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With Halloween just around the corner we thought we’d look back at some gory media interview horror stories.
We’ve carefully selected interview performances with mysterious mishaps and responses that go frightfully wrong.
Our spooktacular choices (alright, alright – we get it! Ed) may well leave your head in a spin, but we’ve also included a few important media training lessons along the way to ensure your next interview isn’t frightening.
Horror film Nightmare on Elm Street told us that ‘Whatever you do don’t fall asleep’. And it is a message Harry Belafonte could have done with hearing before he appeared on a Californian television station.
The singer was due to appear on the station via satellite to promote his memoir when he seemed to doze off.
As the camera cut to Mr Belafonte, anchor Leyla Santiago said: “Harry, wake up. Harry? This is your wake-up call Harry… He’s meditating, he’s having a little nap.”
Mr Santiago’s spokesperson later claimed that an earpiece had not been working and that he had taken the opportunity to ‘meditate’.
Quentin Tarantino’s films have inspired plenty of Halloween costumes, but he has also produced a blood-curdling media interview.
The Hollywood director launched into a furious rant at Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy when faced with a question about violence in his Django Unchained film.
The rant really has to be seen to be believed, but here is a little extract:
“Don’t ask me a little question like that – I’m not biting. I refuse your question.
“I refuse your question. I’m not your slave and you’re not my master. You can’t make me dance to your tune. I’m not a monkey.
“I don’t want to talk about what you want to talk about.”
He went on to tell the reporter: “I’m shutting your butt down.”
One our media training courses we always stress the importance of spokespeople not showing their frustration at questions they are asked by journalists. But Mr Guru-Murthy also hit the nail on the head when he later said about the interview: “I would have thought if you invite somebody to interview you it is better to try to answer the questions rather than not.”
Zombies have become an increasingly popular part of Halloween, but you cannot afford to zone out and walk aimlessly though media interviews.
Unfortunately that was the approach taken by the then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in a hauntingly bizarre television interview.
Appearing to be completely scared of saying the wrong thing, Mr Abbott simply took to staring at the reporter and nodding his head.
Ultimately, this led to the bemused journalist feeling the need to remind his interviewee that he needed to speak, saying ‘you’re not saying anything Tony’.
A question which often comes up on our media training courses is whether spokespeople should use humour in media interviews.
In our experience this is something which can often go wrong, but if people do want to try and lighten the mood they should stick to gentle humour and carefully consider their audience.
This was not a lesson trade union boss Steve Hedley appeared to have had when he produced a hair-raising interview performance on LBC.
Mr Hedley started with a crude joke about Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying ‘I didn’t realise Jeremy Hunt was his real name – I thought it was cockney rhyming slang’.
This earned him an on air rebuke from presenter Shelagh Fogarty, but it didn’t stop him continuing to go off message, later adding: “I think all the Tories are an absolute disgrace, they should be taken out and shot to be quite frank with you.”
Trick or treat
When Alberta Health Services president and chief executive Stephen Duckett was approached by reporters as he left a meeting his only focus was on a baked treat.
Instead of asking, or at least acknowledging the questions being put to him, Mr Duckett repeatedly used the phrase ‘I’m eating a cookie’ and even took to waving the biscuit to the TV cameras.
This bizarre approach to the tricky doorstep interview is pretty unique and the cookie crumbled somewhat a short time later when Mr Duckett lost his job. You can find a much more effective way to handle a doorstep interview in one of our earlier blogs.
It’s not just broadcast interviews that can trip up spokespeople – print interviews can also prove very tricky and we always warn delegates on our media training courses not to be complacent during this format.
One of the most recent print interview horror shows saw a CEO make so many gaffes that the parent company was forced to distance itself from the comments in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
After Sean Rad, the CEO of Tinder, was interviewed by the Evening Standard, Match Group said:
“The article was not approved or condoned by, and the content of the article was not reviewed by, the company or any of its affiliates.”
During the toe-curling interview, Mr Rad estimated out loud his number of sexual partners and misused the word ‘sodomy’.
Rosette Pambakian, the company’s vice president of communications and branding, also features in the article and was described as a ‘deadpan whose glances are like well-aimed grenades’. We can only assume that she did not make enough of those glances or that they were simply too late.
Halloween typically means dressing up as something ‘scary’ and that means you need to get your outfit just right.
And wearing the right clothes is also a key part of media interview preparation (You can find out what you should and should not wear in another one of our earlier blogs).
And it’s a lesson Jarett Kobek could do with learning. The author took to wearing a bizarre hat when he appeared on Channel 4 News earlier this year to talk about fake news and trust in the media – at least that’s what we think he was talking about, we were too distracted by his headgear.
While a corporate spokesperson is unlikely to wear the same ensemble as Mr Kobek, this example does highlight how poor wardrobe choices can distract an audience.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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