Authors @ Google: Jeff Ansell

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 17.12.2010

>>commentatorDavid: We're fortunate to have Jeff Ansell here today to talk, to talk about
his book, “When the Headline Iis You”.
At Google we can, we can appreciate both sides of-of news stories of the type that-that Jeff
writes about.
One side you're worried that your-your words are going to be twisted; you feel that-that
the-the journalists are predators trying to-to force things out of you that you don't believe,
don't want to say.
On the other side, we read articles that are just bsB-S. We see interviews where the questions
aren't being answered.
Jeff from his background in journalism and then advising people how to talk to-to journalists
helps us navigate the middle ground. How to actually answer questions; how to not be a
stonewall and-and not be-be prey. And as a result I think what he has to say is-is really
relevant to those of us at Google.
No further ado. Jeff , he's here to-to talk to us about his book one that [unintelligible]
you “When the Headline Is You” and I hope you all have a chance to read it soon.
>>Jeff Ansell: Thank you very much, David.
Hey everybody.
>>female in audience: Hi.
>>Jeff Ansell: How's everyone today?
>>some audience members: Good.
>>Jeff Ansell: Good, good.
First of all I wanna thank you folks for the invitation to be here; I'm very grateful.
Thank you for having the interest to be here as well.
I am a media and crisis communications advisor. What I do is I help companies and governments
and individuals when they're caught smack dab in the glare of the media spotlight; sometimes
when the news isn't very good; and in fact oftentimes controversial.
I find myself working most often in cases that can be considered tough, high profile,
no win situations. I worked on the Erin Brockovich case in California; I've trained White House
spokespeople; I just finished a stint with the Vancouver Olympics.
I play a very modest role as a, as a faculty member of the Public Disputes Program at Harvard
Law School. I help instruct in the course, ‘Dealing With aAn Angry Public’ which
starts tomorrow right next door, by the way.
And I also have the opportunity to lecture annually at Harvard Business School in the
course ‘Negotiation Dynamics’. And what I do is I work the MBA students to help them
gain a degree of sensitivity to the impact of values and emotion inand communication
on the negotiation process.
So in the time that we have this morning, I'm hoping that we can share some thoughts;
a couple of ideas about the state of journalism today.
Also I'd like to chat about why I wrote the book and share with you some stories from
my days as a journalist.
And I invite you every step along the way, please feel free to stop me, ask questions;
I'll do my very best to answer as we go along.
If I may, I'd like to very briefly read just a few paragraphs from the book that I think
sets the tone for what this all about. It's from the-the book's introduction.
"Answering questions from reporters is risky business. Though a media interview may feel
like this great forward a straightforward conversation, it actually represents a contrived
and manipulative dynamic.
Knowing how to talk to reporters is actually like learning a new language, and it bears
little if any resemblance to everyday conversation and it's a mistake for anyone to believe otherwise.
It may seem as if speaking the truth should be enough to build credibility and trust,
but that's not the case. Exposing oneself to media scrutiny requires more than simple
candor. I; it requires knowledge, training, and a keen understanding of how reporters
write the news."
Any in my nearly 40 years of experience doin' this, I've yet to meet anyone for whom media
skills come naturally.
"Answering tough questions is difficult even for reporters themselves.
You'd think that being skilled in asking questions would provide insight in how to answer them.
I discovered otherwise, however, in a training session that I conducted in Washington for
famed Watergate journalist, Carl Bernstein.
In the training, my first question to Carl was about his troubled relationship with his
Watergate partner, Bob Woodward and to my surprise Carl put his foot in his mouth so
deeply it came out the other end, and I learned something important that day.
Anyone can ask questions, the real skill is in answering them.
So it should be of little surprise then that many executives and government leaders and
spokespeople are reluctant to engage the news media. Their concern is justified.
People who talk to the media are only as good as their worst quote. Though someone answering
a reporter's question may strike all the right notes for the majority of the interview, it
takes only a single miscue to trigger disaster.
One misstatement to a reporter can destroy long held goodwill or cause a company's share
price to plummet.
And I think legendary investor, Warren Buffett, said it best: 'It takes 20 years to build
a reputation; five minutes [laughs] to ruin it.'"
Actually probably in this day and age less than five minutes.
I was a pretty aggressive reporter. When I used to show up for work every day, my editors
used to say to me, "Well Jeff, who's life you gonna ruin today?"
I was oftentimes about as popular as a, as a, as a pig at a Bar Mitzvah.
Now that I'm out of journalism, I-I've had opportunity to think about why I got into
it in the first place. And it's-it's funny -- I didn't see any of this when I was in
it for 20 years, but I became a reporter I think in part because I-I grew up angry.
