Why You Shouldn’t Record Your Interviews

After President Trump walked out of his 60 Minutes Interview and then released his own recording before airtime, some of my clients asked a simple question: Is it OK to record your interview as it happens? I’ll address that here, along with some other reporter FAQs that have been coming up recently.

So can I record it? Should I?

The answer to the first part is probably yes. The answer to the second is probably no. Although there are state and federal laws prohibiting surreptitious recordings, they usually pertain to conversations in which there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” which certainly doesn’t apply to a news interview.

So what if you just tell the reporter up front? (The White House apparently told CBS they would be recording the interview for “archival” purposes.) This approach eliminates legal and ethical concerns, but the strategic considerations linger. Why approach an interview with so much distrust that you feel you need your own recording? It adds an unnecessary layer of suspicion, and puts a reporter on the defensive. It might be better to decline the interview altogether (and yes, the president’s situation is unique because of the potential rewards of doing 60 Minutes right before the election and because, well, he’s Donald Trump).

Can I designate some questions “off limits?”

I received a media training inquiry recently from a PR agent (notice I didn’t use the word “pro”) who asked me to teach his client that they can always designate certain questions off limits in an interview. I didn’t take that gig. Tabloids and entertainment news outlets have been known to agree to such conditions, but mainstream news outlets never will, nor should they.

Can I demand to see the story before it runs?

Demand? No. Offer? Yes. The worst thing that could happen is you get a “No, thanks.” Many technical trades will allow, and even appreciate “fact checking” by the people they interview, especially in an era when editors are an endangered species. The New York Times? Not so much.

A news interview is a brisk ride down a curvy and sometimes treacherous highway. Make sure you know the rules of the road.

Mark Bernheimer

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