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  • Oh Don’t Be Silly

    If you are slated to be interviewed on one of the Sunday news programs — an essential part of your preparation is to think up all the questions you hope won’t be asked — and figure out what you will say if the moderator disappoints you and throws a tough one at you.

    Christina Romer, Chair of the White House Council on Economics appeared on Fox News Sunday today. Toward the end of her interview, Chris Wallace hit her with one of those questions she obviously would rather not field. In this case she seemed under-prepared.

    Wallace asked about growing calls for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign. The correct way to answer would be to say something pithy like:

    “He is doing a great job under the most difficult circumstances. He has the absolute confidence of the President and key Congressional leaders. I expect him to continue in the job for a long time helping us out of the fiscal mess we inherited.”

    Instead, Ms Romer hemmed and hawed. She called the clamor for Geithner to go “silly” and she looked decidedly uncomfortable in handling the matter. She got in most of the points we outline above…but it took her too long to do so and she did not convey much confidence with her answers.

    Here is the transcript of that portion of the interview

    WALLACE: There are growing calls — relatively small, I grant you, but growing — for the resignation of Timothy Geithner. What would the impact be on the financial markets and the president’s recovery plan if Geithner were to step down and we didn’t have a treasury secretary for the next few months?

    ROMER: I think — I think all of this discussion is — is really silly. Tim Geithner is an excellent secretary of the treasury. He has been dealt an unbelievably difficult hand to deal with. But he’s actually doing a fantastic job, right?

    He announced back in February an overall plan for how we’re going to deal with the financial system. And just remember, what he’s been doing in the last several months is just filling in all the pieces.

    We’ve had the housing program. We’ve had the small business program. We’ve gotten the consumer and business lending initiative going. Just last week we…

    WALLACE: But there are growing calls building up there on Capitol Hill for him to step down. So it isn’t silly.

    ROMER: I think he is — you know, the crucial thing is he is doing an excellent job. He has the complete support of the president. And he’s going to keep doing an excellent job.

    He’s going to — we’re going to –– as you pointed out, we’re going to be announcing how we’re going to get the toxic assets off banks’ balance sheets, and there’ll be other pieces to come as well.

    When answering this kind of question — you need to make your point and stop. If you keep rambling on, you only undermine your case.


  • Money, Money, Money

    When you are dealing with the media — nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything you do and say needs to be weighed against the environment in which you are operating.

    Given the current economic crisis — companies, government agencies and even individuals need to reevaluate how they operate — and how their actions will be perceived.

    Northern Trust Corporation is the latest example of an outfit that doesn’t get it. The banking firm reportedly got $1.6 Billion taxpayer dollars in the recent bailout. This past weekend they hosted an annual PGA golf tournament outside of Los Angeles.

    A golf tournament which raises money for charity – OK. But what about the events surrounding the sporting event? According to press accounts, Northern “hosted clients and employees at places like the Beverly Wilshire and Ritz Carlton hotels and gave away Tiffany souvenirs.” The company threw lavish parties with entertainment by Sheryl Crowe and the band Chicago.

    When called on the matter, a spokesman for Northern dismissed the expenditures as:

    “..part of a business decision regarding an annual event to show appreciation for clients.”

    Wrong answer. When your company has just gone to the American taxpayer with a tin cup for a bailout — you should not show off a tin ear when describing the care with which you handle your financial assets.


  • How NOT To Handle A Stake Out

    If you find yourself hotly pursued by the news media and you find a camera crew outside your home there are a couple ways to handle the situation.

    These events are called “stake outs” in the business. Generally, it is best to say something. Even if you are constrained by legal advice, a spokesman for you — or preferably you — can go out, smile, thank the reporters for their interest and say something like:

    “Unfortunately, because the matter is under investigation, I am unable to answer your questions at this time. I understand why you would like to ask some questions but I hope you understand that I am not in a position to respond at this time. Have a nice day.”

    Then you smile again, turn on your heel and confidently walk back inside. Sure, they’ll shout questions…but at least you have let them know politely that they are not going to get any substantive answers. Also, they have their video footage which often is enough to satisfy their immediate needs.

    For an illustration of how NOT to handle a situation like this, see the video below. Fox Business News staked out the home of David Friehling, an accountant who did such a sterling job of reviewing the books of $50 billion con man, Bernard Maddoff.

    Friehling’s son came out and greeted the FBN crew by throwing a bucket of water on their vehicle. Naturally, the camera was inside — capturing the stupid gesture in all its glory. Yeah, that’ll generate some good press.

    As you’ll see in the video below, the crew was motivated only to hang around longer, follow Friehling and shout questions at him while he shields his face and generally looks guilty.