A Combative Media Guest: Smart To Attack The Interviewer?

I’m frequently asked whether it’s a good idea to attack the media (or a reporter, or a reporter’s questions) during a media interview.

Generally speaking, the answer is no. But the more nuanced answer is that it depends on your goals.

Phil Kent, a member of Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review board, serves as a perfect example. When he sat down with a reporter from Atlanta’s 11Alive News last week, he attacked several of the reporter’s questions (and even questioned whether the reporter fell asleep during Journalism 101).

That’s not necessarily a surprise – the conservative firebrand once served as Sen. Strom Thurmond’s press secretary, acts as the national spokesperson for Americans for Immigration Control, and has written incendiary books such as The Dark Side of Liberalism.

But are his attacks on the media effective? Watch this must-see video below and decide for yourself (2020 update: Video no longer available):

If Mr. Kent’s goal is to build his name recognition to sell books to a relatively narrow (but enthusiastic) base of supporters, then his attacks are effective. But if his goal is to persuade other people to agree with his beliefs, I’d argue he is squandering his opportunity. His smug delivery may turn on people who already agree with him, but it almost certainly alienates many viewers who might otherwise have been open to his ideas.

I draw an analogy between Mr. Kent and Sarah Palin. Like Mr. Kent, the former Alaska governor has made sport of attacking the “impotent” “lamestream” media for asking “gotcha questions.” If Ms. Palin’s goal is to build a relatively limited but enthusiastic base that will allow her to increase her appearance fees and remain a darling on the conservative speaking circuit, she’s been effective. But if her goal is to build a wide-enough base to win a national election, I’d argue that her attacks have been counterproductive.


Reporter Doug Richards’s questions elicited annoyed responses from Phil Kent.

Reporter Doug Richards’s questions elicited annoyed responses from Phil Kent.Here’s my bottom line: If you want to use the media to influence the widest-possible group of people, attacking the media is rarely a good long-term media strategy. If you’re a political candidate or interest group on the political right or far left, it might be.

A grateful to tip of the hat to reader Juliet Charney, who forwarded me this clip.

In the category of things that sound dirty but actually aren’t, I want to tweet you. Follow my Twitter feed at @MrMediaTraining to keep up with the latest media and presentation training tips. 

Related: How To Beat an Unfair Host During an Interview

Related: Five Tactics Reporters Use to Intimidate You