If you are being interviewed by an aggressive reporter — you need to stand your ground and not be railroaded. That requirement becomes even more important when you are not just an interviewee — but you are holding a press conference. It is your event — your turf.
All that presumes, of course, that the positions you are defending have been well-thought-out.
At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee rhetorically grabbed hold of spokeswoman Victoria Nuland like a crazed chihuahua attacking a mail carrier.
Without taking sides in the merits of the argument — it is clear that Nuland was far too passive while Lee was chewing her leg off.
Lee, who appeared to be auditioning for his own program on cable TV, slammed Nuland with sarcasm: “How’s (quiet diplomacy) going so far?” and disdain: “You are staying silent while people are dying left and right.”
Nuland lost control of the briefing and the debate. The point she made at the end of the 2.5 minute mauling below — could have been made much earlier. In any case, allowing yourself to be chased around by one chihuahua only encourages the other dogs in the neighborhood to follow suit.
There’s much to learn from the Petraeus mess beyond the wisdom of having a homely man write your bio.
Among the other lessons: what to do and not do if you’re in the center of a media storm and reporters stakeout your house. The Washington Post has a story today about the time-dishonored tradition of media camping out to capture a photo, some video, or perhaps a comment from someone at the heart of a big news story.
Like it or not (and almost no one likes it) the competitive pressures of the media cause them to hunt down people who are in the middle of a major scandal.
Here are some do’s and don’ts drawn from the experiences of the players in the Petraeus perfidy.
# 1 – DO close the drapes! The media have very long lenses on their cameras (Ask Kate Middleton). The photographers can and will shoot through windows. In this story we have seen photos of Paula Broadwell drinking wine while holed up at her brother’s house, and Jill Kelley looking forlorn while a TV plays the scandal story in the background.
#2 – DON’T pretend to be someone else. The New York Times thinks they tracked down the shirtless FBI agent at his home. “A man standing in the driveway who appeared to be Mr. Humphries, approached by a reporter seeking comment, said his first name was not Fred. The man then walked into the house, closed the front door and did not respond to the doorbell.” C’mon. Everyone can’t have an evil twin!
#3 – DON’T call 911 to try to get rid of them. Jill Kelley tried this including invoking her non-existent diplomatic immunity. You can ask people to stay off your property but there is nothing illegal about them standing on the sidewalk, across the street or even ringing your doorbell.
# 4 – DO go about your life. The pictures of Jill Kelley walking out of her house, getting into a car and driving off did her no harm. Giving photographers what they want (a photo) actually wins you some sympathy. They are less likely to pull some stunt to get your photo if you have obliged them already.
#5 (No one has done this yet in this case) – DO come out a say a few words. You don’t have to respond substantively but acknowledge the media — tell them that IF you decide to talk you will let them ALL know — so there is no need to stay camped out around the clock. Try to look and sound normal. Express regret that your family and neighbors are being subjected to disruption.
#6 DON’T try to be your own spin doctor. Hire a crisis communications firm or expert to help guide you through the maze and counter outrageous falsehoods. Even if you are experienced in dealing with the media — you are too close to the matter to go it alone.