Media Training Tip: Always on the Record?

by PR Coach on February 17, 2011

One of the basics in media training is to assume you’re always “on the record.” In most cases, advance warning is usually enough to remind spokespeople of that fact. As the following interview shows, even journalists can mistakenly think they’re “off the record” even on Twitter.

Anderson Cooper interviews journalist Nir Rosen

This  “Anderson Cooper 360” clip shows Cooper of CNN interrogating journalist Nir Rosen.

Rosen had made several careless personal tweets regarding the unfortunate assault of CBS correspondent Laura Logan in Egypt. Rosen also made the mistake of referring to Cooper’s recent assault in Egypt.

Cooper, probably feeling personally offended, is very tough on Rosen in the interview. Rosen makes a strong effort at an apology in a number of his statements:

Cooper: Nir, how you explain your tweets?

Rosen: I don’t have an explanation. I was a jerk. Umm, it was two o’clock in the morning and I was being thoughtless, forgetting that I wasn’t just talking to a couple of people, but in theory, I was talking to a couple of hundred thousand people….

As many celebrities, politicians and business leaders have learned, you’re “on the record” in social media as well as traditional media. In fact, CNN newsman Rick Sanchez was forced to resign over an errant tweet.

Rosen attempts a further apology:

Rosen: “…none of that is justifiable, no matter what…. Had I known it was a sexual assault, that’s no laughing matter especially for a man. And there’s no excuse for it. There is no defense for it. No matter what I say or try to explain, I look like a jerk….

Cooper does not let Rosen off the hook. He cites the actual tweets and attacks Rosen’s defence that he didn’t realize it was a sexual assault on Logan when he made his comments on Twitter. Rosen’s offhand Twitter apology looks equally bad.

Rosen tries again to apologize several more times:

Cooper: At that point, your apology seems halfhearted at best. You kinda sound like a sort of a like a bitter, jealous reporter who’s angry at another reporter who’s more well known.

Rosen: It sounds like that. That’s not the case. Umm. But my point was that dozens of women suffered from this attack and one of them is going to get all the attention because she’s white and she’s a celebrity correspondent. Again, I’m not defending myself here or justifying it, but just explaining… There’s no defense here. I just figured that this is going to be more attention and going to take away from events on the ground and from other people who weren’t attacked, because they weren’t white. They aren’t celebrities and you know you make fun of the celebrity culture of the mainstream media. And people try to outdo each other and make it about the correspondents in the news.

In my defense, in terms of my record if I may, I spent eight years of my life trying to tell us stories of victims and condemn their oppressors. I spent today, actually, I’m here in the Middle East documenting sexual abuse against women by local security forces who were trained by the Americans.

Um, there’s no way, there’s no defense for what I did.

Cooper: What people are going to have to decide is whether your apology is real and heartfelt. And they’ll do that based on your explanation of what happened and, so again I just want to ask you. Are you standing by the idea that you did not know she was sexually assaulted? Because again in your first tweet, it makes it sound like you were saying she was one upping the minor assault that I had and that would be funny if that happened to me. And then you did actually link to the CBS article that was very clear about the nature of her assault and the fact that she was in the hospital.

Rosen: Yeah it doesn’t look good. No, I didn’t read the article. I apologize to her and her family and women everywhere.  There is no excuse for what I did. I just ruined an eight year record of taking risks in defense of justice in my own career and people, and embarrassed myself and my family.

Cooper: Nir Rosen, appreciate you being on the program.

So, what are the media training lessons from this interview?

  • You’re always on the record, in traditional media as well as social media.
  • Being defensive is a poor interview strategy.
  • An apology must be made up with no qualifications and must always be sincere and heartfelt.
  • Even if you’re an experienced journalist, sometimes it’s not worth doing the interview.
  • A written, heartfelt statement of apology and a private letter to those concerned would have been more effective than this combative interview.

What do you think? Should Rosen have done the interview with Anderson Cooper?  Was his apology real, adequate or effective?

The antagonism by Cooper was very predictable. Remember, you can refuse to do an interview if you don’t think you’re going to get a fair hearing.

If you’re looking for more media training tips, video clips and media relations resources, we’ve got plenty more in the PR Library. Our PR Bookstore has 17 media training books to choose from and I highly recommend Media Training 101: A Guide to Meeting the Press by Sally Stewart and Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual by Jonathan Bernstein (Amazon links).

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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