Here’s a great video to use for media training–no apology from Louis Gates Jr’s arresting officer

July 23, 2009

Like most in this business I have done a number of media training programs. We usually look for good examples to show of what to do and what not to do. Here’s a great example of someone who hasn’t been media trained–or if he has, the lesson didn’t take.

The story is about the hot topic on the internet and twitter right now about the arrest of Harvard scholar and TV personality Louis Gates Jr. He was arrested after “breaking into” his own home. Despite the fact that he was in his home and showed his ID, the Cambridge police arrested him. Their reports are he was angry, called them racist and refused to step outside. Pres Obama stepped into this in a news conference saying the police “acted stupidly.” Right now the White House is trying to defuse it by saying, well, he really didn’t mean the police were stupid, or the officer was stupid or anyone was stupid but you are taking the words “acted stupidly” wrong. Geez, they would have been keeping their mouths shut and let it lay.

Back to the video. What did he do wrong. One, he said he wasn’t going to say anything–then he said exactly what they hoped he would. He claimed that he had not been told not to say anything, but then made clear that he was not saying anything because, well, sort of,. Third, he looked quite a bit like a deer caught in headlights–nice persona, good joking about his lawn and all, but clearly caught off guard and looking quite uncomfortable. He kept engaging them–they did a great job, just like a good telemarketer, of keeping him engaged. You could see his guard dropping further and further and then they went in for the kill: will you apologize. And that’s where he made his headline-creating mistake. He not only said no, emphatically no, in effect hell no, he said he never would and when asked if it meant losing his job, he spoke for his department by saying it aint going to happen, won’t ever happen. Now he backed himself into a corner big time but also the whole police department.

Nice guy, maybe just doing his job, probably a great police officer–I don’t know. But if I was his boss, I’d send out the order–keep this guy away from the news crews.

It’s not fair and that’s the point.  If only he had been to Dick Brundage’s media training.  He would have given the reporters no more than twelve seconds of “I’m proud to be a Cambridge police officer and proud every day of the job I do protecting the citizens of this wonderful city.” Period. End. No story. No headline. No national controversy, and no great media training video.

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4 Responses to “Here’s a great video to use for media training–no apology from Louis Gates Jr’s arresting officer”


  1. Another great post! And Obama may have blown health care reform with his distracting (stupidly) comment. Again it just shows we are in a media age and you better not have your 15 minutes of fame (Warhol) become one in which you are the deer in the headlights.
    I learned long ago that you better know what you want the media to pick up and the best one-line you can think of to get your message across. If you cannot come up with one probably don’t want to talk to the media. I was quoted once by the St.Louis Post-Dispatch when queried about a large sub-division being built on the river side of the mainstem Mississippi River levees. The area had not been mapped and Senator Eagleton was pounding the National Flood Insurance Program for his own reasons including a Legislative Assistant that hated the program. So the quote that came out was the following: “Makes no commonsense, no floodplain management sense, no political sense, no scientific sense, no mitigation sense, but it is not illegal under NFIP guidance because not yet mapped.” Of course this somewhat wisecracky comment was a greenlight for the developers. The whole subdivision went under water in 19993 flooding but hey I was forced to give legal advice through the media. A very bad situation and cause because I was not media savy nor were the program officials at HUD (where I was then working). Again, hoping Obama can wriggle out and the officer. But probably not. This is going to be a disaster for all concerned including the Harvard Prof. Don’t believe any winners in this round including the media.


  2. Gerald,
    I agree that this is a great media example of how not to do a stand-up interview. On the flip side, it’s great training for reporters on how to get the story. One caveat to the whole thing is this: This was probably not the first time the guy was approached by the media since the arrest. I rather suspect the press has been hounding him and was camped out on the front lawn. Or maybe he was trying to sneak out for an afternoon jog. He let his guard down and they got what they wanted.

    It is a good example of an ambush interview and the officer failing to stick to his “no comment.” It’s also a good example for the rest of us to use when we train others. Thanks for sharing it and for the good commentary.

  3. Clinton J. Andersen Says:

    “No story. No headline. No national controversy, and no great media training video.”

    This was already a story, already a headline, already a national controversy. I agree, he should have stuck with his original, “I’m not going to answer any questions right now” mentality, but at some point he should be given the opportunity to speak. That time was probably after being briefed by the police department and with the police department by his side.

    The press doesn’t want to hear from everybody else, they want to go straight to the source (as is clear by the video). If he continued to make no comment it gives a bad image to the public that perhaps he did do something wrong. By interviewing with the department at his side it gives the press time to ask questions in a more controlled environment (if that’s possible with the media) as well as gives the department a chance to answer questions and make any further statements before and after the interview.

    This whole thing is ridiculous. Another reason why we cannot progress as a society.


  4. […] This analysis from Crisisblogger Gerald Baron, on an interview Cambridge PD Sgt. James Crowley did with the media, makes me wonder: can social media help train officers to deal with traditional media? […]


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