My late father was
a factory worker and I recall the callous way in which he was treated and it made me,
it made me upset that-that decent people were treated in a very disrespectful fashion by
their employers. And it-it made me wanna fight on behalf of
the little guy, and being a reporter let me do that.
I didn't become a reporter right away though. I left school at age 16. I sold encyclopedias
door-to-door; I was a dishwasher; I was a factory worker. I worked in a couple of different
factories; I worked in a pantyhose factory where I-I used to sew the legs in the pantyhose
together for three cents a dozen; I didn't make very much money. And I worked in a clothing
factory as well.
My parents were-were very upset because I was supposed to be a professional and how
the heck did I end up doin' this?
And-and one day when I was in the factory, I-I called in sick because I was able to get
an audition for a local radio station. And I was 16 years old but I told them I was 19;
I told 'em I was going to university even though I hadn't even completed high school.
And I did the audition and
I thought I'd done a lousy job and went back to the factory the next day. And then I got
a phone call; not at the factory but to my house telling me that I got the job.
So though I-I terribly upset my parents, the book is dedicated to my mother and father
so things came together.
And by the way, that-that pantyhose factory was mistreating its employees. I did an investigation
on them when I became a reporter so they got what was comin' to 'em.
And the other ironic thing is the clothing factory where I used to be a shipper and used
to schlep all these bundles on my back, they later provided my wardrobe when I was a TV
news anchor. So it's nice the way things turned around.
When I was a reporter, I was very grateful to do, to do a whole bunch of interesting
things. There was one story that-that changed everything for me.
It was about a young boy named Kevin. He was about eight years old and Kevin didn't have
a-a family; he was in foster care and he kept getting shunted from one home to another and
he was a very, very sad little boy.
And I did a-a documentary on adoption and I focused on Kevin. And to this day I often
think that if-if Kevin found a home, it's probably one of the most important things
I've ever done in my life; if he found a home as a result of that story.
And that's when I realized the power of the pen and the camera. We can get an awful lot
As one of the stories I worked on, I posed undercover as a drug addict for 12 months
to expose doctors who were pushing drugs. And I wired myself with a hidden microphone
and I went to visit these docs every week for a year; never once asking for drugs; never
once did they examine me.
And I can tell you that I collected an awful lot of drugs from those guys. I put them all
in a safe because the federal authorities came to count the drugs after. And I'm grateful
to say that both docs lost their licenses and got what was comin' to them.
I spent 12 months tracking Nazi war criminals here in the United States and in Canada; found
a couple of these guys. I got one shipped back to Western Europe for trial; exposed
the others.
It was most distasteful to work on that story; I hated every single minute of it.
And when I was lookin' at the evidence that showed how terrible these people were and
how they destroyed innocent lives, I wanted to put my-my-my hands around their necks and-and
do the job myself. Thankfully we caught them.
I spent a year investigating nursing homes where I live. I planted spies inside homes
'cause people weren't being treated right. And I'm grateful to say we closed up one home
and we got some amendments to the nursing home laws in the community where I live.
I had a great run in journalism. And then one day something happened.
We were gonna go on the air for the six o'clock news on TV, and we didn't really have a lead
story that day; all we had was a stabbing.
And I never liked to lead the newscast with a stabbing because as terrible as a stabbing
is, in a major market station, you'd think there'd be something a little more of significance
for everybody in the community.
And it was about ten to six and as we were getting ready to go on the air, the assignment
editor got on the loud speaker and he announced to the room, "Good news. We have a lead story.
The stabbing victim died." [chuckles]
And the newsroom erupted in a cheer. And that was the day I left journalism.
And it just was getting to me that was just, that put me over the edge.
So I thought, "Let me take everything I've learned in the past 20 years and apply it
to another-another purpose." And that's why I became what's called a media and crisis
communications coach; media trainer.
I help people deal with the news media because it sure ain't a natural playing field now.
I know myself that when I was a reporter, I’d say with great respect to the people
I interviewed, "I can get anybody to say anything I want." And I kinda feel bad about that now
in some cases, but I was still in the process of seeking redemption and this book is part
of that.
Because the process of answering questions for media, as I said earlier from the introduction,
is very unnatural. It can be like learning a new conversation, a new language; it's stilted,
it's scheming, it's manipulative, and can be conniving.
But I wanna be clear here, I didn't write this book to bash the media. I'm very, very
grateful for many of the things I had an opportunity to do as a reporter. I shared some with 'ya’.
