While the consumer marketplace has evolved beyond the media model, a number of national media publications and figures still command the ability to set the agenda.
Navigating that can be challenging for anyone from conservative activists, ordinary people, to elected officials. But here are a few things to consider.
1. Profiles are a bad idea.
Doing media may make sense if you’re promoting a specific cause and have a sympathetic story, e.g. you’re the daughter of a woman hit and killed by an illegal alien driver. If you’re a public figure and on the wrong side of the Left, a profile is almost invariably going to be a hit piece in which the hack mines a few of your quotes, and builds a story around making you look like a bad person.
Even if you’re not a conservative, but you’ve fallen afoul of the Left in some way, this can and will happen. Take Andrew Sullivan, a major media figure, who got hit with a New York Times hit piece that barely quoted him, and focused on something he probably had no idea was going to be at issue, whether there’s a genetic factor to intelligence, and turned that into the theme. When you do media, you’re playing on their turf. Extensive interviews are fodder for character assassination.
2. Speak clearly and understand the agenda
Treat media like a used car salesman. Spot the agenda, speak clearly, don’t get off topic, bring the conversation back to your points, reframe where you need to, and err on the side of caution. Things that sound like common sense in one context can make you look like a monster when artificially placed into another context. Like prosecutors, media hacks will ask you the same thing in different ways hoping to get the answer they want. Watch for that to spot the agenda at work and how they’re planning to shape the article. Your goal here is largely to deny them an ‘own’ quote. The paradox though is that denying them the quote means that the interview may not be used or may not feature any of your quotes at all, but paraphrases. That’s because playing the media game like it’s 1962 or even 1992 no longer works.
3. Transparency is better
Private interviews with notes that the media figures gets to take away and then mine for content at his own leisure are bad for you and good for them. An ideal conversation should happen live on video. Outkick’s Clay Travis recently showed how to handle a WaPo hit piece that engaged in some of the behavior described above.
“So I decided to record every minute of my conversation with the Washington Post reporter and post the portions of our conversation he decided to use as quotes to demonstrate how fundamentally artificial and devoid of context those quotes truly were.”
Interviews should be recorded in legal ways. If there’s any question about the legality, look up local laws and/or ask the reporter for permission to record and take notes.
4. What do you have to gain?
Some people, especially conservative activists with limited media experience, react to a reporter’s request as if it’s something they feel they have to do. It’s not.
The media is a tool for promoting an agenda and it is very rarely a conservative agenda. Think of the media as a competitor. Know what you have to gain before going forward, have a strategy for doing it, and don’t do it unless you have more to gain than you do to lose.
5. Debate prep
Practice hostile interviews with a spouse, friend, or co-worker. It can be fun. See if they can lead you off topic and get you to make damaging statements. It’s easier to play offense in this field than defense and the results can be revealing, showing you some of your weakness, how to improve, and how to prepare yourself for the real thing.