The encounter between Representative Michael Grimm (R, NY) and Michael Scotto, a NY1 reporter, after President Obama’s State of the Union address was an ugly scene. Maybe best forgotten. Yet it stands as a lesson in how not to deal with reporters, with deal being an operative word.
Let’s first review the facts. Scotto interviewed Rep. Grimm live in the gallery of the House of Representatives. After capturing his reaction to the speech, he asked about an ongoing investigation into his campaign finances. Grimm declined to answer, stood to the side, and after hearing Scotto report on his unwillingness to talk about that topic, strode over to Scotto, got in his face and threatened to not only “break” the reporter “in half” but also throw him over the balcony.
All of this was caught on camera, creating a PR disaster for the congressman. He eventually apologized. But of interest here is his first response. In this New York Times article, Grimm initially justified himself by describing the interview, twice, as a “favor” he had granted to Scotto and NY1.
That’s a problem. However exalted the title (president, congressman, CEO, mayor, etc.) if you or your client approach media engagements as moments of condescension, as occasions to bestow a blessing upon them and their audience, you plant seeds of destruction. Not simply because pride has that way of going before the fall, but for another reason. If you don’t approach the media as an equal, you are less likely to get fair treatment.
Fairness is more likely to occur when two parties reach an understanding. Deals may vary. One includes irksome caveats. In another, everything is on record. Some may break down, with one side violating the terms. Coming to any terms, however, is all the more difficult when one side assumes a lordly air.
Being tightly wound, prone to outbursts and hypersensitive to certain lines of questioning is another problem. Rep. Grimm would have done himself a favor by simply walking out of the House Gallery – or by avoiding the interview (and potential ambush) in the first place. But there’s a more general lesson here. Don’t pretend to grant favors if you’re really in the business of trading them. And if what you or your client want is due respect, approach the media as an equal, agree on the ground rules and pay due respect yourself to the pen’s famous might.