It's a noble calling and I'll always stay in my head, it'll always stay in my head the
quote by Thomas Jefferson who said, "I'd rather have newspapers without government than government
without newspapers."
Now there has been a revolutionary shift in how news is produced and how news is consumed,
and that's thanks in large part to you folks at Google because the fact of the matter is
today anyone can be a reporter. In fact, Matt Rudge Drudge said, "We're all newsmen now."
The problem is that we're in a state ofseeing a continual dumbing down of the news these
I mean just in the last week alone, what have some of the stories been? Paris Perez Hilton
will stop bullying people on his website, that's in the news. Bristol Palin was [ ]kicked
off “Dancing with the Stars”; that was in the news. Keith Richards writes a book
and describes Mick Jagger's private parts; that's in the news, believe it or not.
And so this is something that's quite concerning.
And there are a number of reasons for this dumbing down phenomena. First of all, fewer
consumers of news are lookin' for thoughtful public policy discourse.
We're told by so-called experts about diminished attention spans the viewers, listeners, readers
have these days.
Newsrooms themselves are experiencing a great many cutbacks; people are losing their jobs;
you have reporters who are doing more with less. Now it's, you have some reporters who'll,
who will work for the paper and they gotta schlep around a TV camera with 'em 'cause
they gotta upload the-the information, the and video to the Web; they gotta keep writing
stories for the Web; and it's a, it's a, it's lot of work on them now. And what it is, it's
research on the run and their they’re writing history in a hurry.
The problem is I think it's just it's just too easy to become media road kill. It's too
easy for decent, innocent people to say somethin' that they wish they hadn't said. And there's
a lot of casualties along the way because it's very easy, very easy to become negative
and defensive and argumentative when you're dealing with a reporter.
And why? Because reporters approach stories from a predetermined perspective; it's almost
a paint by numbers approach. And I didn't realize any of this when I was journalist;
I had to get the distance to figure this out.
But if you look at any controversial story, it's a predictable cast of characters.
If you have controversy, the first character you need is the victim. And I'm not trivializing,
but somebody's gotta get hurt.
If you have a victim, it means you need to have a villain.
If you have a villain and you have a victim, it means you need to have a hero; somebody's
who's ridin' in to save the day.
Then you have a character that I call, "the witness" who saw the whole darn thing happen.
And then there's the character I call, "the expert." And when I was a reporter I used
to try to put the expert into a white lab coat so they'd look official and be part of
a narrative; they didn't even have to speak; they'd look as if they were expert.
And then there's the character that I call, "the village idiot." And the village idiot
is [chuckles] the one who really gums everything up for everybody.
And the risk oftentimes is that the villain and the village idiot can be one in and the
And I say respectfully if you look at the recent BP debacle, the villain of course was
BP itself and the village idiot may in fact have been the President Tony Hayward, who
of course said a few things to the media that I'm sure he regrets.
But you know it's not even controversial stories ?
that can pose risks. Even good news stories are or stories [chuckles] that are supposed
to be good news can be problematic.
John Walter was named leader of AT&T. They held a news conference to announce it and
then one of the reporters says to him, "Mr. Walter, who was your service provider?"
And Walter didn't know how to answer, "I don't know." And that day AT&T's market cap plummeted
four billion dollars.
Now if you were advising John Walter, what's the best answer for that question? What do
ya think?
>>audience: AT&T.
>>Jeff Ansell: Pardon me?
Okay, AT&T fine; he could get away with it, but it's a lie. Okay.
Well But we really don't wanna lie to the media because they're smart and they'll figure
it out and it doesn't look good 'cause once tell you he wasthey tag you as a liar, it
What's another possible alternative?
"Mr. Walter who's your service provider?" and you haven't got a clue, what do ya say?
>>male in audience: What do you think?
>>Jeff Ansell: Well I'll tell you in a sec,. I wanna hear what you think.
>>male in audience: No, what do you think?
>>Jeff Ansell: What do I think?
>>several audience members speaking at once: [unintelligible]
>>male in audience: What do you think?
>>Jeff Ansell: Oh, what do you think? Okay. I think it’s AT&T sir, am I right? [laughs]
And we’re back where we started from.
>>several audience members speaking at once: [unintelligible]
>>male in audience: You could lie.
>>Jeff Ansell: You could lie, but it's not, we don't counsel that.
>>male in audience: Starting in an hour, it’ll it will be AT&T?.
>>Jeff Ansell: That's the best answer.
Or something along the lines of, "Regardless of who it's been, it's AT&T from now on."
>>male in audience: Right.
>>Jeff Ansell: Okay.
Anyway it was just a, that was the signal of a very terrible time for John Walter and
he didn't last terribly long at-at AT&T.
