I am not sure where to begin in discussing the bizarre news conference New York Congressman Anthony Weiner conducted on Tuesday. In what appeared to be an impromptu exchange (always dangerous) with a swarm of media in a congressional hallway, Weiner attempted to characterize himself as a victim of a “prank” with regard to a lewd photograph sent from his Twitter account. He claimed that his Twitter account was hacked and that his attorney was looking into this “prank” / alleged crime.
Here is a link to the odd exchange:
Whether Weiner was hacked or not has not been clearly determined, but he did not help himself in the least in his news conference. There are a number of instructive elements in his media exchange, most all of which fall under the “What Not to Do” category. Here’s just three:
If you didn’t do it, say so. Rep. Weiner had numerous opportunities to simply say he didn’t send the photograph, but he declined to say yes or no. He did say his Twitter account had been hacked, but did not offer any information to back the claim up. A reasonable inference when someone refuses to answer yes or no to a charge is they did it. Fair? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a reality.
Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. The congressman, who has a reputation as a flippant, edgy sort with a knack for tossing out sarcastic sound bites, couldn’t help himself when he became frustrated by the reporters incessant questioning about whether he did or didn’t send the photo. Remarkably, he called one reporter a “jackass.” I am not sure what the broadcast parallel is to an old saw of media interviewing that says it is not wise to get into an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel, but it is not wise to call reporters childish names. There are several additional points in which Rep. Weiner’s acerbic personality is on full display, which in this case does not aid him in making his argument. In fact, it becomes the defining characteristic of the news conference. He makes it entertaining theatre rather than a mature discussion about a matter of interest to the media, and despite his protestations to the contrary, to Rep. Weiner.
Be aware of the new rules. Once upon a time and not so far away, broadcast interviews were usually sliced and diced to sound bites so that they would fit nicely into scheduled news programming. While that is still true to an extent, media no longer operate exclusively under the constraints of time. The proliferation of the internet as a preferred news source means entire exchanges can be viewed by news consumers. This can be good news or bad news, depending on the situation of course. In the situation of Rep. Weiner, its bad news since he let his emotions get the better of him and he created quite an entertaining bit of video. Bear in mind that in today’s world, your entire interview or news conference will likely be available online. Clear, concise messages are still wise, but no longer can you assume your exchange with the media will be reduced to a 30-60 second clip at the top of the broadcast hour.
This is a story that will continue to play out, potentially according to Rep. Weiner in the court of law in addition to the court of public opinion. In the meantime, the reputedly media-savvy Congressman has offered some valuable lessons on what not to do when engaging the media. Chief among them: Don’t show up at a gunfight with a knife.
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