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•• No comment, off the record and hot mikes

November 20, 2014

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It’s been an interesting week for media trainers.

In every media training presentation I give, I share these three rules:

  • Never say “no comment”
  • Assume a mike is always hot
  • And NOTHING is EVER off the record.

Every media trainer in America is likely updating their presentations with clips from two big stories this week — a perfect storm of media interview blunders.

Beleaguered comedian Bill Cosby once again finds himself defending rape allegations, and responds by not responding.  So what does the Associated Press do?  They release an interview that had not made it to the public eye, including footage from after the interview was ostensibly concluded, demonstrating that a hot mike is always part of the story.  Not only does he break the cardinal rule of saying he won’t comment, he persists in making an appeal to the reporter after the fact — asking that questions be “scuttled.”

A tough thing to see, Mr. Cosby.

You see, media interviews are a give and take.  You can’t expect to get your message out there (art collection exhibition) and not expect the reporter to take some thing away that is newsworthy and topical.

There are endless ways to answer a question without really answering it, but “no comment” never does the trick.  You must always acknowledge the question, provide at least a contextual answer, and move on.  Repeat a key message ad nauseum if you have to.

And if you’re not going to address that?  Stop doing interviews altogether.

Skipping to another story — this one with a more serious overtone.  An executive from Uber threatening journalists  is getting unwanted attention for playing fast and loose with ethics (a recurring theme for Uber).  But the other part of the story is his reliance on “off the record” as a defense.  It’s pretty flimsy.

In my career, I’ve only gone off the record once, to encourage a reporter to look into an issue that put lives at risk.  Once.  In 20 years.  Off the record isn’t a mute button on a conference call or the media equivalent of the 5th amendment protection.  When you talk to a reporter, even a friend, it’s on the record.  Always.  Even if they say it’s not.

Maybe it’s time to brush up on some media training, gentlemen.

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