Media Training: The Justin Bieber Edition

Justin Bieber, the 16-year-old pop superstar, caused a controversy this week when he shared his political views on controversial topics in a Rolling Stone cover story.  

He’s young, and I can’t fault him for making a few mistakes under the crushing media spotlight (I do, however, question whether his management has invested enough in ongoing media training for their star client).

Justin Bieber Rolling Stone

In the article, Bieber made at least four unforced errors:

1. He Answered Controversial Questions

When asked his opinion on divisive issues – including on abortion, rape, and health care – Bieber willingly answered the reporter. Among other things, he told the interviewer he believes abortion is wrong, even in cases of rape. (Note: his team suggests he was misquoted; Rolling Stone stands behind its story).

To be clear, stars have as much right to express a personal opinion as do the rest of us. But those opinions often come at a price to their careers, and the choice to answer those questions should be deliberate. If Bieber’s goal is to appeal to the widest-possible audience, he should stop answering those questions. If he’s willing to become a star of more limited appeal (Barbra Streisand likely attracts as many tea party members as Toby Keith does progressives), he’s on the right track.

2. He Used Sarcasm, Which Rarely Works In Print

Bieber, a Canadian, expressed a preference for his nation’s health care system. According to the article:

“’I’ll never be an American citizen,’ he says, and adds, half-jokingly, “‘You guys are evil. Canada’s the best country in the world.’”

Guess which part of his quote ended up on the cover? I can’t imagine Bieber really thinks Americans are evil, and I’m guessing that his tone of voice and facial expression made that clear. But the printed word does away with inflection, and words themselves are read more literally.

3. He Forgot Who His Audience Was

The Rolling Stone story says:

“Bieber is a heartfelt Christian, but he’s nervous talking about it, and makes sure that I’m a Christian too before he opens up.”

Bieber forgot that he shouldn’t have been having a conversation with the reporter, but rather should have been talking to the audience through her. The reporter’s religious sympathies shouldn’t have entered the equation. If he was comfortable sharing his views with everyone, fine. If he wasn’t, he shouldn’t have shared them with the reporter.

4. He Forgot His Background

The article’s author writes that Bieber:

“…starts fiddling with his two computers…he balances it on his knees, opening it up with the intent of typing something, but when he realizes that I’m seeing his wallpaper, a picture of him and Selena against an orangy sunset, he hurriedly shuts it.”

Everything a reporter sees is fair game for a story, so interviewees have to more carefully monitor their backgrounds to prevent unwanted facts from leaking out.

A Final Word: American Idol

Tonight, American Idol will cut its roster down to 24 contestants, all of whom will be thrust into the glare of the media spotlight for the first time.

It’s easy to disparage stars as overly-indulged (they often are), but the truth is usually more complicated. These new celebrities are too often unprepared to deal with the media attention that accompanies their sudden rise. They would be wise to remember the lessons in this article, and avoid commenting on controversial topics unless they directly relate to their goals.

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