Podcast Episode #56: Lessons from Ken Starr’s Media Interview Debacle

The media interview is not the right time to be reviewing answers and going over tactics! Ken Starr, the recently ousted president of Baylor University following an investigation into the mishandling of  sexual assault at the school, and his media adviser Merrie Spaeth, founder of Spaeth Communications, learned this first-hand.

In a KWTX News 10 interview from earlier this month, a journalist ask Starr if he had seen an email that had the subject line “I was raped at Baylor.” Starr answered, “I honestly may have. I’m not denying that I saw it.”

Spaeth, whose firm specializes in strategic consulting, training and crisis communication, interrupted the interview. She requested the news director not use that answer, then asked Starr to leave the room so the two of them could regroup. Upon returning to the interview room, she said: “She (the reporter) needs to ask you that question again. Whether you do that on camera or not is up to you. I just want to be sure it doesn’t end up being mis-edited.”

The question is asked again, and this time Starr responds that he had no recollection of the email. He actually looks over to Spaeth to get her approval, to which she says: “Don’t look at me. Look at her.”

Just a day before this interview, Starr noted his desire to provide transparency in light of this situation.

There are many lessons that can be gleaned from this interview debacle. On episode 56 of FIR on Higher Education, I break down some of the lessons with Greg Brooks, Principal of the West Third Group. Among the topics we explore:

– Why a PR person should never interrupt an interview

– Is it necessary for a PR person to sit in on an interview to begin with?

– The difference between journalists’ mis-quoting a spokesperson and stupid answers

– Strategic transparency

– Lying to the press

– Ethics

If you have a reaction to this interview and would like to share your comments, feel free to do so on the FIR Google Plus Community Page.

For more insights about the lessons from this media interview debacle, access the following piece on Inside Higher Education.

About Greg Brooks
Greg Brooks is the Principal of West Third Group. The company provides counsel, strategies and solutions for those who have to engage the policymakers, the public or key customer segments. West Third Group’s primary focus is in business-to-business integrated marketing, as well as strategic outreach and communications projects for local, regional and state governments. More information is at http://west-third.com.


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