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  • Only the Best Should Attempt Full Ginsburgs

    In Washington-speak, a “full Ginsburg” is when one person appears on all five major Sunday news programs in a single day.  The feat was first performed in 1998 by William Ginsburg , the attorney for Monica Lewinsky.  Since then, the trick has been performed about 18 times — often by Presidential candidates.

    If you are not running for office –and you are doing a Ginsburg, chances are you are running for your life. Even if one or two of the interviews is pre-taped, it is hard on a person to keep their energy up and their talking points down.

    White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer logged a full Ginsburg this morning.  We’ll leave to others to rate the substance of his answers — but the way they were delivered was not impressive.

    By far his worst performance was the single show on which he did “a remote” – rather than being on set looking into the eyes of his questioner. His appearance on ABC’s This Week, which at times gives the appearance of a hostage video, is below:


     Media Training 101 is to have the interviewee know where to look into the camera. Pfeiffer’s shifting eyes match the demeanor of his answers.  And he had a habit of talking way too fast (trying to get it over with?) stepping on his words and phrases and THEN looking off camera to the monitor. He also stumbled badly with one of his answers to George Stephanopoulos where he said “the law is irrelevant” in the IRS matter.  Bet he wishes he had that sound bite back.

    His in-studio performances were not so hot either. His answers earned him the worse dressing down we have seen in many years from veteran Bob Schieffer.  The CBS Face the Nation stalwart’s asked:  “why are you here?” Not exactly what an interviewee is hoping to hear.

    Pfeiffer needs a lot more practice doing remote interviews — and more importantly — the White House ought to re-consider the wisdom of sending out a single spokesperson and asking him or her to perform in the five-ring circus that the full Ginsburg creates.  It didn’t work out too well for UN Ambassador Susan Rice either.

    h/t Joe Quimby

  • Always Script Your Ad Libs

    Never go on TV without knowing exactly what you want to say.  And say it whether the questions match your answer or not. That’s part of what we teach at 15-Seconds seminars.

    White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon was on four out of five top Sunday news shows today and provided near identical statements about the President’s decision to take down Usama bin Laden.  He used the iconic Situation Room photo of the President and his top leaders as a vehicle to make his point.

    On Fox News Sunday Donilon said:

    As I look at it now, though — and you know, I worked for three presidents — my eyes go to the president who made this decision. And we ask a lot of our presidents. This had been a project — the hunt for Usama bin Laden that had gone across two administrations. And, indeed, many of the same people who worked on this under the Bush administration worked with me today and worked on this project.

    And I looked at the president — and, you know, a week ago Thursday, the president received his last briefing on this. The options were put on the table. And as you can predict, there were disagreements and there was divided counsel.
    And at the end of the day, we ask our president to make the decision. It’s the president who gets out of the Situation Room, stands up, and walks across the colonnade by Rose Garden, that walk you know so very well, into the residence and makes that — makes that decision. And that’s where I focus because he had obviously weighed this through a rigorous process. And the decision was on his shoulders.

    Donilon used the same formulation — almost word-for-word — on NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week.”  We would have recommended that Donilon tighten up his pitch — but given the format of these shows he was allowed sufficient air-time to make his point (which was to laud his boss, the president, for making a gutsy decision.)
    In the “This Week” clip below (starting at about the 2:55 mark) notice that Donilon wasn’t even asked about the picture.   He used his pre-planned answer to make his point and  escape a more troublesome question about White House misstatements made to the media in the immediate aftermath of  the Bin Laden operation.

    How can you keep your talking points fresh in your mind?  Notice in the screen grab at the top of this post, Donilon has notes spread out before him.  Even the most experienced talking head should not rely on rote memorization.  Having your key messages before you as you do the interview will help make sure that you don’t forget main points under the glare of TV lights.


  • BP’s Latest Bad Performance

    Well, at least Bob Dudley didn’t start out with a lie yesterday.

    BP’s managing director did a “full Ginsburg” yesterday appearing on all five major Sunday morning shows. He didn’t start out fibbing because when he was welcomed on the programs he avoided saying “it’s good to be here.”

    After that, things went down hill. Dudley clearly was not happy about being there. In the interviews he looked more like someone appearing in a hostage video rather than a confident executive explaining his company’s actions.

    We have chronicled the many (often comical) missteps of BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, in weeks past.

    We hoped that since BP had hired some high powered PR firms to help them with their crisis that they would be less clumsy, less grating, and frankly, more apologetic. Alas, it does not seem so.

    Frankly, Dudley’s Sunday effort at explaining why BP’s “TOP KILL” effort failed was a dud.

    At 15-Seconds.com we teach our clients to always prepare at least THREE concise talking points/Quotes/Sound bites to get their message across. Wading through Dudley’s interviews only one message stands out as having been thought through in advance.

    Here it is:

    ABC “This Week”: Dudley“We failed to wrestle the beast to the ground yesterday.”

    FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Dudley“We’re all disappointed that the “top kill” operation didn’t work. We failed to wrestle this beast to the ground.”

    NBC’s “Meet the Press”: Dudley“David, we made three attempts to wrestle this beast to the ground by pumping heavy fluids in it, but we were unable to overcome the flow.”

    CNN’s “State of the Union: “Candy we are disappointed we didn’t wrestled the well to the ground last night.”

    CBS’s “Face the Nation”: Dudley somehow failed to wiggle his “beast wrestling” into the conversation.

    “Wrestling the beast to the ground,” while a memorable line, should have been followed with some form of apology that conveyed genuine remorse to the American people who are running out of patience.

    Dudley needed more ammunition than that one phrase. He needed additional, well-practiced, talking points that conveyed some sense that he and his colleagues are on top of the problem.

    We suspect Mr. Dudley was thrown to the media Sunday as BP’s sacrificial lamb of the day.

    It was good that they put someone out – but in the future they need to ensure that their spokesman is better prepared to wrestle with the media beast.