Off-Message: Autism Awareness…And Birthers?

Bob Wright, the former chairman of NBC/Universal, appeared on MSNBC with his wife Suzanne earlier this week to discuss Autism Awareness Month.

As background, Mr. and Mrs. Wright are heavily involved in autism-related charitable work, forming a foundation called Autism Speaks in 2004 after their grandson was diagnosed with the disorder. According to Wikipedia, their group “…is now the largest organization representing families and people with autism in the U.S. with affiliates in the U.K., Canada and Qatar.”

But when they appeared on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” Mr. Wright got off to a strange start with his first answer (Video no longer available):

Bob Wright: (holds up a document) “I just want to tell you I brought my birth certificate with me in case there’s any issue here…this has become very important now.”

Mr. Wright’s odd comment was not only WAY off-message, but also a complete non sequitur. It wasted 30 seconds of his four minute interview. And it took the audience from Andrea Mitchell’s informative introduction about autism to…people who doubt President Obama is an American citizen…and then back to autism again?

His crack distracted the audience and risked undercutting his credibility (“strange guy,” you could easily imagine the audience thinking).

The rest of the interview makes clear just how passionate and informed Mr. and Mrs. Wright are about autism. It’s a shame Mr. Wright used this high-profile opportunity to undercut his message.

Whenever I post a story like this, someone writes in and suggests that the spokesperson may have  inserted this “distraction” intentionally to help make the video go viral and get more exposure for the cause. I doubt it. Mr. Wright was almost certainly reacting to the segment that preceded him on the show.

In so doing, he forgot a critical lesson: media interviews should be strategic and purposeful. And although you can occasionally display your genuine sense of humor, you shouldn’t do it by straying from your message to introduce a completely unnecessary distraction.

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