But most every company is one sentence away from disaster. That's all it takes. Look at
Tony Hay-Hayward, our friend from BP. Remember his quote? What was his famous quote?
>>female in audience: I want my life back.
>>Jeff Ansell: I want my life back.
Now here's the thing: it's quite conceivable that Tony Hayward, when he made that comment,
he made a number of other comments.
Let's presume he delivered ten sentences and nine of them were genuine and heartfelt and
one sentence was, and he probably didn't even mean it in a selfish way, but he says, "I
want my life back."
Well you don't have to be a-a journalism professor from Columbia University to figure out that's
the one quote they're gonna use because you are only as good as your worst quote. But,
and the thing is people oftentimes, they'll read the paper the next day, they'll watch
TV, they'll see a quote like that getting used and you know what they're gonna say,
it's predictable. "Where's the rest of what I said. They took me out of context."
No, no. T they weren't taken out of context; they were edited.
And that's one of the things I do is I share with people strategies and techniques to make
sure that every single sentence that comes out of your mouth is honest -- number one,
and that it works in your favor.
But again it's too easy for reasonably intelligent people to put their foot in their mouths.
Sunrise Hospital, example, in New York, part of the Columbia Hospital System.
They had a terrible situation happen not long ago when a homeless man showed up at the Emergency
Room door and he went to the front desk and he said, "Please I have terrible chest pains.
C, can I see a doctor?"
And the woman behind the counter said, "Well, sir I need your insurance card." He said,
"Ma'am I'm homeless. I know I smell, I know I'm dirty, but I have a real bad chest pain.
Can you please help me see a doctor?"
"Sir, I need your insurance."
Anyway what happened was they walked him out the front door and about 30 feet from the
front door, what do you think happens? He keels over and he dies.
He was a young man; he was in his 30's.
So ABC News Primetime Live does an investigation.
And Brian Ross is a very good reporter; he's probably one of the best reporters around
today; -- investigative reporters.
He's interviewing the PR person at Sunrise Hospital and he says to her, "Well, what's
your reaction to the fact that your Emergency Room turned down this man because he didn't
have insurance?"
And she got all defensive and finally she says, "Look it, we're all gonna die."
Now you know, if it you're Brian Ross and you hear that quote, you know you just struck
But there's the papers are riddled on a regular basis with people saying dumb things. Remember
that earthquake in Italy about a year or so ago?
Sylvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister Italy, remember what he said to all the people who
lost their homes? "Pretend you're on vacation. Go to the beach. Go camping."
You know and-and those are negative stories, but a-a negative story doesn't even have to
be true in order for it to get legs.
More than a hundred years ago Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel halfway around the world
while the truth is still putting on its shoes." And that was before television; before radio;
before the Internet.
So how much more true is that today?
And I can tell ya that whether a person is dealing with a negative situation that's real
or not real, there's a particular response pattern that people fall into. And you may
notice this on the news when you've seen you’re seeing people who are being interviewed, oftentimes
When somebody is confronted by a reporter, the first thing they do is they stop breathing.
The second thing they do is they stop listening. The third thing they do is they feverishly
say to themselves, "How am I gonna answer? How am I gonna answer." ?" The fourth thing
they do is they start arguing. And the fifth thing they do is they have an out of body
And of course when the story comes out, they’re their very upset about it and what's their
complaint gonna be, ? "Where's the rest of what I said? They took me outta context."
You see what a lot of people have to realize is that when they're mired in bad news, all
the facts in the world aren't gonna change anybody's opinion,
because bad news is driven by emotion. And just about every bad news story that's out
there has emotion attached to it.
We deliver the ‘Dealing With an Angry Public’ course at MIT Harvard. And we get a bunch
of people who take the course usually from the ugliest sectors around. We get nuclear
people and sometimes we get people from tobacco; the gun lobby sometimes comes.
And oftentimes somebody will stand up at the beginning of a program, usually it's a, it's
an engineer, with great respect. And the engineer will say to everybody, "The reason we're taking
the program ‘Dealing With an Angry Public’ is because we wanna help our angry publics
learn how to strip away emotion so they focus only on facts."
And we get a good laugh out of that.
Because if it's about a battle between fact and emotion in the court of public opinion,
emotion is always gonna win.
Now with a court of law or in the regulatory world, facts will prevail.
But most people fight their battles in the court of public opinion.
And they-they often fight their cause by using traditional public relations strategies and
those strategies don't work anymore.
Because one public relations strategy that has been used and used and used is the one
where the message is the mantra, . Oover and over and over again the individual will repeat
the same message regardless of the question that's asked.
