Christine O’Donnell Walks the Walk

Tea Party activist and former congressional candidate Christine O’Donnell appeared on Piers Morgan  to promote her new book, in which she admits to making serious media mistakes during her campaign.

It is ironic, then, that she cemented her designation as a Media Disaster in the process.

Increasingly flustered, O’Donnell committed the cardinal media sin of walking off the set when Morgan’s questions turned to the topic of gay marriage.

Let’s Get One Thing Straight

I haven’t read O’Donnell’s book, so I have no idea whether it touches on the topic of gay marriage as Morgan insists. But O’Donnell’s protests that it is “rude” for a TV host to cover subjects an interviewee would prefer to avoid is either wishful –or delusional–thinking.

Piers Morgan is very different than the man he replaced at CNN, legendary master of the softball, Larry King. And whether you like Morgan or long for the old days, one cannot accuse the former tabloid journalist of preferring sycophantic star worship over controversy, especially when it might bring him publicity of his own. Prospective guests who forget that do so at their own peril.

Once the Cameras Roll, It’s Too Late

Was Morgan persistent, stubborn, even obnoxious in his pursuit of the gay marriage question? Certainly. It was O’Donnell’s job (and that of her communications staff) to be prepared for that style. I’m not sure why O’Donnell was so determined to avoid the gay marriage topic when she is so willing to discuss other controversial issues. But regular readers of this series know that walking off the set is a tragically ill-advised way to handle a rough interview. The only way to make it worse? Put up a transparent pretense that you are being “pulled away” by your people. These tactics only make the interviewer –in this case, Morgan– look like the rational one.

It’s Still YOUR Interview

None of this is to imply that an interviewee is obligated to answer every question; quite the contrary. But if certain topics or questions are to be made “off limits,” it is imperative that the interviewee: (a) be prepared to rationally explain why, (b) practice and execute bridging techniques to get back to key messages, and (c) maintain composure at all times.

Otherwise, a reporter’s persistence can turn a friendly promotional opportunity into a bona fide Media Disaster.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.