How to Decide When to Talk to the Media
It’s easy to deny charges when the allegations are false, but what happens when the allegations against you are true? How should you respond when someone accuses you or your business of a negative act, and inside you know it did happen? I wouldn’t recommend pulling a page from President Clinton’s crisis book and denying it at all costs.
President Clinton rightfully assumed it was going to be his word versus the word of a former intern and most of America would see him as the credible one. He obviously didn’t take into account the stained dress would survive the years and surface as evidence. Likewise, you never know what evidence the reporter or producer has supporting the allegation against you, so don’t deny something that you know is true. Reporters are paid to find facts and if they find any information that proves you are lying, all credibility is lost for good.
I’m of the journalism school that subscribes it will almost always hurt you to decline an interview with the media, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent. If you say no to an interview, you have virtually no chance of shaping the story’s coverage. However, if you say yes to an interview and artfully prepare your statements you can at least maintain damage control. And with a little splash of spin, there is even a chance you could turn a negative story into a positive one.
There are several reasons why I say it will almost always hurt you to not talk to the media. The most important reason is you give a reporter full reign to pursue his story when you decline to speak on the record. Every allegation in a reporter’s story must be vetted or at least screened by the accused for legal reasons, but if you refuse to talk to the journalist, he doesn’t have to run the allegations by anyone. Effectively, you remove a reporter’s checks and balances by refusing to talk to a reporter.
In addition, if you don’t defend yourself people will assume you are guilty. Even if the reporter reads a statement from you, viewers and readers will gloss over that element of the story. Instead, they will see and hear a victim making strong charges against you. They will hear evidence supporting the victim’s claim. And then they are going to hear the reporter say on camera, “The owner of the business, Mr. Johnny Jones, refused to answer any of our questions.”
The subconscious mind will be moving in high gear when this is heard.
Why wouldn’t the owner talk to the reporter? Viewers and readers will assume the businessman is guilty and hiding something. If he didn’t do it, he would deny it. It’s common human behavior to assume guilty people try to hide. And if you don’t believe that, think back to the OJ Simpson police chase involving his White Bronco. Nearly all of America cast their guilty vote after they saw OJ running from the law.
So don’t let the subconscious mind sway minds. Be overt and upfront when it comes to talking to reporters. Just be careful in how your frame and establish the narrative.
Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.