After prosecuting Charles Manson, Vincent Bugliosi went on to write “Helter Skelter” and a dozen other bestselling books. Here’s the section that jumped out at me from his New York Times Obituary.
“Bugliosi was one of those assigned to the team of prosecutors while the case was being investigated. When members of the rag tag Manson Family were caught and charged with the crimes months later, a more veteran prosecutor, Aaron Stovitz, was named head of the district attorney’s team and Bugliosi was assigned the second chair. But before long, a dispute arose between Stovitz and his boss over a remark he made to the media. He was summarily removed from the case and the intense, ambitious Bugliosi stepped into the role of a lifetime.”
Both Bugliosi’s live and Aaron Stovitz’s life were permanently altered because of one quote to the media made by Stovitz. Stovitz thought he was talking off the record to Rolling Stone; yet he was quoted and then fired because of it.
Bugliosi then moved to the top spot and was a media sensation every single day for the nine months of the Manson trial. That fame propelled Bugliosi in a career as an internationally renowned author and celebrity.
Stovitz remained in obscurity for the rest of his life.
The media gods giveth and the media gods taketh away.
Here are the two big takeaways form this episode:
- Don’t say anything “off the record” to a reporter that could get you fired.
- If you are going to say something off the record, you must get a strong verbal agreement from a reporter in advance. You can’t simply blurt out “this is off the record but here’s what really happened…” The reporter is under no ethical obligation to keep that statement off the record.
TJ Walker is president of Media Training Worldwide. You can find his online training courses here. https://www.mediatrainingworldwide.com/online-training.html