Journalists are paid to ask the tough questions in live interviews. Even if certain ground rules are laid out in advance, a journalist is not bound by law to hold to those ground rules. Media trainers and PR pros teach spokespeople (CEOs, celebrities, athletes, politicians) how to handle the very questions they least want to be asked.
Firstly, spokespeople and interviewees should always expect to be asked the toughest questions imaginable and, secondly, they should know how to address the tough questions directly and then bridge to their preferred message.
Sometimes things go awry in interviews, even when the person being interviewed is a veteran of skirmishes with journalists, as is usually the case with politicians. Just last night, for example, New York Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island), when asked an on-camera question about his campaign finances by NY1 reporter Michael Scotto, threatened to throw Scotto off a balcony in the U.S. Capitol building. Grimm apparently didn't know that the camera was still rolling.
"Let me be clear to you. If you ever do that do me again I'll throw you off this f------ balcony," Grimm says in the video. "I'll break you in half. Like a boy."
Politicians are spokespeople like any other. Like CEOs, they represent an entire organization; in this case their elected office and administrative staffers. And like any CEO or politician, Grimm has his media handlers—and they are probably not having any fun today. So in the interest of helping all media handlers and PR pros whose senior leader threatens, on camera, to murder a journalist, we offer these helpful tips.
1. Hide the office firearms and Twinkies.
2. Find out if your senior leader is on prescription medication, and determine if he or she went off the prescribed dosage. That's a good back-story.
3. When you're helping your senior leader draft a statement of apology, do not meet his or her eyes for more than three seconds at a time. Animals in the wild consider staring to be a threat, and tend to act accordingly.
4. If your senior leader makes you laugh involuntarily, and then asks you, "Do I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm funny like a clown?" stay cool and show no fear.
5. Work on your resume.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @ SGoldsteinAI