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Media and Crisis Management

Should you fight reporters – Obama vs Fox

Posted on: July 28th, 2012

Crisis Management: Should you fight reporters – Obama vs Fox Crisis communications

So, the White House attacks Fox News for being a wing of the Republican Party and “the opposition” rather than a legitimate news operation. Is fighting the news media a bad move?  99% of the time: yes.  It’s often perceived as desperation, diversion, shoot the messenger, and the public usually believes the reporter more than you anyway.  It generates additional conflict that’s even more newsworthy.  Plus the media have the last word.

Nevertheless, after years as a reporter then crisis manager, sometimes you fight back.  You reach a point when you have to stand up for what you believe against the odds.  This isn’t about Obama, this is about you the reader.

First of all, most reporters are trying to get it right.  Occasionally they make mistakes out of ignorance, writing too fast, or overlooking a significant point.  It’s not personal, they just screw up.  Many times I have contacted a reporter on behalf of a client about a story error.  Mostly they say, “Thanks for letting me know, I’ll fix it.”   If the reporter is part of the problem, a call to an editor or more senior person sometimes reigns in a wayward journalist.  In other words, if a story unfairly and mistakenly hurts you, don’t grumble about the !@#$%^&* media and ruminate.  Call!

Sometimes fighting back’s messy.  A radio reporter once accused my client and me of releasing bad news over a weekend to avoid heavy news coverage.  He was wrong and I explained the timing to him.   He didn’t believe me and repeatedly attacked my client anyway on his hourly newscast saying we were attempting to hide the story. There was a lot of yelling between him and me when I complained.  He refused to back off.   I called his superior and the on-air accusations stopped.

After a horrific situation involving a child’s accidental death, my client and I invited more than a dozen reporters to come learn of our efforts to fix problems.  One reporter used the opportunity to bash my client and did not mention our corrections.  I complained to him and we argued heatedly.  Neither of us relented.  Yet, one week later the reporter, on his own volition, revisited my client, did a constructive story this time, and a bond between us developed.

I once made a client available for an interview in a tense situation with a ground rule that he not ask about a legal matter.  He immediately violated the rule.  I tried to halt the interview.  He taped my interruption and portrayed me on his Charlotte newscast as a PR guy trying to stonewall the press.  A hot argument between us followed the next day.  I lost.

A seemingly hostile Maryland investigative reporter bore down on a client.  I talked with her and found she just wanted information.  Rather than fight, I threw open the doors and gave her the facts she sought. She complimented our transparency and dropped the story. We won.

As for Obama vs Fox, I have complained before about opinion shows juxtaposed against regular newscasts at MSNBC and elsewhere. Cable TV bloviators and Internet bloggers have blended hard news and opinion so much that many Americans either can’t separate the two or no longer try.

Obama vs Fox is one inevitable outcome.

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