In my dealings with political and business leaders around the world, I find that many spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the following three perceived media threats:
- Surprise, tough questions.
- Hostile, biased reporters.
- Hostile, biased media outlets.
And in my experience, these are not the things that actually get leaders into trouble.
Case in point, last week Fox News Channel’s Megyn Fox asked Jeb Bush this question:
“Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion (of Iraq)?”
This set off a chain of events for an entire week from Bush that had him answering
- I didn’t understand the question.
- It’s a disservice to the military to talk about it.
- I don’t do hypothetical’s.
- Damn it, if I have to do hypothetical’s, than I guess I wouldn’t have gone to Iraq.
These twists and turns were roundly ridiculed and mocked, not just by the liberal and mainstream media, but by all conservative media as well. Many conservatives are now openly questioning Bush’s intelligence and competence, something that was previously considered a given.
It’s important to note that the question that threw Bush into so much turmoil, was not in any way a surprise-everyone had been predicting this question for years. The reporter, Megyn Kelly, is hardly seen as hostile to GOP candidates. And the network itself was founded by Jeb Bush’s dad’s political consultant, Roger Ailes.
So nothing about this scenario fits the format of what politicians think is trouble-yet it still created trouble.
I’m not in the Bush inner circle, but I have to assume that he and his team have gotten lazy and they don’t do video rehearsals before major interviews. If Bush had rehearsed, he’d have a good answer for such an obvious answer.
Here are all the ways Bush Blundered:
- Not listening carefully to the question.
- Not having a simple, clear and definitive answer to the question.
- Coming up with a new, different answer every day created new news hooks and fodder for attacks.
- Suggesting that it was dishonoring military families for talking about it was patently absurd and looked craven.
- Suggesting that he can’t answer hypothetical questions as a presidential candidate is absurd to everyone across the political spectrum. Practically the only thing a presidential candidate does is answer hypothetical questions.
- Acting annoyed and trapped when he finally answered the question mad him look small and petty.
The lesson for Bush and all other politicians is as follows:
- Have answers prepared for tough questions you know are coming.
- Rehearse on video.
- Your answers have to pass the laugh test. You can’t say you won’t answer hypothetical questions or that talking about a subject is mean to military families.
- You can’t act annoyed or peeved or embarrassed when answering a question. Just answer the question as if you are happy to be there.
TJ Walker is founder of Media Training Worldwide http://www.mediatrainingworldwide.com/online-training.html