Donald Sterling’s controversial interview on CNN brought to mind an important tactic we ask our clients to employ when being interviewed – a tactic that many would say Sterling didn’t follow.
Imagine that you are not just speaking to the reporter. Imagine that the entire viewership, listenership or readership is sitting behind that journalist. Think of important stakeholders in your world — like regulators, investors, customers and competitors – watching you from the front row.
That might not have helped Sterling after all — he was in a crowded television studio with plenty of people looking on already. But often times the character of a conversation with a reporter can take on a personal one-on-one, even confidential feel, when in fact it is the complete opposite of confidential.
Topics you might say in a one-on-one conversation may cause you to squirm if you were to see them with quotation marks around them, your name next to them, and the context of the conversation missing. And if what you say can be disproven, as Deadspin pointed out in its analysis of the CNN interview, even more reason to be more cognizant and respectful of the larger audience when speaking. USA Today pointed out that Magic Johnson’s rebuttal interview provided a contrasting, more composed and gracious example of how to respond in this situation.
It’s the journalist’s job to get what you really think – for the benefit of the audience. To achieve that, it’s in the reporter’s interests to create an environment of confidentiality. We don’t advise that you spin what you have to say, or necessarily sanitize it. But if you wouldn’t say it up on stage in front of those people we want you to imagine, you shouldn’t be telling it to a reporter.