“When I was ready to say what I said, I said it.”

Hillary Clinton’s greatly dissected interview with NPR’s Terry Gross “Hillary Clinton: The Fresh Air Interview,” provides a great example on how to spot leading statements and false implications within an interview.

It also shows us how to correct/confront a combative interviewer and what it looks like to remain in control of the message.

I’ve written on this subject before (See: Richard Sherman Wins the Interview) and will definitely be adding Hillary’s NPR ‘throw-down’ to my ‘how to control the message’ examples.

Hillary Clinton says hold it right there

“Hold it right there,” said Hillary.

If you missed it - which for my money is the best, least biased news outlet today* – provides a transcript, summary and audio here. The gist,

  • “WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got into a testy exchange with NPR’s Terry Gross on Thursday, as Gross tried to get Clinton to explain her views on marriage equality over time.  Gross attempted to get the former secretary of state to explain whether she had changed her mind over time on the issue of marriage equality or whether she supported marriage equality previously but felt she couldn’t say so due to the popular and political opposition.”

Why exactly do I say Hillary “won” the interview when I know so many of my colleagues in communications will disagree?

It’s simple, support for marriage equality is now a must for Democratic candidates, an absolute must.  No doubt, someone else is also going to run for President and try to out-flank Hillary the way Obama did on the Iraq war.

Can’t we all picture Vice-President Biden at some point saying, ” I was for marriage equality before the President was” ?

Put another way, the subject here is so important to Hillary’s left political flank – vital – that if she had to tolerate what is perceived by the media as a ‘misstep’ or an awkward interview than so be it.

More important than the reactions to this slightly awkward interview itself will be the reactions to the message Hillary ultimately delivered – her thoughts on the question of marriage equality and, most importantly, her journey to those thoughts.

That is not an easy message to convey, but it is entirely necessary for someone ostensibly seeking the Presidency. She had to explain her thinking on this subject even if it’s not neat and tidy. And frankly, that’s okay because the fact is nothing about the subject of marriage equality/human rights has ever been neat and tidy.  As a matter of course, human rights is perhaps the most untidy aspect of human existence.

Now before I identify exactly what Hillary did with regards to technique and best practices, we are going to squeeze another lesson out of this memorable exchange.

When you hear any of the phrases that follow you  be prepared to state your message and defend it. Be prepared to stand your ground.  Think of these phrases as red flags because they are indicators that your interviewer will not be content with your answer – whatever it may be – because he/she has the ‘real answer.’

Verbatim Terry Gross began her 10 ‘questions’ to Hillary on the question of marriage equality with:

  1. “Correct me if…”
  2. “So just to clarify…”
  3. “So just one more question on this…”
  4. “So are you saying…”
  5. “No, I understand…”
  6. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question…”
  7. “So you are saying…”
  8. “So that’s one for you changed your mind….”
  9. “I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand…”
  10. “I just want to clarify what I was saying…

Are any of those phrases the beginning of a question?  There’s not a single “who, what, where, when, why or how” to be found.

Listen to the interview again if you must, but these 10 phrases are anything but questions.  They are each the first stanza of a loaded question(s) at best, and more likely an outright statement of opinion that will hang in the air if not refuted, be attributed if not debunked, and saddle listeners with untrue implications  if not addressed.

Here’s the sad truth behind each one of those phrases:

  1. “Correct me if I’m wrong…” – Yes, you are wrong and yes I now have to correct you.
  2. “So just to clarify…” – You mean now I need to clarify what you just said.
  3. “So just one more question on this…” – You really mean 7 more questions on this don’t you.
  4. “So are you saying…” – No, actually that is what you are saying, I’m saying nothing of the sort.
  5. “No, I understand…” – No, you really don’t.
  6. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question…” – That’s because you didn’t ask a question, you made a series of leading statements.
  7. “So you are saying…” – Repeat step 4.
  8. “So that’s one for you changed your mind….” – Regrettably no, it’s one for I still haven’t changed your mind.
  9. “I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand…” – Oh so we are back to step 2, are we?
  10. “You know I’m just saying, I’m sorry…” – Finally! Yes you are ‘just sayin’ and no you really aren’t sorry, but I accept.

It was finally on fake question # 9 where Hillary jumped in with this game-winner,

“So let me just state what I feel like I think you are implying and repudiate it.”

And there it is folks. Your lesson for the day on how to ‘win’ an interview. In bullet form for the quick takeaway:

  • Identify false implications and correct them,
  • Never relent, you’re interviewer won’t,
  • Remain calm, but firm (Hilary’s voice doesn’t change in pitch), and
  • Finally, if you must lay it bare (State the implied falsehood plainly and refute it – clear the air).

