Reporter Rage

Many PR people have differing views on proper interview etiquette. When asked an outrageous question, should you point out that it’s outrageous, or bury your true feelings and calmly answer it? If an interview is conducted abusively and unprofessionally, is it ever okay to terminate it and walk away? When ambushed by a reporter demanding an on the spot interview, should you do it so you don’t look bad or politely decline?

While there are differing opinions on those kinds of issues, I’m pretty sure there is something close to unanimity around this PR question: Is it ever okay to aim a speeding three thousand pound vehicle at a reporter armed only with tough questions?”

Of course not, if the reporter’s version of the story is in fact correct. (As I joked with a reporter friend, that’s unprofessional behavior, unless you also place your well-worded public statement on the vehicle’s spiked side mirror.)

Seriously, has there ever been a better advertisement for the value of media training? Or perhaps frontal lobotomies? If this really happened, I hope this guy is awarded more than Dan Rather.

– Loveland

2 thoughts on “Reporter Rage

  1. bbenidt says:

    I worked with McEnroe at the old Minneapolis Star. I admire and like him enormously. He’s the defintion of dogged. If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t want Paul on your case. And the guy could make a corpse talk.

    He also knows that investigative journalism is a contact sport — and no doubt more than one person has wanted to drive over Paul. But no truck’s gonna intimidate McEnroe. If he’s throwing a lawsuit at the guy, I gotta believe this crazy incident happened.

    Interesting sidelight — when I was with Mona Meyer McGrath & Gavin, now Shandwick, the agency thought it would be good for its PR folks to attend the Star Tribune’s morning news huddle, to learn how news decisions are made. The paper had invited citizens to sit in. So the agency sent Dave Kuhn and me as the first PR folks to audit the news huddle (Armstrong and Aldrin, we), because Dave and I had been reporters at the paper in previous lives and we thought we might be more palatable than PR folks the journalists didn’t know. McEnroe saw us waddling through the newsroom, asked what was going on, and objected vociferously. He didn’t want the paper making it any easier for PR people to get their clients’ messages into the paper. And the program was ended — no more PR people were welcome. I kinda liked Paul standing up and hollering for what he believed.

    And you get to push back at reporters, to Joe’s first question. If they’re being tough, that’s part of the deal. If they’re being jerks, call them on it. If you’re being forthcoming and the reporter is trying to prove how much testosterone he or she has, be civil and firm and challenge the reporter to act like a human.

    If you’re hiding something or bullshitting, you’re fair game.

    Austin is a master at hanging tough with reporters — Jon, get in here and tell us a story.

  2. jmaustin says:

    I think Loveland’s weasel “…something close to unanimity…” was because he wasn’t entirely sure how I’d come down on the question. Every reporter? No matter how big the car? It’s hard to deal in absolutes.

    Actually, other than once having a Pioneer Press reporter literally try to climb over me on an escalator to get to my boss, I can’t remember getting physical with a reporter.

    Well, there was that time in a bar in St. Joseph, Missouri….

    Having a reporter stalk my boss or my client is a near-certain way to piss me off, especially if it’s a reporter who covers us as a beat and with whom we have a relationship. I’m not saying it’s an illegitimate tactic, but reporters shouldn’t be surprised that there can be consequences to violating the implicit norms of that relationship.

    Try it in reverse: how would you reporter types feel if I blew your exclusive by issuing a press release on the topic before you can get your story posted? I’ve done that a couple of time and the reporters in each case were understandably livid.

    – Austin

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