The Case For Recording Interviews With Reporters

If you thought the New York City mayoral race would get more civil as Anthony Weiner started sinking in the polls and heading toward what will hopefully be a life of J.D. Salinger-like obscurity, you’re wrong.

Two other leading Democratic contenders—Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio—have created plenty of their own drama with a recent kerfuffle over a media misquote

The trouble began when The New York Times star columnist Maureen Dowd mangled a quote from de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who was speaking about her husband’s opponent, Ms. Quinn.

New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn

Here’s how Ms. Dowd quoted Ms. McCray in her story:

“She’s not accessible,” McCray says. “She’s not the kind of person I feel I can go up to and talk to about issues like taking care of children at a young age and paid sick leave.”

That quote was particularly edgy, since it could be interpreted as a smear against Ms. Quinn, who is a lesbian without children. Ms. Quinn blasted Ms. McCray’s statement.

But it’s not actually what McCray said. She was misquoted.

It turns out that Bill de Blasio’s campaign had recorded the interview. They released the audio of the relevant portion, which shows that the comments were made in a slightly broader context. (Maureen Dowd later blamed the noise in the café and a lousy tape recorder for her fumble; The New York Times issued a lengthy correction.)


“Well, I’m a woman, and she’s not speaking to the issues that I care about, and I think a lot of women feel the same way. I don’t see her speaking to the concerns of women who have to take care of children at a young age or send them to school and after school, paid sick days, issues in the workplace — she’s not speaking to any of those issues. What can I say? And she’s not accessible, she’s not the kind of person that I feel that I can go up and talk to and have a conversation with about those things, and I suspect that other women feel the same thing that I’m feeling.”

My New Advice About Recording Interviews with Reporters

In this case, the difference between the two quotes wasn’t terribly dramatic. But it could have been—and had Mr. de Blasio’s campaign not recorded this interview independently, his cries of “My wife was misquoted!” would have likely fallen on deaf ears.

I’ve previously written that you shouldn’t record your interviews with reporters except for the most challenging situations, since doing so can lead to a climate of mistrust and suspicion before you even begin speaking. I’d continue to stand by that advice for “everyday” interviews—those that don’t hold your company’s, organization’s, or campaign’s reputation in the balance.

But my thinking has evolved on this issue, and I’d now advise spokespersons for political campaigns, businesses dealing with controversial issues, and those dealing with unfriendly media—among others—to consider recording their raw interviews with reporters. That’s not just because reporters occasionally seek a “gotcha” moment, but because even journalists of full integrity can make honest mistakes. And if they do, your recording may be your only evidence that you were wronged.

Without that evidence, it’s easy to see how a single misquote could be all it takes to destroy your candidacy, your company’s stock price, or your reputation.

One final point: Some states require two-party notification. If you’re recording your interviews over the phone, check the laws in your state. To help preserve your long-term relationship with reporters, you should probably tell them you’re recording regardless of the state law.

What do you think? Do you ever record raw copies of your media interviews? We’d love to hear from you.