best answers in that silence.

    Both print and broadcast journalists use this technique.  After an interviewee has given an answer to a question — instead of asking another question or reacting to what has been said — journalists will often just stare at the person being questioned.  The natural, human response is to think that your answer was somehow inadequate or not understood.  Many interviewees then “feed the microphone” by gushing out a more expansive attempt to answer the question.

    Our advice:  Give the answer you want to give and then stop.  If the interviewer stares at you — stare back.  Smile…but don’t add anything else.  Hopefully you thought out your answers in advance (that is certainly what we teach you to do).  Once you have given your answer — don’t try to improve it. Clam up and wait for the next question.

    Another reporter technique we warn against is the fact that the interview is never over until the reporter (and all his or her assistants) have left the room and taken their gear with them. Just because a reporter closes his notebook or tells a producer –that’s it — doesn’t mean you are off the hook. Keep that duct tape firmly in place until you see the taillights disappear over the horizon.


  • Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

    Normally we blog about what to say and not to say in interviews.
    Today we’ll talk about how to sit.

    Watching CNN’s State of the Union today — where Candy Crowley interviewed George W. Bush and his brother former Governor Jeb Bush — we couldn’t help but notice that the former President looked diminished.

    CNN either put him in a chair that was too low — or at a table that was too high.  For most of the interview Bush sat with his hands in his lap looking like a child invited to join the adults for the morning.

    Anyone appearing on TV should have a capable PR person scope out the set before the cameras roll.  They should check the lighting, camera angles and the furniture.  If something appears amiss — they should politely insist that the situation be remedied before the interview begins.

    It is not just the seating.  They should make sure that the lighting is flattering, the interviewee’s hair and make up look right, and that the camera angles don’t make it appear as if there is something weird growing out of the interviewee’s head.

    You might think it is the responsibility of the news organization to check that stuff — but assuming that they are looking after your interests can result in funky looking interviews like the one above.

    Once on the set — no matter the furniture — the interviewee should ensure that his or her hands are above the table — free to make appropriate gestures to punctuate their brilliant talking points.


  • An Imperfect Explanation

    Condit dodging the press outside his condo in 2001

    Life hasn’t been fair to Gary Condit.  The Washington Post today has a lengthy story about how the former Congressman  was a “person of interest” in the 2001 death of his former intern and secret girlfriend, Chandra Levy.

    This past Monday a jury finally found someone else guilty of murdering Levy. For much of the intervening decade, however, the media seemed pretty convinced that Condit was the killer.

    The former Congressman is bitter over the mix-up and, not without some justification, he blames the media for his mess.

    The Post says a Hollywood lawyer is shopping a book proposal from Condit “about how his life was shattered by overzealous police, prosecutors and the press” and speculates that a movie deal may not be far behind.

    While there is no doubt that Condit was presumed guilty by many in the media — his own mishandling of the matter contributed to his problems.

    In trying to conceal his affair with Levy, Condit gave the impression that he had much more to hide.

    The Post reports that in an hour-long interview with Condit, the former Congressman never managed to find an opportunity to utter a caring word about the death of his former girlfriend other than to observe that it must have been tough on her parents.

    Condit botched several attempts over the years to restore his image — the most ludicrous example of which can be seen in these excerpts from his August 2001 interview with ABC’s Connie Chung. Condit stuck to his bad talking points — and did in whatever shred of credibility he had left.