And it just makes them look foolish because each time they repeat the same question over
and over again, it strips away a layer of sincerity from them. And they think, "Well
I'll show the reporter there's no way she's gonna get me 'cause I'll just keep saying
my message over and over again."
But what I used to do when I was a reporter is I would feature my question and the answer
and if I asked them five times and five times they gave the same dumb response, I would
feature that in my story. And so who's the, who looks foolish now?
The other mistake the traditional public relations strategies make is to overwhelm people with
data. "Well you know let me just share what the numbers indicate here. You know if you
look at the parts for per million they come in;" it doesn't work. In part because the
information that people deliver comes from them and it's not credible when it comes from
them. It has to come from a credible third party source.
The other thing is that very often people in bad news are-are-are reluctant to refute
the concerns of angry people. To, they, they don't wanna engage angry people.
So if people are suffering, very often a company or organization will not want to acknowledge
it. Why? Because it gives credence to their perspective; it gives credence to their arguments.
And so it makes people angrier when a company refuses to acknowledge the harm it may have
done or at least acknowledge the fact that some people perceive there's been harm.
Because when you're dealing with-with upset people, there's two things they want. The
second thing they want is-is, "Fix my problem." The first thing they want is for you to acknowledge
And what often stands in the way of course are lawyers.
Lawyers have the ear of the CEO. And the lawyers' expertise is in protecting the company in
a court of law and that's why the lawyer exercises too much influence around the table.
The problem, of course, is that a lawyer will save you a hundred million dollars in a court
of law and cost you a billion dollars in the court of public opinion in terms of lost sales
and so on. So who's the winner there?
Also traditional public relation strategies tell you that if you're a spokesperson, never
use a negative word; never use, even-even if it's a terrible situation.
I was training somebody who was a plant manager, a whole bunch of plant managers, and we were
simulating that day a-a-an accident at the factory. And in the accident simulation, there
were fatalities.
And so my question to the plant manager in our simulation was, "What's your response
to the deaths that took place in your factory today."
And he says to me, "Well you know we're very proud of our safety record."
"Excuse me? How can you say that given the fact that there are people dead?"
And what did he tell me? He had media training. And the media trainer told him never say anything
negative which is absolutely bologna baloney and nonsense.
Because sometimes you do have to do use negative words,; otherwise people just aren't gonna
believe you. If you're in a situation where there's a high degree of concern and a low
degree of trust, and it's difficult to carry on your day-to-day business affairs, and you're
on the front page of the newspaper above the fold, and they're talking about you either
in Congress or the state legislature, then it's time to use negative words.
And a great example of that would be the JetBlue debacle of a few years ago when the airline
pretty well came to a standstill, stranded many hundreds of thousands of customers. After
David Neeleman who was the president at the time came out and said, "I'm ashamed. I'm
embarrassed. This never should have happened. A lot of people were very, very inconvenienced
and we apologize for that."
But a lot of people are even afraid to apologize. Again, why? Because it's the lawyer. If you
apologize, it's gonna put us on the hook.
There was a story in Canada involving the bad blood scare. Remember when the tainted
blood was out there? Red Cross around the world was sourcing blood from San Francisco
prisons if you can believe it. And a lot of people got hepatitis and the AIDS virus.
And in Canada, they held a Royal Commission to investigate why this was happening. And
the President of Red Cross was appearing before the judge and the judge said to him, his name
was Douglas Lindores, the President. The judge said to him, "Mr. Lindores, do you now apologize
to all those people who've been victimized as a result of-of the inept actions of Red
And the President of Red Cross said, "Well, Your Honor it's that easy, it's a."
And the judge said, "Well Mr. Lkindores I think it is very easy. Yes or no do you apologize?"
"Ah, well Your Honor I'm gonna have to consult." "Sir, yes or no do you apologize?"
And the headline the next day, "Red Cross Refuses Apology."
Now oOf course he's the former CEO of Red Cross.
But we should know that very often an apology goes an awful long way towards mitigating
damages in a bad news situation.
I read about one company, The Covenant Transportation Group here in the United States. Everyday
its trucks travel one million miles here in the United States alone. They've got 25,000
trucks on the road and terrible things happen now and again.
And they have a policy, a new policy whenever one of their trucks is involved in an accident
or even a fatality, the president of the company and the lawyer will call up the family and
they'll say, "We’re sorry for what we caused. We apologize. Is there anything we can do
to help you in the meantime?"
And of course the lawyer for the family is saying, "Get off the phone. They're trying
to fool you. Get off the phone."
