Romney Press Aide Snaps in Poland, Learns a PR Lesson

Mitt Romney

Is it ever a good thing to lose your cool with a journalist? Rick Gorka, the traveling press secretary for Mitt Romney, probably asked himself that very question Tuesday, July 31 after tangling with reporters who are following Romney on his overseas trip.

In Warsaw, Poland, on a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reporters from CNN, The New York Times, Politico and other outlets were yelling out questions to Romney as he was heading towards a car to leave the scene. Gorka responded with “kiss my a**” and told Politico reporter Jonathan Martin to “shove it.”

In looking closer at the incident, frustration existed on both sides. In reporting about the incident on CNN’s broadcast channel, national political reporter Jim Acosta complained that in the three countries Romney has visited on his week-long trip, he’s answered a total of three questions from the press pool. Acosta said Tuesday was the final opportunity for the group to get some questions answered. The reporters are baffled at why so few answers have come from Romney on the trip.

Then again, the questions shouted out on Tuesday weren’t quite the kind the Romney camp would want to address. In a transcript of the exchange posted on CNN, the majority of the questions centered about gaffes that Romney has made on the trip—obviously a topic that Romney would avoid like the plague.

Gorka quickly realized that he made a mistake, calling reporters later to apologize for his outburst. But from a media relations standpoint, the damage was done—the story quickly spread via major news outlets. So the lesson here is even if you may be a little jet-lagged and frustrated by reporters’ questions, it’s best to keep your cool.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01



About Scott Van Camp

Scott Van Camp is editor of PR News, an executive-level, reader-supported publication that helps enhance the business impact of PR. Scott has a rich background in both journalism and PR/marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer/editor at various consumer and trade publications. Scott was with VNU Business Publications for five years, including stints as managing editor at IQ News and Technology Marketing magazines and senior editor at Brandweek. In the PR/marketing sphere, he has served as corporate communications manager at MarketBridge, a marketing and sales consultancy, and as editorial director for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. While at the Council, Scott led several high-profile marketing research projects. He has also operated his own communications and media consulting firm, SVC Communications.

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  • M. Stevens

    Why were these people allowed to visit other countries? They are an embarrassment to the United States!

  • Kenn

    Reporters are generally a rude, crude breed worthy of high loathing. Biased political reporters are not worthy of answers and should be shunned and ignored at every chance possible. They should be tethered so their questions go unheard. “I couldn’t get a real job, so I became an angry, biased political reporter with a chip on my shoulder the size of Sunday’s NY Times.”

  • Old Fogey

    Re. biased reporters: Thank goodness we can rely on politicians to tell us the truth, without bias!

  • Bill Wainwright

    Such mishaps wouldn’t happen in a presidential class operation.

  • Grant Conn

    Mr Gorka wouldn’t be angry, biased and shoulder-impaired, would he? I’m with Old Fogey.

  • @Pub_Discourse

    There’s another, obvious PR lesson here: don’t bring media to an event you’re not going to talk about. You’re wasting their time and you’re wasting your money and resources.

  • Another old fogey

    Re: comment and thank goodness. Exactly. And thank goodness they are the only ones making sweeping generalized conclusions about a group of people based on limited or extreme examples from within that group. ;-)

  • James M Grandone

    Perhaps the press contingent should brief the traveling press secretary on media relations.

  • Aida

    Mr. Romney, his PR ‘director” and the campaign should be taught as what not to do in a PR campaign. They are an affront to civility and respect regardless on how venemous the reporters are.

  • grannysm

    The reporters and their shrill shouts were embarrassing, but then, the entire trip was an embarrassment to this country.7b0

  • Steve Roberts-Mee

    1. There is never any excuse for being rude – for anyone. But in PR it’s not just inexcusable, it’s stupid.
    2. Pub_Discourse is dead right: why waste reporters’ time dragging them to an event you don’t want to talk about? And if your principal screws up early on a trip, send them home: they won’t like it, but their families will!
    (Press secretary to several British ministers in much more stressed circumstances than just forgetting Ed Miliband’s name, dumb as that was.)

  • Steve Roberts-Mee

    Oh, Kenn: no chance you couldn’t get a job as a journalist, is there?

  • David Carstens

    Hilary got grief for overly controlling the message in ’08 primaries but her staff didn’t meltdown. The only way an outburst against the press works is when it’s attached to an obvious case of gross individual reporter bias (Helen Thomas) and even then it’s risky… The public is eager to despise the press.

  • Joanne Taylor, Boise

    A PR pro never loses his/her cool. Good PR people understand journalists and can work effectively with them. They know how/when to field questions, handle their needs, and feed them information. The way this is done often affects the story. Gorka has demonstrated he is not qualified for the job…a common theme in this camp.

  • victoria Hochman

    Mitt Romney doesn’t need the press so he ignores them. He has enough money to use advertising to spread whatever message he wants. Similar to Sara Palin if anyone got close enough to have a conversation they would realize that he makes no sense.

  • Ray

    Since when do political candidates go to foreign countries to represent he US since they do not represent the US until they are elected.

  • Beef

    When you’re writing and article, at least be respectful for those who have served – it’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – not SOLDER!

  • Carl

    How is this a gaffe? Do you think voters care that Romney’s staff member upset some reporters? If Romney actually opened his mouth and answered questions, there would be a real “gaffe” for the campaign since he isn’t a good communicator. Then the press would have Romney’s words, not some behind-the-scenes thing voters don’t understand or care about.

    It’s funny how many PR professionals pretend to be shocked that the tactics they invented are still in use, and still successful.

  • PR News

    Beef–We apologize for the error. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Judge_d

    Romney is a loose cannon in many respects. If he can’t organise and manage his own PR team, how can he be expected to manage a government?

  • MR

    In Warsaw by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier american journalists were behaving like a group of cows. Tell me please is it a PR rule that they should do so? It is quite often seen that journalists does not give a damn about the context and location. Maybe they should do so? or use some parts of their brain to understand the situation that is going on.
    It is not that simple, PR is not for fools ;)

  • John Millen, Reputat

    In our media training, I note that if, as a spokesperson, you get angry, the reporters win because the emotion they’re looking for. Most interesting in this was the irony of Romney’s person telling the reporters to have respect because of the hallowed site, then telling them to kiss his A. Irony alert. In any case, it’s our job to stay composed.

  • Nkechi

    You cannot give what you do not have.