15-Seconds logo

The 15-Seconds Blog

  • Ex-SEAL Wounded in Media Encounter

    Navy SEALS are the best trained military men on the planet — in every skill except giving media interviews.

    Dave Cooper – Navy SEAL Foundation

    The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported on Friday that Dave Cooper, president of the Navy SEAL Foundation, has been placed on administrative leave following a recent interview mishap.

    Cooper is a highly-decorated former SEAL who retired last year and had been leading the non-profit foundation that assists Navy SEALS and their families for only one month.

    According to the Virginian-Pilot, Cooper is under fire because of an interview he gave to U.S. News and World Report in which he was questioned about his former outfit the Navy Special Warfare Development Group (aka DEVGRU) and popularly known as “SEAL Team Six.”

    The U.S. News article quotes Cooper saying some cheeky things about his fellow SEALS, e.g. that they have “a tendency to break the rules and a healthy disrespect for authority” and he appears to endorse a book by fellow-former SEAL Matt Bissonnnette. The article suggests that he thinks while the book “spilled classified information with dangerous effects” at least the authors “beat out other senior officers from spilling the same story without the same accuracy.” We note that those phrases are the article author’s, however, and not quotes from Cooper.

    Apparently some people were unhappy enough with Cooper to put him on administrative leave (although the Foundation declined to comment about personnel matters.)  But Cooper confirmed that he was on ice in an e-mail exchange with the Virginian-Pilot.  In explaining himself he makes the following assertions:

    * The article is a “gross misrepresentation of what (he) said”

    * The article was supposed to focus on the Navy SEAL Foundation (which is barely mentioned in the piece)

    * He was told he would have an opportunity to review and approve his quotes before publication (which did not happen)

    As a result, Cooper says he spoke “casually and perhaps carelessly” and at times “in jest.”

    He says that some of the comments attributed to him were not made by him at all but says that his actual comments were “simply too glib, perhaps even too arrogant.”

    U.S. News & World Report says its story was “accurately reported”  adding that they “have no further comment.”

    There are dozens of lessons to be learned from this incident.  Here are a few:

    * Cooper needed more training before facing live fire from a reporter.  It is understandable how someone who has distinguished himself in battle would be fearless about simply chatting up a reporter (Cooper reportedly holds the Silver Star,  six Bronze Stars and a chest full of other medals) — but this is a new world for him with real (albeit bureaucratic) dangers.

    * The SEAL Foundation needed a better prepared public relations person to assist Cooper.  A pro could have told him that a national news organization is going to be much more interested in Cooper’s past job than in his present one running a non-profit.  His expectations should have been more realistic.  A pro would have told him not to allow himself to speak casually and carelessly — and would have called a time out for some course correction if Cooper veered off message.  An experienced hand would have known that it was most unlikely for a reporter to offer to clear quotes in advance – if there was such an offer — he should have gotten it in writing.  And a pro would have recorded the session so that if Cooper were badly taken out of context they would have been able to prove it.

    * U.S. News could learn a few lessons too.  We think it is unseemly for a news organization to flatly state that “we will have no further comment” on anything.    We suspect they don’t want to get into a fight (of any kind) with Cooper — and would like the issue to go away.  But “no further comment” sounds mighty defensive.

    It should be stressed that even the worst reading of Cooper’s comments make them pretty mild stuff. Compared to the mis-steps of people much more accustomed to dealing with the press — his remarks strike us as well below anything which would merit him losing his job.  The country and the Navy SEAL Foundation need men like Cooper and we are sure he will have absorbed the lessons of his encounter with the media.  The retired Master Chief could certainly master the skill of doing media interviews — he just needs a little more training and some patience from his bosses.

  • Who’s Giving Alec Baldwin PR Advice? The Mayor of Toronto?

    Actor and TV talk show host wannabee Alec Baldwin seems to be self destructing before our eyes. It seems like an hourly event when there is a new example of actor bad boy demonstrating that he must have 30 Rocks in the head.