And the company says, "Look -- do what you have to do. Please sue us; do whatever you
have to do. We understand that, but in the meantime is there a mortgage payment, is there
a tuition payment, is there something we can do to help."
And their insurance premiums have-have plummeted. They're savin' an awful lot of dough.
Same thing with the Michigan Health System. They have a more forthcoming policy 'cause
it used to be docs and then would circle the wagon and we would refuse to acknowledge your
problem. But now they-they've seen the merits though of this way.
And by the way, in-in 35 states across the United States there is the Apology Act; four
Canadian provinces have the Apology Act, as well.
What that allows a company to do is apologize without it being used as an admission of liability
in court. And it's-it's a very, very popular piece of legislation that hopefully will spread.
Because when bad news happens on-on your watch, you have to be amongst those who's most aggravated,
most upset, most discouraged, and most aggrieved.
So my hope is that “Wwhen the Hheadline Iis Yyou”, it will find several audiences.
I hope it'll be of interest to folks who are consumers of news, who are interested in how
news is-is gathered, reported, interpreted.
I'm hoping as well the book will be of interest to public relations people, of and spokespeople.
Journalists I hope will find interest in it although it's many of the journalists, of
course, will-will look to these techniques and will try to find them when their they’re
interviewing people.
But you know the-the whole book talks about taking an honest, ethical, and forthcoming
approach to-to dealing with the media so it-it-it should be something that, well will in some
cases will stymie journalists, but they're getting the truth nonetheless.
And I'm hoping as well it will be of value of to students of both public relations and
journalism as well.
And overall, I hope that what the book will do is take those of us who are right now passive
consumers of news; we watch TV, we're not even thinkin'. We read the paper, we're not
even thinkin'. I'm hopin' that this book will turn people from passive consumers of news
into sophisticated consumers of news.
Folks, thank you so much for inviting me to be here today. I'm very grateful.
>>commentatorDavid: Questions?
>>Jeff Ansell: Please.
>>male #1: First, thanks for much for joining us, Jeff. My name is [Durand] and I was hoping
that maybe we could reconstruct, I believe her name was Shirley Sherrod, the woman who
had given a speech about not wanting to have lent dollars to a white family; Shirley herself
was an African American.
Then she went on to say that she realized, had a moment of mindfulness, and-and realized
that she was imparting some bias and-and did grant the family the-the dollars they needed.
>>Jeff Ansell: Right.
>>male #1: And then the video was subsequently heavily edited to in fact make her look like
a racist.
>>Jeff Ansell: Yeah.
>>male #1: You could say the same, the same thing happened with ACORN recently, right
with the-the pimp coming in with his prostitute and-and making it look like ACORN was helping
them when in fact ACORN was supplying or gathering information to supply to the police.
I'm wondering in this world of-of YouTube and really heavy editing where in fact you
can make an apple look like an orange, what advice do you have to CEO's or to those who
are in the, in the public media to make sure that their true message is coming through?
Because once the damage is done, it's done, right?
>>Jeff Ansell: Thank you, Durand.
Well first of all, learn how to do it. Because you get intelligent, articulate people who
think that because their they’re glib and they present well that they know how to communicate
with media, and so they're the ones who often put their foot in their mouths the deepest.
In the, in the case of that woman it was a matter of context. Now the reporters chose
to focus on that particular quote that said she was gonna deny the loan and of course
they didn't feature the-the-the-the other quotes as well.
The-the secret is to make every sentence out of your mouth exist as what I call, "a standalone
You see you can answer a question with four sentences.
The problem oftentimes is sentence number one makes no sense until you hear sentence
number two, which by itself is incomplete until you hear sentence number three, and
then the whole thing is tied together in sentence number four.
And then you open the paper tomorrow and you only see yourself delivering sentence number
two and you say, of course, "Where's the rest of what I said. They took me out of context."
You see when ya, as a spokesperson, when you weave your sentences together you're building
a house of cards. 'Cause you never know which one, two, three, or four quotes the journalist
is gonna use.
So the idea, I believe, is to create standalone statements that exist as silos. So that the
message I'm delivering now makes sense regardless of whether you hear what I said before or
whether you hear what I say after. Each sentence has to be able to make sense on its own.
So Durand, that's probably the best way to have some degree of influence over the way
stories are edited.
>>male #2: Hey, Jeff. Thanks for coming, once again.
Name's Patrick.
I hope I'm not too presumptuous but I'm gonna consider you an-an old school journalist.
And --
>>Jeff Ansell: I've been called worse.
