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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Make the world go away.

Or at least make those damned reporters with their hard questions go away.

In the current issue of The Hill, Betsy Rothstein has a great article on the tactics that PR flaks communication specialists in Washington use to spin the news in a way that favors their bosess — especially when there's bad news.

Another way to deal with tricky matters is quickly moving on background with a reporter. A Senate Republican press secretary stammered something about "playing things straight with everyone" and how "there's no tricks" before going on background for this story.

Once there, he more comfortably declared, "You find a way to get a reporter what they need without tripping yourself up. You always try to help a reporter out, unless it's a reporter who has screwed you in some way. You can't blackball someone, but you don't go out of your way to help them. It's not rocket science."

Amy Auth, spokeswoman for Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), did what many press secretaries do when they don't initially know what to say — she said she'd call me back once she had a chance to think about what she does in the face of potentially bad press.

Sure enough, she called back. "I usually just say no comment," she said.

I especially liked Rothstein's shortlist of common tricks:

  • Say "I will call you back" and then don't.
  • Repeat the same phrase over and over.
  • Try to talk the reporter out of writing the story.
  • Act brusque and distant.
  • Don't return phone calls until the day after deadline.
  • Talk in short sentences.
  • Act as though you are in a hurry and need to get off the phone as soon as possible.

This magpie encountered all of those tactics and more during out years as a reporter. Our favorite counter-strategy was to say:

I've already talked to [fill in name of opponent] and I really wanted to get a statement from you before we print the story.

It worked like a charm. The PR flacks who could resist the possibility of getting in the last word were few and far between. [And yes, I sometimes said I'd talked to the other side when I hadn't.]

Via Romenesko.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:03 AM | Get permalink




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