Yesterday, we introduced a topic that investigative journalists don't want you to know: that even when your client is embattled, and may feel no choice but to respond to tough questions, he or she may actually hold the key to the scandal-tinged story.
But what does that look like?
Here are some of a scenario’s characteristics that make it a prime candidate for shrugging off or even being so bold as to laugh off a media inquiry (I confess to getting a bit nervous when a source laughed at me, even when I knew I had “the goods” on him or her.):
*When you have strong reason to believe that there is a “hatchet job” in the works.
Your instincts, past history and common sense are telling you that the media gesture to offer you a voice in the story is simply a superficial checking-of-the-box to satisfy that most basic of journalistic tenets. Or, worse yet, that they will twist whatever you provide to serve their preconceived agenda.
In some cases, you may have received glimmers of what the outlet is reporting, and how it is waging its reporting. The outlet’s or reporter’s tone and tactics are giving you considerable pause.
*When there is little that you could say to counteract criticism or allegations.
You may be in the wrong, or at least far from being right. It is likely best to limit any further damage by crafting a carefully worded statement that you first get reviewed by appropriate counselors, including legal counsel, if necessary.
Let each of your words count, and don’t roll the dice by hoping that the reporter will faithfully recount them in full or in context. One approach is to email (and confirm the reporter’s receipt of) a spoken response, via audio file, so that the statement is audibly “on the record.”
*When you are blind-sided.
You get a call out of the blue and a reporter starts in on a flurry of questions that have you on your heels. This is an occasion that cries out, at minimum, for you to indicate that you are not in a position to talk in that very moment. Find out if they have already established a deadline and, based on that, indicate your intention to call back before it arrives.
In fairness, that deadline should be at least a few hours away, which would give you some time to carve out a plan. Such a plan could consist of a request for the reporter to provide information that offers you more of the story’s context, a written statement, a decision not to participate in an interview, or some other course of action.
Being thoughtful, and cautious, in your response is usually far preferable to shooting from the hip or responding in the heat of the moment.
Whether you encounter any of these scenarios, or something else, remember that “need” is usually a two-way street. Even the most skillful and intimidating reporters know, but won’t offer to you, that you may well hold the key that keeps them from opening their story’s door. Don’t surrender it without assessing the pros and cons.