Working with the Enemy of the People

I wish I could tell you the media were the enemy of the people.

I’d be the world’s most successful media trainer if I could somehow convince my clients that reporters were treacherous adversaries single-mindedly determined to ruin them.

Imagine the dramatic copy I could plaster all over the MediaWorks website. Sure, some clients would stop doing news interviews altogether. But others would be so worried about negative coverage, they would invest heavily and repeatedly in defensive media training, in the same way that a paranoid pedestrian pays for karate lessons.

There are only two problems: I know that reporters aren’t the enemy of the people, and I don’t lie to my clients.

You probably heard about CNN’s Jim Acosta confronting White House press secretary Sarah Sanders over her refusal to disavow the president’s dangerously irresponsible words about the press. And maybe you side with Sanders, after having had a negative experience with the media of your own (I certainly do not pretend that all reporters are innocent or that every media outlet is virtuous; there are bad cops, bad PR pros, and bad journalists).

The problem isn’t just that the “enemy of the people” mentality paints every journalist with one brush, contradicts our constitution, and will, in my opinion, eventually cause physical harm to a working reporter. The trouble is that mindset constitutes a counterproductive PR strategy. It deprives you of your ability to take advantage of the media and tell your story.

A news interview isn’t a deposition or an interrogation. It is a presentation. Sure, you have to accommodate the Q&A format, but that doesn’t mean the reporter has to be the one in control. Here’s how I explained it during a keynote at the this year’s #SwimBiz conference in Colorado:

But remember: Even if you follow this advice and prioritize your own objectives first, that won’t guarantee that a story turns out in your favor. We can choose our interviews and master our content, but we cannot control the outcome of any news story.

Even (especially) if we’re the president.

Mark Bernheimer

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