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Don’t Do What Bernie Sanders Did Seven Ways To Avoid Media Gaffes

Some of the worst media relations techniques in recent memory are on full display as the candidates from the two major parties vie for our votes. In the interest of being a non-partisan I promise to ridicule each of the four remaining candidates from both parties equally as they screw up.

The latest is Bernie Sanders ill-conceived interview with the New York Daily News as recapped by The Washington Post. You can read what the post has to say here:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivers a foreign policy speech on March 21. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivers a foreign policy speech on March 21. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

So here is what you can learn from this interview.

  1. Have a message in mind before the interview starts. From reading the transcript it is impossible to tell what Sanders wanted the readers to know as a result of the interview. So before it ever starts, decide what it is that readers will know that is different from what they knew beforehand.
  2. Know who you are talking to and why. Sort of related to number one in that a communications goal for an interview needs to be that the message is audience appropriate. For example, when addressing the Candy and Confections magazine editor, it’s a good idea to relate to what the readers are expecting which is sweets. Similarly, people who read the New York Daily News will expect a fellow New Yorker like Sanders to be able to answer pretty basic questions all related to his previously stated positions. You want to break up the banks? Great, just tell us how. This was not “gotcha” journalism. Sanders stump speech covers all these topics. He should have expected to be asked these questions and been ready with plausible answers.
  3. Stay on message. Sanders let’s the reporter control the content of the interview. Big mistake. Have a list of 3-5 messages for the reporter and stick to those. If he asked about Palestinian settlements and you want to talk about banks, bridge from the question to the thing you really want to talk about. Here is how that might look: “I know the situation in Israel is complex and will take a lot of time and work to resolve. But we can start fixing the banking system here at home in far less time by referring charges of specific bankers to the attorney general…..”
  4. If you do not know, say so. People hate to say ‘I don’t know’ but it is a perfectly acceptable answer. ‘I don’t know right off the top of my head, but let me call you later with a more informed answer….” and then do so. It’s way ahead of answering “I assume so” when asked about statutes and laws. Aren’t you a senator?
  5. Avoid spouting nonsense. For example, when asked how he would know which banks were to be closed, Senator Sanders replied, “you would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination.” Pure and unadulterated gibberish. A clever high school kid could come up with a better answer.
  6. Do your homework. Clearly the reporter doing this interview had done his. So whether someone is running for president, announcing a new product, or addressing the local chamber of commerce, show up with the knowledge that people most associate with you and your business. If you are a baker and have limited knowledge of flour, decline the interview.

I’m exasperated that someone who is as smart as Senator Sanders surely must be with the resources to hire the best handlers anywhere, comes off looking like such a dope. Sanders should be schooling the reporters on bank policy, rules of governance and responsibilities to shareholders and customers. Instead he blathers on with nothing but platitudes. You can almost feel him shrugging his shoulders.

The same is true of his answers about Israel and dealing with ISIS. ISIS members have attacked Paris, Brussels and threaten Western Civilization. That he has no answer for dealing with them as president is completely indefensible and unacceptable.

7. If your client is an inarticulate idiot, keep him/her away from reporters. President Reagan used to pretend that the helicopter noise was preventing him from hearing reporters questions so he did not have to answer. Someone should get Bernie a helicopter.