What should you do when the media attacks or a reporter misquotes you? What should you do when they take your comments out of context? Corporate spokespersons deal with these dilemmas all the time. So, it is ironic that CBS News anchor Gayle King is now asking this very question of her own network. CBS has been in crisis mode for days trying to deal with this major fight with its most popular news personality. King is mad. She says CBS News clearly messed her over. Welcome to the world of corporate spokespersons.
The Back Story
King is suffering a major public backlash following her interview with WNBA Star Lisa Leslie about the legacy of the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant. The journalist pushed Leslie (a personal friend of Bryant) to comment on rape charges brought against Bryant in 2003. She says CBS News took her media interview questions out of context. Later King made her feelings clear on Twitter. “I am mortified. I’m embarrassed,” she stated.
“Unbeknownst to me, my network put up a clip from a very wide-ranging interview, totally taken out of context and when you see it that way, it’s very jarring.” King added, “I felt really good about the interview. So, for the network to take the most salacious part, when taken out of context, and put it up online for people who didn’t see the whole interview is very upsetting to me.”
The Fall Out
Oprah Winfrey is sticking up for her best friend. She cried as she described King’s reaction to being attacked on social media by the public and other celebrities. Oprah says King has not slept in days and is now receiving death threats. But Oprah’s pleas for her friend are not stopping people from piling on. Rapper Snoop Dogg shared some choice words for King on social media. Fellow rapper 50 Cent joined in Snoop Dogg’s gritty attack. In an even stranger twist, incarcerated comedian Bill Cosby also lashed out at King from his prison cell.
The CBS Response
CBS News is usually on the reporting side of corporate crises, but the tables have turned. If this were a corporate spokesperson complaining, they would have very little to say publicly. But King is a valuable asset as their central news personality on CBS This Morning. Therefore, CBS took a step back and released a statement saying, “Gayle conducted a thoughtful, wide-ranging interview with Lisa Leslie about the legacy of Kobe Bryant. An excerpt was posted that did not reflect the nature and tone of the full interview. We are addressing the internal process that led to this and changes have already been made.”
Guarding Against Media Misquotes
Chances are that as long as news reporters are human, news organizations are going to continue making mistakes and misquoting sources. They will continue taking things out of context and ambushing spokespersons. Perhaps when robots take over newsrooms, they will get it right. But it is part of the human condition for people to miscommunicate. It is human to be biased in what you hear or do not hear. It is human to decide which comments make the headlines and which ones get buried at the bottom of the news story.
There are some things you and your organization can do when the media misquote you or take what you say out of context. The next time you schedule a media interview, consider these five steps:
1. Record Media Interviews – It is perfectly fine to record media interviews. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. News reporters will be much more careful when they know that you have an accurate record of the interview. Keep in mind that in many states both parties must give their consent to recording conversations.
“In many states both parties must give consent to recording conversations.”
2. Use Expert Observers – Be sure to have seasoned public relations professionals or media consultants present when you conduct a media interview. One time we were helping a client manage the news media throughout a major crisis. During one of the news conferences we realized the local ABC News reporter misunderstood a critical point made by the company spokesperson. We could tell by her follow up questions and nonverbal cues that she completely misunderstood his point. So, after the news conference, we grabbed the reporter and the spokesperson so he could clarify what he said during his media interview. It was a good thing we did, because the reporter was confused. She would have reported something very negative otherwise.
Benchmark Communications provides leadership, communication strategies, storytelling, media and reputation management services. Our experts help leaders and organizations be their best. If you would like to subscribe to our blog, contact us today or see the Subscribe Box on this page!
3. Cater to Learning Styles – Often times, reporters misquote media spokespersons due to a lack of subject matter knowledge or just plain old miscommunication. The media interview is primarily an auditory exchange of information. Yet, to fully comprehend information most people must also have a combination of auditory, visual and kinesthetic input. Without going off into a full media training course, just remember to give reporters press releases or send them digital overviews that include text and visuals to tap into the full bandwidth of human learning styles and convincer strategies.
“Give reporters press releases or digital overviews that include text and visuals…”
4. Corrections – When you are misquoted or things are taken out of context, contact the writer or reporter as soon as possible and ask for an immediate correction. With 24/7 news cycles, it is important to ask for timely corrections. If the reporter makes a major mistake that could be very harmful to your organization, consider when it is appropriate to have one of your top leaders make the call. It puts the news organization on notice that accuracy is expected.
5. Build Relationships – The best antidote for dealing with media misinformation is to develop respectful relationships with journalists. Get to know the news reporters that cover your organization and industry. Journalists are less likely to be reckless with their words when they know and respect you. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen quick corrections or robust retractions because of strong media relationships.
“Journalists are less likely to be reckless when they know and respect you.”
It will be interesting to see how things play out with CBS News and Gayle King. She is back at the news desk this week. It makes for an interesting turn of events when journalists are on the receiving end of being burned by the news media. Welcome to the world of the corporate spokesperson!
ABOUT GAIL & BENCHMARK COMMUNICATIONS
Gail lives on a Texas ranch with her family and some wonderful animals! We support a horse therapy program for people with disabilities, as well as local animal shelters that rescue abandoned dogs and cats.
Benchmark has consulted with and coached leaders and organizations from all 50 USA states and more than 25 countries. The team provides award-winning leadership and communication strategies to Fortune 500 groups so they can achieve their business, leadership and reputation management goals.