Michael Jackson’s (Spin) Doctor

Important media rule: If you are a doctor whose world famous pop star patient winds up dead, make sure your first public comments have some kind of meaning.

That’s a tip Dr. Conrad Murray either never received, or chose to ignore.


Murray, who is being investigated in connection with Michael Jackson’s sudden death, broke his silence with a 1-minute YouTube video in which he stared blankly at the camera and mechanically recited a script clearly written -or at least heavily vetted- by his attorneys.
But it was the presentation’s content, or lack thereof, that proved to be most bewidering.

What Happened to the Rules of Crisis?

The first rule of crisis media training is to express empathy when somebody has been hurt. You need not accept responsibility for the crisis, but how about at least acknowledging that something bad has happened? Murray could have used words like, “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend and patient,” or, “I share in the grief and anguish over this tragedy.” Or how about at least making reference to Jackson’s now fatherless children?

What WAS His Message, Anyway?

After watching the clip four times, I was at a loss to determine what the doctor’s underlying key message was, or why he even bothered to record the video in the first place.

Murray didn’t mention Jackson once. Instead, he seemed to portray himself as the victim –thanking his supporters and insisting he had been telling the truth. Perhaps he was trying to communicate with a potential jury pool. But communicate what?

Why Wasn’t He Prepared?

Finally, consider this: Murray had nearly two months to prepare for this presentation. He chose the increasingly popular “reporterless” medium of YouTube as his vehicle. But his stilted, unconvincing delivery proves that even this do-it-yourself form of PR requires training in order to be effective. Media training does not have to be reporter training. Whether or not you believe Dr. Murray committed a crime, one thing is fairly certain: From a PR perspective, he is guilty of being a genuine media disaster.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent (1995-2000) and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.

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