Truth Telling in Interviews
From the moment we are old enough to understand the difference between lies and the truth, most of us are trained to embrace the latter at all costs. Honesty is the paramount quality we seek in our politicians, business partners, spouses and friends.
The Folly of the “Tell All of the Truth” Philosophy
But when it comes to truthfulness in media interviews, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Occasionally, clients begin a media training session by announcing that they always tell the truth, and that they will answer any question with the exact –truthful- information which is requested by any reporter. While this philosophy is admirable in everyday conversation, those who have undergone media training understand that a news interview isn’t like a normal conversation, and shouldn’t be approached that way –at least, when it comes to content.
To understand the folly of the “tell all of the truth” philosophy, one need only consider its practical ramifications. Political candidates would reveal every skeleton in their closets, police officials would feed the media case-destroying details of every crime, and corporate public relations officials would offer up tantalizing industry secrets at the expense of the company’s profitability. In short, it would be a wonderful world for reporters, and a nightmare for everybody who ever talked to one.
People who don’t see the need to edit or refine the raw truthfulness of their answers run an obvious risk: Their defenses are compromised during the media interview process. Ironically, these people also tend to be the ones who benefit least from media training. After all, a client who believes media interviews should be handled with the same candor and directness of witness stand testimony typically rejects the very concepts put forth by trainers. Offering media training to these individuals is a little like trying to sell loafers to a double amputee.
Make no mistake, lying is never recommended. In fact, good media trainers stress that even guessing at information is unadvisable. Tell the truth, and if you don’t know the answer, just say so. But the simple fact of media communications is that it isn’t always necessary to answer a question, so long as you address the question to the reporter’s satisfaction. That’s much different from lying.
Rely on The Truth
The solution is to rely on The Truth as the proper foundation for your responses, rather than the exact content of your answers. In many cases, telling “everything” is prevented by company policy, or even by law. For example, doctors and hospital officials all know that new federal regulations tightly restrict how much of the truth they can reveal when it comes to patient information.
As for the rest of us, we must always remember that a news interview is not a deposition. A reporter is entitled to ask any question he or she wishes, but you are the ultimate authority on how much of your truth you wish to share.
Or, put another way: Tell the truth. But you don’t always have to tell all of the truth.