>>male #2: and going off that I'd really love to get your opinion on kind of bouncing off
during thisDurand’s question with the rise of your Glenn Beck's, your Rachel Maddow's,
these kind of journalists, but I would say new school or kind of what you touched on
with YouTube and anyone can kinda be a journalist.
Do you think that we're losing the credible discourse that kind of was present in your
heyday and subsequently we're losing the-the fourth estate kinda we're seeing the death
of the fourth estate in the 21st century?
>>Jeff Ansell: I think, Patrick, to a certain extent we are.
Part of this dumbing down of news is turning news into entertainment and the Glenn Beck's
of this world and others have seized the spotlight. There is very little thoughtful public policy
discussion on the TV anyway. Maybe you'll catch an hour or two on Sunday morning, but
even CNN isn't terribly deep these days.
And the journalists themselves have turned everything into a sporting contest. Like we
have an election happening here in the United States tomorrow. Where's the thoughtful discussion
about the issues; : poverty, hunger, education? It-it's like a sporting contest; . Tthere's
gonna be winners and losers; smart and stupid; competent and incompetent. That's the way
the world interprets these days.
And reporters also there's, I-I'm not saying it was right, but there was a time when certain
matters were off limits. And again, I'm not saying that they should have done this: President
Kennedy's sex life, for instance.
And now look we know too much detail about President Clinton and his own particular sex
So there's no boundaries anymore. And that's, that I find very, very disturbing.
And we don't see enough venues for thoughtful-thoughtful journalism these days. Especially with all
the job cuts that are takin' place. People are losin' their jobs left, right, and center
in newsrooms. And they're having to rely on wire services and so on. and sSo everybody's
gettin' the same news. T; there's not a proliferation of different opinion out there. And we the
people are suffering as a result.
>>male #2Patrick: Well people say they're getting the best news from the Ccomedy Cchannels,
which is sad but true actually.
>>Jeff Ansell: Did you see President Obama on Jon Stewart show last week? Unbelievable.
The President of the United States is on the Ccomedy Cchannel doing an interview with Jon
It's a, it's a hoot to watch. The President was totally defensive, was totally without
humor, and the messages he delivered just failed to resonate on that particular program.
Stewart to his credit knows he's a comedian. So he was tryin' to make jokes, but the President
just wasn't connecting. And that's-that's a problem he's having these days.
But that's how desperate people are to get their message out that they'll go to where
they think the people are listening. In that case it's the cComedy Cchannel.
>>male #3: So speaking of that, what did you think of Eric, what did you think of Eric
Schmidt on Colbert?
>>Jeff Ansell: I didn't see that. Forgive me. Can you share?
>>male #3: Well the greatest one was Colbert gave him this-zing, this zinger line where
he said, "Well didn't you say that-that teenagers around age 15 should be able to give up their
whole past and start fresh?" And Schmidt listened looks at him and said, "That was a joke."
But I, but I had another question.
How do you deal with the kind of reporter who basically has written the story first,
knows what your opinion is, has cast you in a role, and then sort of whatever you say
is gonna be quote edited to reinforce that?
>>Jeff Ansell: We can't control how the reporter writes your story. What we can control are
the quotes that come out of our mouths. And if, yes they do paint by numbers. T, they
paint by numbers because there's a lot of demand on them and they gotta cover quite
a few stories, and so very often they leave a slot open for the villain or the village
idiot. And they ask questions that are designed to bring out the villain or the fact that
person is incompetent.
If a, if a spokesperson recognizes that that's the game that's being played and is taking
an honest, forthcoming approach, even though they are being targeted as the villain or
the village idiot, they can represent themselves appropriately without puttin' their foot deep
in their mouths; without putting their foot in their mouths at all.
You see what's really important, I think, is for every spokesperson who's mired in a
bad news situation always to start off by askin' themselves, "What am I made of? What
are the words that I would use to describe how I want my stakeholders to see me and perceive
me as I deal with this terrible situation?"
So let's say we're dealing with BP or Toyota.
BP: "What are the words that describe how we want our stakeholders to see us?" What
are the words folks?
>>female in audience: Resilient.
>>Jeff Ansell: Resilient?
>>male in audience: Strong.
>>Jeff Ansell: Strong.
>>male in audience: Responsible.
>>Jeff Ansell: Well here's the thing: who's the audience?
>>female in audience: [unintelligible]Compassion.
>>Jeff Ansell: I'm gonna say I'm gonna lean towards compassion because here's the deal.
At the height of the crisis, BP's audience – it’s gotis a different audiences 'cause
it's got its shareholders and investors, yes, but it's got the general public as well. And
what's said in the general public wasis gonna influence what happens to the share price
and whether people are gonna feel comfortable investing in the company.
