Mike Fright was written for business and professional spokespersons who are preparing to be interviewed by reporters, both print and broadcast, local and national. It is also for anyone who is called upon to make "big speeches to
small audiences;" those all important presentations before regulatory bodies, stock analysts and committees of Congress.
About the Author:
For thirteen years David Snell was a correspondent for ABC News, covering a wide variety of stories from Apollo space flights to Viet Nam. In 1980 his Atlanta based consulting firm - Effective Communications - has helped Fortune 500 companies, law firms and government agencies communicate more effectively through one-on-one coaching and his Media Awareness and Speaking Freely workshops. David and his wife Mary Lou have two sons and make their home in Stone Mountain, GA.
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Read an Excerpt
The Westmoreland Syndrome
You're the expert. You should know the answer. But, for whatever reason, when the reporter asks the question, you honestly can't remember. Embarrassed? Sure you are. So what do you do? Ask William Westmoreland. He knows now what he didn't seem to know back in 1982 when he was interviewed by Mike Wallace for a documentary that came to be called, "The Uncounted Enemy: A Viet Nam Deception." Relatively few saw the interview which was broadcast by CBS on a Saturday night, but the repercussions brought it to the attention of most of the country when William C. Westmoreland, General of the Army, Retired, sued Wallace and CBS for libel. On the screen, the general had exhibited the classic signs of cotton-mouth fear, constantly licking his lips as Wallace bore in. On the witness stand, in the trial that followed, General WestmorelandCommander of Allied forces in Viet Nam for the period of its biggest escalation and veteran of hundreds of interviews said he hadn't reviewed his files on infiltration from North Viet Nam in more than ten years when Mike started asking him questions about it. Nevertheless, during the interview he had soldiered on, digging himself into an ever deepening hole. "I realized I was participating in my own lynching," he later testified.
The eighteen-week Westmoreland vs CBS libel trial and the CBS documentary that spawned it has been debated by journalists, lawyers and the general public. But no one has said the obvious: It never had to happen in the first place. I am not speaking here of the journalistic merits of the documentary or whether the General was, in fact, right in bringing the libel suit. I'll leave that to history. My point is that the General, or anyone else participating in a media interview, has options.
General Westmoreland told the jury that he had not anticipated questions on intelligence reports and had not taken the time to refresh his memory on details of events that had taken place more than a decade before. Taking him at his word, and putting aside the matter of whether he should have anticipated (I'll get to that later), if he couldn't remember, why didn't he say so?
The General has not confided in me. But, I submit, the reason is obvious. Despite his vast experience in front of television cameras, William Westmoreland failed to understand that the interview does not belong to the reporter, even if the reporter is the redoubtable Mike Wallace. Rather, it is a shared experience, by mutual agreement. Why didn't he acknowledge his lack of readiness to answer the questions? In another man, you might suspect "Mike (as in Wallace) Fright," but the two worthies had faced-off on numerous occasions before in Viet Nam and elsewhere, so that seems unlikely. My guess is that the general was shot down by his own ego. Generals just know. Chances are he was too embarrassed to utter the words, "I don't know." The Modified 5th
As the good general would surely tell you today, when you realize you're participating in your own lynching, DON'T. Hard as it may be to admit that you don't know (or have forgotten) something you should know, the momentary embarrassment is certainly preferable to the possible alternative.
What the general should have said was, "gosh, Mike, I really don't remember." By the simple device of telling the truththat he didn't rememberhe would have avoided the embarrassment of the program and the hassle of the trial (which ended when CBS agreed to issue a statement saying it hadn't intended to impugn his integrity).
Avoiding the Westmoreland Syndrome: Although you may never face off against Mike Wallace, or even a Wallace surrogate, you can avoid ending up with foot-in-mouth or egg-on-face if you think of the interview as yours as well as the reporter's and act accordingly. A good reporter will prepare a list of questions he expects to ask. You should do the same. By anticipating the questions and preparing your answers, you will free your mind to deal with the unexpected. Then, if you don't know the answer to a question, you can say so. A simple "I don't know" can save the day, especially when coupled with your assurance that "I'll check it out and get back to you."
Table of Contents
|Introduction: The News Biz|
|1: Owning Your Own Interview||19|
|It's Your Interview, Too:|
|Upside Down Answers|
|The A-TEAM Model|
|Building Better Bridges|
|Taming Your Butterflies|
|2: How To Boil A Frog||49|
|A Shark By Any Other Name|
|A Different Language Wardrobe|
|3: Handling The Hostile Reporter||60|
|How To Defuse|
|The Westmoreland Syndrome|
|The Bergman Syndrome|
|The Big Bright (Slightly Tarnished) Star|
|4: When 60 Minutes Calls||76|
|5: Care And Feeding of Reporters||87|
|They're Not Your Buddies|
|But You Need Them|
|They Need You, Too|
|Respect Their Deadlines|
|Off the Record, And Other Hazards|
|Meet the (Foreign) Press|
|6: What To Do When It Is Live||99|
|Trying On The Room|
|Staring Down The Camera|
|7: The Interviewee's Bill of Rights||107|
|8: Going Public||111|
|The Q & A|
|Speaking Isn't Reading|
|The Two-Color Note Technique|
What People are Saying About This
This is the best book yet about handling the often rocky terrain of media interviews. Drawing on thirteen years experience as a network news correspondent (ABC) and nearly twenty years as a communications consultant, David Snell delivers the goods in the same highly anecdotal style that has kept him in demand as a speaker and trainer. If you meet the media, Mike Fright is a must buy. -- (William C. Adams, Associate Professor of Public Relations, Florida International University)
A good spokesperson views the interview as an opportunity to communicate to and through the reporter, says media consultant David Snell, who has written a "survival manual" on how to talk to the media. His book is entitled Mike Fright: How to Succeed in Media Interviews When Mike Wallace (or Sam or Diane or Tom or Conne) Comes Calling. One of Snell's tips: Even though the tape is rolling, it's not necessary to answer the question immediately. "You can stop, take a deep breath, and actually think before you answer....If you need a little more time.you might say, 'I really hadn't thought of that question in just the way you asked it. Let me think a minute. (Pause) Okay, as me again.' No TV station is going to use up valuable air time listening to you collect your thoughts. The reporter will ask the question again and give you the opportunity to answer it," Snell says. Jerry Walker, O'Dwyer's PR Services Report May 1999
Your book is terrific. (Fraser Seitel, Publisher, The Public Relations Strategist)
I read your book. It's damn good. Mike Wallace, Correspondent, CBS News