Vikings’ Jerry Burns Reminds Us How Badly PR Has F-ed Up News Viewing

The field of public relations has sucked nearly all the emotion, candor, color and sincerity out of news programming.

I haven’t done formal research on this, but my sense is that all of this started in the political world.  After the political handlers got done “training” their bosses and clients, the politicans became rhetorical robots.  As a result, they are now less likely to say anything politically perilous, but they are also unlikely to say anything remotely thought-provoking or candid.

The Sunday news shows are living proof.   Virtually no intelligent life can be found there.  It’s not because the guests aren’t intelligent.  It’s because the guests have all been trained.

About the same time, the burgeoning class of media trainers started to suck out what little color and candor ever existed in the world of corporate communications.  PR pros taught their bosses and clients to stay emotionally flat, avoid unflattering questions, and stay “on message” at all costs.  That is sound advice for the client, to a point, but it is absolutely lethal for audiences hoping to learn anything about a businessperson’s actual personality, insights, or intentions.

Increasingly, this rhetorical neutering reached, sigh, the sports world.  Listen to current Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, in all his emotionally flat, cliché-ridden blandness.  “One game at a time,” “everyone do their jobs,” “you take what they give you,” “stick with our game plan.”  Blah, blah, blahtedy blah.  Like white noise, Frazier interviews numb the ear drum.

The ever-programmed Coach Frazier will never begin to hold a player publicly accountable.  For instance, when wide receiver Percy Harvin recently spent a week acting like a spoiled brat, Coach Frazier, who had to be absolutely livid, instead looked like he had been lobotomized.  I can assure you, he had been, by media trainers.

As a result of all this training, I am no more likely to watch an interview of the Vikings’ verbal Vulcan than I am to watch an interview of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi.  I have learned from experience that none of them will ever say anything remotely genuine or unscripted.  After all, they have been trained.

If you doubt me about how bad sports interviews have become from a spectators’ standpoint, treat yourself to a walk down memory lane with former Vikings Coach Jerry Burns.

Warning:  Do not watch this with the volume up within earshot of  the kiddies, clergy or your mother:

And mind you, this was a game the Vikings won.

Put that Burns interview alongside a contemporary Leslie Frazier interview, and you will see why the NFL is now rightfully called the “No Fun League.”  Burnsy wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions out, provide somewhat frank analysis and bring his cartoon character personality to the screen.  Burns was employed in the entertainment business, and he entertained unabashedly.

If the Vikings hired me to media train Jerry Burns, I supposed I’d feel obligated to put him through Charm School.  And you know what?  F*#k me for doing it.

– Loveland

Programming note:  Thanks to a West Coast Rowdy reader for passing along the vintage video.

One Man’s “Artful Dodging” Is Another’s Blocking and Bridging

The Washington Post today offers up an instructive discussion on the difference between “blocking and bridging” – the technique that is at the heart of media relations – and simply ducking the question.  In particular, the article discusses how audiences perceive those who use the techniques and those who don’t:

In a series of particularly relevant experiments, psychologists Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton recently showed that most people are extremely poor at spotting even dramatic discrepancies between questions and answers. They found the failure was especially acute when answers were semantically linked to questions — for example, when a question about the war on drugs is parried by an answer about health care. Audiences seemed to notice dodges only when answers were completely unrelated to the question — such as responding to a question about illegal drugs by discussing terrorism.

The psychologists found that irrelevant answers delivered fluently and with poise scored higher with audiences than answers that were accurate, on-topic, but halting. And when they had actors deliver the same answers to audiences — once fluently and once with “ums” and “ahs” — audiences judged the hesitant responses as intellectually inferior to the fluent ones.

These findings underscore the key message media trainers hammer home  during sessions: preparation and practice are the keys to successfully working with the media.  Prep and practice will help you define the topics you want to talk about, the questions you’re likely to get and the verbal “blocks” and “bridges” that let you get from one to another. account payable fine