Three Strikes … You’re Out

In mid September, New York TIMES reporter Kenneth Vogel sat down at a Washington D.C. restaurant, BLT Steak, expecting a routine lunch meeting. However, a media mistake of not so rare proportions was about to fall in his lap.

Ty Cobb. Photo Courtesy of the Denver Post

Over a salad of tuna nicoise and iced tea, he overheard a public conversation between Ty Cobb, who is overseeing the White House response to the Russian probe and John Dowd, President Trump’s lead personal lawyer for the Russian investigation.

They thought their conversation was private because they were focused on each other, not the crowded restaurant around them. Mr. Cobb further forgot that his distinctive appearance shouted to everyone who he is, which of course is his purpose, but not this time. He and Mr. Dowd proceeded to discuss highly sensitive subjects regarding the investigation. In addition, the two blatantly expressed tensions within the legal team and production of documents. According to Reporter Vogel, they also discussed presidential privilege and their colleagues. Mr. Cobb suggested that White House counsel Don McGahn “has a couple documents locked in a safe” and one colleague who is not on the president’s good side. But, he added, “I’m trying to get the president not pick a fight with her.”

Their actions raise the question: how can these esteemed men who have become known in the realm of politics display such hubris and lack such basic common sense?

Interestingly, this is not the first media mistake for Mr. Cobb. As the Washington Post presents it, Mr. Cobb’s errors rival those of his distant relative, “the original Ty Cobb,” former major league baseball player who still has the title for the highest career batting average. But less well known, he also holds the record for most career errors by an American League outfielder.

Apparently, errors are common for the Cobbs. Luckily for America, the errors made on the baseball field don’t pose threats to national security.

In the Public Eye

It’s often said, the camera doesn’t lie. Nor or does it blink. The same can be said of social media.

Recently Mrs. Louise Linton Mnuchin, the new since-June wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin documented her posh summer lifestyle in Italy and France publicly on Instagram, complete with a parade of designer tags…”#TomFord,” “#Valenrinorockstudheels,” and #HermesScarf.” However, a brand spokesperson said these were not free products or compensation, The New York Times reported, for her “label-loving shoutout.”

Photo Courtesy of Business Insider

But the public arrogance begged for a defacing of her Wikipedia page, which can be edited by anyone. Following this criticism, Mrs. Mnuchin’s Instagram post featured herself as she and her husband and Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell disembarked from a government jet.

Commenting on the public posting, a 45-year-old mother of 3 from Oregon criticized her photo op, “Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable.”

Grammatical error

Mrs. Mnuchin fired back defensively without the benefit of a grammar check….

“Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?” she wrote.

“I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day “trip” than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.”

And finally, “You’re adorably out of touch.”


It’s a Dog’s Life

“When I die, I want to come back as your dog,” is a compliment often paid to dog owners who spoil their dogs with a lavish lifestyle that is anything but a dog’s life. And we humans tend to have more than one dog in our lifetimes. Both reincarnation and the role that dogs play in our lives are the subjects of a recent movie, A Dog’s Purpose that has been met with surprising controversy.

Its a Dog's Life image

Photo Courtesy of:

The movie that intended to display the unique love we share with our dogs was targeted in an excerpt of a German Shepherd appearing to be forced into rushing water despite the dog’s reticence. Members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) the largest animal rights organization in the world and animal lovers alike reacted by dragging A Dog’s Purpose under rushing waters of criticism leaving the filmmakers in a fight to stay afloat. The conveniently-timed video release forced the studio to cancel the press junket and premiere prior to releasing A Dog’s Purpose in more than 3,000 locations following PETA’s urging of a boycott on social media.

In an attempt to regain the trust of the public, Dennis Quaid, the star of the film, expressed on NBC’s “Today” Show that the video was manipulated and spliced to look as if the dog was being abused. The presence of the American Humane Association during the filming of this scene was offered as defense that the dog could not have been abused. The AHA responded by saying that the video was “misleading and edited.”

Both parties, the filmmakers and protesters alike, used the media to advantage in a battle attempting to defend or destroy the film and their points of view.

Despite the activists’ attempts to drown the film and perhaps, unintended publicity,  A Dog’s Purpose was able to tread water and broke the 18.4 million dollar mark as the #2 movie in its debut weekend. Decide for yourself!

“Token Fluzzies” Unite

Communication and presentation skills combined with appropriate branding can create the message desired, but not always the message received. The right message delivered by the wrong person is damaging and can both offend and distract from the issue or position.

The qualities of a media spokesperson must include charisma, relevance, credibility and above all, one who is appropriate and WANTED by the industry. The latter was not the case for self-appointed spokesman for women’s equality in technology, Vivek Wadhwa. A member of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley and Stanford University think tank, Mr. Wadhwa is being criticized as an un-appointed spokesman for women. According to the Executive Director of Double Union, a women’s studio for creativity in San Francisco,  ” Mr. Wadhwa has kept actual, qualified women’s voices from being heard widely in the mainstream media.”

man right or wrong blog

Mr. Wadhwa. Photo courtesy of New York Times

Women have criticized Mr. Wadhwa for, “clumsily articulating our cause.” Using quotes like, “token fluzzies” to describe them, many women take offense to this man being seen as their representative, harming the brand of women in technology and the identity of women executives throughout Silicon Valley. Blaming his poor English for many of his harmful quotes, Mr. Wadhwa is adamant that he only wishes to help women succeed. However, several women who know and have worked with him, including Sarah Szalavitz, the Chief Executive of 7 Robot, feel that while “his intentions are good, his message and his voice are actually damaging women.”

woman right or wrong blog

Ms. Sandberg.Photo courtesy of Yahoo News

By contrast, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg has recently launched a new campaign, based on her book of the same title, “Lean In,” promoting gender equality in ads with NBA and WNBA players. As a woman with an executive position in technology, Ms. Sandberg has all the qualities desired for a good spokesperson on this issue. According to Ms. Sandberg, “Lean In,  is focused on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions, and changing the conversation from what we can’t do to what we can do.”

Even before the media training begins to craft the messages and coach the personality, the chosen spokesperson must be compatible with the issue. Spokespeople are not only important in branding the issue, but must be engaging and credible in the eyes of both the public and the sector they represent.

Caution and appropriateness are advised in all forms of media appearances, especially in ones as personal as spokespersoning.

Be True to Yourself

Candor is one of the C’s of Communication preached at READY FOR MEDIA, along with Credibility, Compassion and Charisma. All were at play when Ellen DeGeneres was true to herself in responding (below) to an article written by a pastor accusing the TV host of promoting a ‘Gay Agenda’ on her show and  influencing her young, female viewers to turn towards her sexual preference.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Effective communication and branding skills are crucial in disproving and putting a negative story in context with facts and reason, rather than rage or emotion. Rather than fanning the flames with a juicy argument or enraged comment, Ellen’s humor took the sting out of his mean-spirited criticism.

Ellen quickly addressed the accusation directly in both a funny, yet serious and effective way. She calmly and professionally rejected his claims and encouraged every viewer to “be true to yourself.”  Ellen employed a speech communication strategy which allowed for both sincere conversation on the topic, as well as entertaining television.

Spinning the story away from the negative accusation into a positive media message was a smart decision by the savvy TV host. It is a technique emphasized at READY FOR MEDIA where clients are encouraged to control an interview by addressing questions as topics rather than dutifully answering every question put to them.