Nobody is born knowing naturally how to speak to the news media but some people do learn in an early age. When I was in my 20s, I was a press spokesperson for a member of Congress. I remember one day in the office there, in Capitol Hill, these majestic buildings you are in, it is really law inspiring and then the phone rings. It is a reporter from roll call. One of the local newspapers that call that follows all the policies and all the legislation Capitol Hill. The reporter says “TJ I am doing a story on your boss’s legislation (HR 1484). (HR 1384) is unclear I do not understand it. I am hoping you could clear it up.” I said “Sam I am happy to you are right of (HR 1400) in committee.” When it does you will see it does X and it does Y. I explained it to him, reporter was incredibly friendly, polite, nice. The reporter said “Oh TJ thank you so much I really appreciate your professionalism, thanks for getting back to me right away answering my questions appreciate it.” Hung up the phone. Kind of puffed out my chest thinking “Wow I am good at this that reporters thinks I am great and I go home that night and I go home. That night I pack my suitcase because I am so excited. I am working for a Hawaiian member of Congress.” I am about to fly to Hawaii the next day. I cannot wait my whole life. I have seen images of Hawaii, the beautiful sunsets volcanoes, so I packed my suntan lotion, my Hawaiian shirt, my sunglasses. I walk into the Capitol the next day, put my suitcase down. There on my desk is roll call.
OK there, in the front page is the story about this legislation. Oh there is my name according to press spokesperson. TJ Walker quote “HR 1400 is unclear on page C 27.” This was before the internet it was actual paper on page C 27. There were more quotes for me nothing particularly bad or critical. I am explaining the details but the only quote on the front page is me, saying my boss’s legislation was unclear.
A few minutes pass, the buzzer rings on my phone. It is the chief of staff, he said “TJ I want you to come on into the office, go into the chief of staff’s office. He says “TJ I got good news and I got bad news. The good news you are all packed. The bad news is you are not going to Hawaii. You are not going anywhere you are fired. Get out of here.” Kicked out, fired that day. What are they done wrong? Well I committed a cardinal blunder of using the reporters worse. I use the reporter’s negative words, unclear, therefore I attacked my own boss’s legislation.
When you call something unclear it is a form of an attack. An attack is one of the 10 sound bite elements for any of you who have been in my media training courses. He will know that. So I answered the wrong way I reacted, I used the reporter’s words. I used negative words. It is kind of like when a politician gets caught saying I am NOT a crook. Well what is the only quote gonna be I am not a crook now. Was it the nastiest criticism? It was not harsh me but it was still criticism of my boss. Now can I claim that I was misquoted? Well no I actually said “it can I claim that I was quoted out of context.” I could but nobody cares. Because every quote is out of context. You can never complain about being quoted out of the context when you are presenting your ideas to the media. So I deserved that quote and I got what was coming to me. Smart people learn from not their own mistakes, other people’s mistakes. So the reason they tell this to you today is: so that you do not learn the hard way. And you lose your job like I do and you actually protect yourself. So that you know how answered questions correctly in a news media interview.
OK so what did I just do in that story? I let people know and I use this story when I am conducting typically a day-long media training course. I used this story for several reasons. Number one: I want people to know I am not just some natural-born genius that they cannot relate to. I mean if you go to basketball camp from Michael Jordan. He may tell you some good things. But at some level you are thinking “well I am not Michael Jordan I cannot just sail three feet above the rim and slam it down.” It is almost like his advice is not worth as much. Because he has so many natural gifts. I want people to realize I do not have any natural gifts. I do not have some innate talent for this. This is: I learned behavior and I tell them this for a couple reasons. I want them to realize that this is stuff I learned and therefore they can learn it too. I also want them to realize, there is a danger of talking to the media if you are prepared. I also want them to know that there is a very specific danger of using a reporter’s words. Back to them in an interview. So there is actually a couple of lessons. There that is why I use this story.