As Seen On TV: What Would You Do In This Situation?
The season finale of HBO’s Veep, which aired earlier this month, featured a hilarious moment that made me wonder what I would do in the same situation.
If you’re not familiar with the program, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, the nation’s first female vice president. The show revolves around Ms. Meyer and her rather colorful staff.
The moment occurred just after the vice president concludes an in-person interview with an obnoxious Boston newspaper reporter. After the reporter walks away, Meyer and her staff begin discussing a couple of their small-money campaign donors and insulting their thriftiness. They even give their low-money donors a derogatory name—GUMMIs—an acronym for “Give us more money, idiots.”
Just as they finish their conversation, they realize that the Boston reporter accidentally left his phone behind, on which he had been recording his interview with the vice president (it was still recording). The reporter, who realizes his mistake, is on his way back to the office to collect his phone.
The staff quickly realizes how much trouble the campaign will be in if the recording of their conversation gets out—small-money donors will pull their contributions, and the campaign will be seen as elitist. They weigh their options: We should destroy the phone with a lamp! We should say it accidentally fell into the toilet!
The reporter enters the office and collects his phone before they can execute their plan (and, spoiler alert, the “GUMMIs” conversation does cause unflattering headlines).
That made me wonder: What would I do in that situation? The choices boil down to these three:
1. Do nothing and hope the reporter doesn’t use that material
This is the option Meyer’s staff took—and it didn’t pay off.
2. Destroy the evidence
This would kill the negative story about the GUMMIs—but it might lead to even more damaging headlines about destroying a reporter’s phone and speculation about what Ms. Meyer said on the destroyed tape. (The phone was password protected, so simply deleting the file wasn’t an option.)
3. Negotiate with the reporter
This is the strategy I would have chosen. When the reporter came back for his phone, I would have asked him to consider all of the material included on the tape after he left the room “off the record.” The reporter would have had no obligation to honor my request—such requests are typically made prior to the interview and agreed upon in advance by both parties—but in this case, the material was gathered without the consent of the taped party (which might even constitute an illegal recording in some states). His leaving the tape recorder behind might have even been an intentional trick, although the show didn’t address that question.
If the conversation with the reporter doesn’t go well, there could be an either implicit or explicit threat regarding future access—publish that material, and you’ll never speak with the vice president again. (That’s the “stick” approach; the “carrot” approach of offering increased access could also work.)
If you have any additional thoughts, please leave them in the comments section below.