Monday, November 6, 2006

Smash Mouth Interviews: Should You Attack Journalists?

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition recently broadcast comments from President George W’s chief strategist Karl Rove and embattled Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Below you can read about the good, the bad and the ugly parts of the six-minute segment. This is a great opportunity for learning as you prepare for your next media interview.

Listen carefully. Rove attacks NPR’s Robert Siegel out of the gate. Generally a major mistake toward getting a fair shake during the interview and for ongoing reporting and relationships with the media. But, in this instance, I’d say a savvy move. Savvy from the perspective that Rove needed to ensure listeners immediately recognized Siegel did not see the same polls as Rove, thereby diminishing Siegel’s credibility and argument that Republicans are in danger of losing one or both branches of the legislature during the interim elections Nov. 7. Another reason for the distinction of savvy versus stupid: Rove is not running for re-election.

The piece then shifts to Sen. Santorum (R-PA) after a brief comment from his opponent. The Keystone State senator picks a fight with interviewer Steve Inskeep when he asks “Is that a shock to you...Is that a shock to you? I’m asking you a question.”

Not a wise move in this case. Santorum is in a close race. Some consider his senate seat the most vulnerable in the Republican stable.

Santorum did show some wisdom, however, surrounding an exchange with Inskeep on Iraq. The exchange follows.

Inskeep: “So you’re saying we need to adapt, that things are going poorly, that things are getting worse….”

Santorum: “I don’t think I said either of those words. What I see is….”

Santorum goes on to clarify his position and what he actually said versus what words Inskeep attempted to put in Santorum’s mouth. In a live broadcast interview, always clarify immediately when an interviewer paraphrases your words in a way that is out of context. The immediate response closely ties accurate information to misinformation. Immediacy also ensures your comments are part of the broadcast. Interviews end abruptly at times, leaving you without the opportunity to respond.

Taped broadcast interviews and print media interviews also require clear concise messaging and delivery to ensure you are not taken out of context. Editing plays into these interviews. When editing is involved, you won’t know what part of the interview is selected for broadcast or print as you do with a live interview broadcast in its entirety. Staying on message is crucial to all interviews, but especially when editing leaves you vulnerable to interpretation. (See my June 12 blog entry entitled “Who’s to Blame for Misquotes…You or Them?” Scroll down through the June blog archives.)

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