    This afternoon Baldwin berated a local Fox News reporter for “almost hitting (his) wife with a microphone” – a near-tragedy the reporter denies. Baldwin proceeded to ask if the reporter wanted to apologize to his wife on camera and when that wish was denied told her to “Get the f***” out of here.”

    The incident follows another flair up this morning where he confronted another WNYW reporter telling him he was in his way and “you are going to have a big problem” if he was still there when Baldwin returned with his wife and kid.

    This of course followed a previous incident where the actor chased a paparazzi down the street while reportedly hurling homophobic slurs.  Initially Baldwin denied calling the reporter a “faggot” as the recording appears to show — and claimed to have merely called him a “fat head.”  He has now copped to calling him a “c***sucker” which he belatedly learned is offensive.

    You would think Baldwin would be having a good week — since a woman charged with stalking him was convicted in court…although his victory was marred by a friend saying that Baldwin lied in court.

    What is our PR advice to Baldwin?  The same as we would offer to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who shares the self-destruction gene.  Get out of town. Now.

    Neither man seems capable of controlling their rage nor able to think before lashing out.  The price of fame is media attention.  Don’t want cameras outside your house or reporters asking you questions?  Fine.  Get a mountain cabin and live like J.D. Salinger.  That may not be fair but it is the world we live in.

    As it is, it is only a matter of time before Baldwin does something stupid(er) and ends up in an adjoining cell to his stalker.

  • CBS’s Black Eye

    CBS has more experience exposing other organizations’ shortcomings than explaining their own — but that is no excuse.

    The network did not distinguish itself in handling an apparently bogus report they aired on 60 Minutes.

    In case you missed it — on October 27th the network aired an interview with a man they called “Morgan Jones” who told a compelling story of what he said were his actions in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.  “Jones” (whose real name is Dylan Davies) was a security contractor and has a new book out called “The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There.”

    Set aside the fact that 60 Minutes forgot to mention that the book was published by an outfit part of their own corporate family — the story had bigger problems.  Jones claimed, among other things, to have scaled a 12 foot wall around a U.S. diplomatic compound in the middle of an attack, leveled an insurgent with a rifle butt blow to the face, and personally viewed the body of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens at a Benghazi hospital.  It turns out these assertions may well be contrary to the facts.

    The story started to unravel on October 31 when the Washington Post reported that the CBS story was quite different from a written report Davies had apparently filed with his employer just three days after the attack.

    At the 15SecondsBlog we don’t give advice to the media — we give advice to those being questioned by journalists — but in this case CBS quickly found itself on the receiving end of journalist’s inquiries.

    Their first response when challenged was to simply say that they “stood by their report.”  Hardly a compelling response.  You can’t imagine 60 Minutes letting some government agency get away with that as a defense for some action.

    Then correspondent Lara Logan told the New York Times  on November 2 that she and her colleagues “worked on this for a year” and while admitting they erred in not mentioning the corporate connection with the publisher — otherwise defended the accuracy of the report.

    On November 6, 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager issued a written statement saying “We are proud of the reporting that went into the story and have confidence that our sources, including those who appeared on 60 Minutes, told accurate versions of what happened that night.”

    But on November 7,  the New York Times reported that Davies “gave the F.B.I. an account of the night that the terrorist attacked the mission on September 11, 2012 that contradicts a version of events he provide in a recently published book and in an interview” with 60 Minutes.

    CBS told the Times they were “surprised to hear about this” and the next morning Logan appeared on CBS This Morning to issue an apology and say that “We were wrong.  We made a mistake,” adding that they will apologize on their broadcast Sunday night and correct the record.

    Update: CBS and Fager, to their credit, did subsequently give interviews to outside media on the debacle…even adopting our “black eye” terminology  (an admittedly obvious line).  Fager called it “as big a mistake as there has been” in 60 Minutes’ 45 year history.  We still think CBS was too slow with their apology and, as yet, has failed to adequately explain how the mistake was made — a necessary step in repairing their damaged reputation. 

    H/T Media Matters