Take a moment to watch this media coaching trainwreck

Screen capture from Ken Starr interview

We’re pretty religious about media coaching and rehearsal. If you’re a leader who’s going before the cameras, you need to practise, and not just for softball questions. You need to be ready for the toughest stuff a reporter can dish out…and you have to know how you’ll respond to a question you aren’t expecting.

Want to see what happens when you don’t? Witness this trainwreck of an interview with Ken Starr.

You may remember him as the independent counsel who repeatedly investigated the Bill Clinton administration, culminating in Clinton’s impeachment. Two decades later, Starr was serving as chancellor and president of Baylor University. That’s when an external review produced a damning report on the university’s failure — under his stewardship — to respond to reports of rape and sexual assault. Starr was removed as president and a week later resigned as chancellor.

Then he gave this interview to CBS affiliate KWTX… and it went terribly, terribly wrong. (Wrong, at least, for Starr and his PR handler. It went very well for people interested in transparency and accountability.) (Trigger warning: excerpts from a woman’s email about being raped, mentioned in the first 22 seconds; there is a passing reference as well at 38 seconds.)

There’s no shame in taking some satisfaction in watching this; Starr deserves to be held to account. And the overriding lesson to be learned here is to actually take sexual assault seriously, and act on it.

But there’s also a lot to learn here about how not to prepare for an interview. How many things went wrong? There’s identifying Merrie Spaeth as a “longtime family friend” without disclosing her extensive background in crisis communications (including work with the Reagan White House and Starr himself). There’s her demanding they not use his first response, and then interrupting the interview. There’s the disingenuous claim of not wanting Starr’s answer to be “misedited.” There’s the prompts from Spaeth to Starr live on camera.

And of course, there’s the complete reversal from “I honestly may have. I’m not denying that I saw it” to “I honestly have no recollection of seeing such an email and I believe that I would remember seeing such an email.”

What would have made a difference? And how can you do better the next time you go in front of the camera? Learn the basics in our newest NOW How guide to preparing for a media interview.

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