Thursday, April 09, 2009

"And that's the way it is...."

Next week, (April 15) “Perky” Katie Couric (homage to Rush) will receive the Walter Cronkite award for her torpedoing of Sarah Palin during the campaign. (Note: Get this, the “award” is presented by “the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California…” Anything pretending to be unbiased or objective with the name Normal Lear attached to it is LAUGHABLE)

A press post on Couric’s site proclaims:

“Evening News anchor Katie Couric was honored for her
"extraordinary, persistent and detailed multi-part interviews with Republican
vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin" which judges called a "defining moment
in the 2008 presidential campaign." She was given the award for Special
Achievement for National Impact on the 2008 Campaign.

Today, John Ziegler a blogger on “Big Hollywood” is spot-on with his observation that there exists a double standard when it comes to this award:

“And is there any doubt whatsoever that had Couric asked the exact same questions and Palin had been perceived as having performed well (or if one of her softball interviews with Barack Obama had brought down his candidacy) that there would be no awards for her from USC or anyone else of note?”

Editor’s Note: Ziegler is working on a documentary about the shenanigans perpetrated by our friends in the Fourth Estate. You can hear clips of Sarah’s version of the Katie interview and judge for yourself. Check it out.

Now, I too shudder at the mere mention of Perky Katie (in general) and double shiver thinking about Walter’s Award going to Katie. I do realize Sarah was set-up for a fall, and that the media would have treated (and did) Democratic candidates differently. How Obama avoids getting questioned about his pick for VP running mate, the same guy who casually dismissed him as a serious Democrat presidential contender with “… the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy…” is beyond me.

Having said all that, I'm sorry, but sometimes we have to own up and accept a problem. Thus it’s right around here where I depart from the Party Line.

I'm in the communications business and can plainly tell you that SOMEbody in that campaign should have known better about a LOT of things dealing with that interview—either Sarah or her PR staff. If the staff failed, then shame on them and Sarah should either say so (better yet, not say anything.) If the staff DID prep her sufficiently, then this was a case of “operator error” and Sarah needs to accept blame.

Since this debacle, I've wondered about the extent of the media training she had received either before the nomination or during the campaign. (For those who consider "Media Training" a dirty word taken to mean prepped to be evasive, not candid or untruthful, then think "experience being interviewed").

I've trained clients before. There were steps The McCain Campaign could have taken to avoid this possibility or mitigate the aftermath, but I don't know if they were pursued.

First – Media Training (or at least, practice). Some clients take to training like ducks to water; others don't do so well. One would assume that as an elected state governor, she's done an interview or two. But even so, with all due respects, that's Alaska TV; Perky Katie (like it or not) was the Big Leagues. Sarah looked like AA-rookie.

Second—The media’s not your friend. Perhaps Sarah’s natural personality is to be trusting. Best Case: Maybe Katie’s non-recorded, pre-interview cooing and fawning “girl-talk” in the Green Room beguiled Sarah into lowering her defenses. Worst case: Sarah is close to what she appeared to be – unprepared and uninformed. Whatever was the case, SOMEbody has to remind the interviewee – especially Republicans – that the news media is NOT your friend, never let your guard down and be ready!

Third—Pre-interview intelligence. Somebody has GOT to know something about the line of questioning; those ground rules are negotiated as part of the interview booking process. You certainly can’t ask for questions in advance, and you shouldn’t expect the reporter to stick to an agreement EVEN IF they agreed. But much like anyone who is caught on a “Borat” film – you HAVE to know what you’re getting into; if you don't, you get no sympathy from me.

Fourth—At least know the background on positions YOUR campaign is putting out. One of Katie’s questions followed up a campaign message that John McCain had been way out in front of the Subprime and Fanny Mae/Freddy Mac mess screaming “danger, danger” to the deaf eared news media and a disinterested public. Sarah didn’t have a “two-deep” message (or understanding) for a comeback, and it showed.

Fifth—You shouldn’t have to prep or train or practice giving honest, straightforward answers to relevant questions. This wasn’t as bad as the “Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?" question George Bush was sandbagged with by a BBC reporter during the primaries before the 2000 campaign. THAT is a gotcha question.

“What do you read?” isn’t hard to answer if you DO read; it is if you don’t.

Sixth—The campaign should have taken a page out of Herbalife’s 20/20 experience. Stipulated to all interviews that the Campaign would also be permitted to tape the interview concurrently and have the rights to use (and streamed it on YouTube) after the spot aired on CBS. If it was “gotcha-edited” you could have let the public see for themselves -- and shamed the Eye Network at the same time.

I’m sorry, Sarah or her team has got to own this one.