So I think at a time like this, words like “compassion”, “trustworthy”, “accountable”
are words that are important. I think that for the shareholders and those messages “strong”,
“resilient” are very important.
But even then there has to be a degree of acknowledgement of the terrible thing that's
taken place.
And then the idea is to take every message you deliver, every question you answer, every
policy you have responsibility for, and to filter it through this prism. Because what
this does is it gives you a path, it gives you a plan, it gives you a direction. And
at the end of the day, they're not gonna love 'ya. Spillin' Spilled all this oil, we ain't
gonna love 'ya, but if maybe the general public hates the company just a little bit less,
then that's the victory.
>>male #4: I have a question. I'd-I'd like your reaction to this opinion that someone
I know who grew up under Communism has of the, of the American journalism system who
said, "You know people in America in our opinion are much more easily influenced by the media
because they grew up with trainingtrained to believe that we have a free press. Under
Communism we all knew that it was all lies [laughs]."
>>Jeff Ansell: I really do believe we have a free press here.
The problem is that it's what we're being fed these days in the press.
That's why it's-it's good to have a variety of sources for your news not to depend on
any one particular news outlet.
>>male #5: So is the best media strategy to kind of bond to this existing paradigm of
winners and losers and to portray yourself as this winner or as the subject of media
attention is-is the onus on you to call out the confidence, to try to broaden the conversation
and to call it out? I guess I'm not articulating this very --
>>Jeff Ansell: No you are.
>>male #5: Who's Whose responsibility is it to question this paradigm? Obviously the person
answering a media inquiry is the person foremost, self interest in, but is there a responsibility
to address the larger pocket?
>>Jeff Ansell: It depends on the situation.
If it's a situation that's societal and is systemic perhaps there may be an opportunity
to broaden the context. But if it's a company that's smack dab mired in the middle of a
problem that it owns, it just has to do its very best to come out of it.
But these are questions that we as-as consumers of the news oughta be asking as well. 'Cause
reporters sure as heck don't have time to ask themselves these questions; they're too
busy gettin' the story out for the, churning out sausages for the next meal. But these
are important questions that spokespeople have to ask and that we, those of us who consume
the news, have to ask as well.
>>male #6: Jeff, do you have any particular insights on Google's image in the press these
days? We’ve have had a lot of conflict in the press you could say; predatory seeming
>>Jeff Ansell: Well I heard of one story that received some coverage involving a breach
of trust [ ]—David? -- that had taken place and I didn't hear about from the media, I
heard it about through word of mouth. And it didn't become big news to-to Google's benefit.
But when bad news happens, you have to be the one who's most aggrieved, as I said earlier,
most outraged.
Very often when a company tries to defend itself in the court of public opinion, when
an ugly issue, something blatantly wrong takes place, the story starts off on the front section
on page 12. And then as they continue not to own it, it moves to page 8eight; still
not gonna own it, it moves to page 4four; still refusing to own it, it moves to page
1one, top of the fold. And you know what happens then? They own it.
So perhaps this particular organization was got off on a very, got off in a very easy
way in dealing with that particular situation 'cause I never heard about it in the media.
T, but that's ultimately what a company wants.
>>Durand: Maybe a philosophical question, but why does the bad always win? On that day
that you left broadcasting, I could imagine that there were hundreds of other good things
that happened, but why do you think the bad always-always takes the top story?
>>Jeff Ansell: I think it's for the same reason that people slow their cars to look at accidents
on the highway on the other side; because there's that curiosity.
In the case of the, of the newsroom though, it's just an insensitivity.
Reporters are faced up every day with terrible things in life and so some of them fight back
by becoming insensitive to it.
I know that when I was a reporter, one of the things they used to ask me to do was if
somebody experienced a death in the family due to a murder or some terrible accident,
they used to ask me to go to the house to get a picture of the deceased so we'd have
it for tomorrow's paper or tonight's news.
And I used to do it and I used to feel terrible. I was like 19, 20 years old. And then as I
got older I realized this is wrong. The last person in the world that this family wants
to see right now is the
And it got to a point where I refused to go. I said, "I'm not gonna goin'. I'm not doin'
it. No, I'm not coverin' the funeral. I'm not gonna do it."
Because there is that insensitivity and what is, what is news? News is drama; it's irony;
it's controversy; it's emotion; it's conflict above all. News very rarely is good news.
I mean unless that there's a breakthrough with cancer medications and so on, but most
news isn't that good. And that's why people buy the papers and that's why people tune
into the news.
>>commentatorDavid: If there are no other questions now, let's wrap up.
Thank you very much, Jeff.