When Your Boss Is Being Interviewed, Don’t Interrupt

What should you do if your boss is being interviewed for television and you think one of the reporter’s questions is unfair? Should you:

  1. Give your boss an opportunity to point out the error himself?
  2. Point out the error to the reporter after the interview, but while the cameras are still set up?
  3. Let it go uncorrected unless it was a major error?

If you’re the press secretary for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, you choose a fourth option – interrupt the interview from the sidelines by shouting out your objection.

Even if it’s during an interview with Lesley Stahl for 60 Minutes, which aired on Sunday (it happens at about 11:15):

This story gets better.

Cantor’s press secretary, who shouted “That just isn’t true, and I don’t want to let that stand,” was protesting Ms. Stahl’s assertion that President Reagan increased taxes. But Mr. Reagan did raise taxes.

That means Mr. Cantor’s chief spokesperson not only committed a basic media relations no-no by interrupting the interview, but that he was wrong on the facts when he did.

Interrupting an interview almost always makes the story bigger. Just ask Emily Miller, who, as a member of Secretary Colin Powell’s staff in 2004, infamously pulled the plug on an interview with Meet the Press Host Tim Russert.

After Powell\’s aide moved the camera out of the way, Russert protested the interruption

If Mr. Cantor’s press secretary needed to make his point, he should have waited until the interview ended before raising the issue with Ms. Stahl. Better yet, he should have used that additional time to do a quick search of “Reagan and tax increases” before jumping in with bad information.

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A grateful h/t to Dave Statter, who writes the excellent STATter911 blog