Media training takeaways from Sean Spicer’s blasting of the Washington press corps
By now, you will likely have heard about how Sean Spicer, U.S. President Donald Trump’s press secretary, used his first official press conference to dress down the Washington press corps. Irate about the media’s reporting on the size of the crowds on the National Mall, Spicer admonished them for their coverage of the event. One media outlet shot back with the headline: “Trump’s press secretary lied his first day on the job and became a viral meme*”. Not exactly the type of headlines you would want after your first official meeting with the press with whom you will meet daily for the next four years.
So how did this all unfold?
Within 10 seconds of starting his inaugural press briefing, Spicer launched into a blistering diatribe against the reporters before him.
“Members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting … Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way to minimize the support that had gathered in the national mall.”
In case you missed this gem of a performance, here it is for your viewing pleasure.
And in case you didn’t think it could get any worse, it did. Enter Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, who explained in her first official appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, that the administration was simply presenting “alternative facts”.
That gem is here:
If you deal with the media – either as a media relations professional or as someone who is frequently interviewed by the press, this whole incident offers a few wonderful lessons in what not to do.
Here are a few takeaways:
1) Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton (or whatever the modern day equivalent would be). While the expression is dated, it’s meaning is still valid. Some might argue the aftermath is worse in the day and age of social media, bloggers with reams of subscribers, and the instant proliferation of information around the world.
2) You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Spicer had a unique opportunity in his briefing to really set the tone for Trump’s presidency and shape the stories of the day. He could have come out and talked about the President’s top five priorities for his first thirty days in office, or what the major issues he would tackle in his first official week in office. Instead, virtually every headline focused on his attack of the media and his “alternative facts”. Here are just a few of them.
White House press secretary attacks media for accurately reporting inauguration crowds
Sean Spicer, the fact is ‘alternative facts’ aren’t facts: Merriam-Webster
Stop being so mean to US president Trump, his spokesman tells the media in his first real press conference
Sean Spicer held a press conference. He didn’t take questions. Or tell the whole truth.
Trump’s press secretary lied his first day on the job and became a viral meme
Trump’s White House called its first press briefing to complain about reporters’ tweets
And my favourite from the fine country of New Zealand:
Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer earns four Pinocchios for inauguration porkies
3) There are no such things as alternative facts, just lies.
4) Always provide evidence to support your claims.
Spicer came to the briefing with nothing more than speaking notes and offered no evidence to back up his claims that “this was the largest audience to witness an inauguration PERIOD” (emphasis mine). Aerial photos taken that day compared to those taken at President Barack Obama’s inauguration tell a different story.
5) Finally, there should be a certain degree of mutual respect between you and the media, whether you are the media relations professional or the person being interviewed. You may not agree with what they have said or vice versa, but you can always agree to disagree on a contentious point. Keeping your cool and conducting yourself respectfully will always result in a much better outcome, than if you tear a strip off of them.
In closing, the words and the tone that you choose have a direct impact on the coverage you receive and the relationship that you develop with the media. Long-term relationships are built on mutual respect and understanding, not diatribes and alternative facts.