P.S. Interview techniques, tips and best practices aside, the other reason, (read the political reason) Hillary ‘won’ the interview can be found in her closing statement which provides sufficient historical context to flesh out the absurdity of Terry Gross’s line of questioning

“I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage.  This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position and when I was ready to say what I said…I said it.”

That’s right Hillary you didn’t grow up imagining this would ever be a question of civil and human rights. Neither did Terry. Neither an overwhelming majority of the American population.  And for Terry to argue that in the 90’s Hillary should have been ‘for marriage equality’ is equally as ludicrous.  It wasn’t until 97′ that Ellen came out in the last episode of her sitcom, and for years after that an oddly named group “One Million Moms” was still trying to get Ellen fired from J.C. Penny commercials.

To sum up, Terry Gross is attempting to fault a candidate/interviewee for not publicly having said something at the exact right time – a window of time by the way that will account for one-hundredth of a nano-second of the overall time allotted for the struggle for human rights.  Folks this is a struggle that predates Moses’ parting of the Red Sea and a struggle that to this day remains very much so in the unfolding and up-the-hill phase of battle.

So what someone preparing for an interview can take from this last point is that Hillary kept the big picture in focus. She didn’t get trapped in the fatal ‘timeline construct’ so often used in political questioning (Variations on the ‘what did you know and when did you know it”), instead she opened it up to the larger question. Or , in Hillary’s own words, “

“When I was ready to say what I said, I said it.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Richard Sherman Controls an Interview

Richard Sherman Wins the Interview.

I regularly advise my colleagues on how to perform well in an interview.  Among the most important points I make is that the interview is not controlled by the interviewer.

Those who believe an interview will go where the interviewer takes it: a. have not seen this video and b. do not understand today’s media environment.

There was a time when the ‘news media’ controlled or influenced how people perceived you or a given subject, but those days are gone.  There are now ample mediums for you to do define yourself and share your message.  You are not beholden to the questioner. You control the microphone.  To get back on point here,

“when engaging in an interview be more aware of the message you want to communicate than answering the questions.”

For an example on exactly how to do that I refer you to Richard Sherman’s brutal take down of ESPN’s Skip Bayless.

Mr. Bayless offered that Sherman didn’t belong in the same “class as Darelle Revis.”  Sherman believed that Mr. Bayless wasn’t backing up his argument with facts. That he was merely offering opinion, more precisely conjecture.

As such, he ignored Mr. Bayless’s questions as to Mr. Sherman’s own, larger motives, and re-framed the debate as an assessment of Mr. Bayless’s argument, and to a large extent a referendum on Mr. Bayless’s journalistic and personal character and integrity.

This is an excellent example of verbal judo. Some might call it truth to power, but I like to think of it as judo because Sherman flipped a malicious adversary (Bayless) on his arse, and the facts and figures would seem to say rightfully so.  He didn’t shout. Calmly and eloquently he stated the facts, called Bayless out and most importantly defined himself (All-Pro, Stanford graduate).

Good for you Mr. Sherman. Good for you.  And for anyone looking for tips on how to perform well in an interview with the news media, watch this clip.

As for you Mr. Bayless, Break Dance Kitten Agrees: You Got Pawned.


A beginner’s guide to proofreading.

Point 1 Addendum: Especially if you are the one who wrote the original copy.

Good p.r. is proofread.


If you had eight reporters in a room at once what would you ask them? (Suggestions encouraged).

Find out October 25, 2013 at the Fair Media Council Connection Day.

Come armed with thoughtful questions. More on this illustrious panel in the days ahead.

Good p.r. is eight reporters.


Listen, we’re all ‘possibly’ Frank Sinatra’s son.”

Good p.r. is comedic.

Brendan Stanton, PR

good p.r. is consistent, innovative sophistication in communication.

Innovative. In order to be consistent in p.r. you must remain innovative.  It’s an industry based on predicting the future and, in the worst cases, reacting with lucid speed to the present.

Moreover, human communication is by nature saddled with a half-life; a half-life being the amount of time required for a quantity [media placement] to fall to half its value as measured at the beginning of the time period. Anyone who has handled the “clips” knows this to be a verifiable observation.

So I repeat, in order to be consistent, you must be innovative; you must be aware and active in the changing mediums of communication.

Take The Bible for example (Lord forgive me).  The earliest writings of The Bible were set down nearly 3500 years ago.  Meanwhile, my earliest memory of a Biblical story comes from watching Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” as a small child.

In short, even The Bible must be innovative to consistently deliver it’s message; a message that has transcended human oration, stone, paper, radio, film, TV, the internet, social media and smart phones.*

Put another way, in p.r. the communication is the product and as our methods of communication evolve the communication itself evolves.

As such, good p.r. inherently requires innovation and is limited in its creativity only by our ability to communicate

(In fact innovative p.r. can literally be out of this world).

good p.r. is innovative


good p.r. is consistent, innovative sophistication in communication.

Consistent. PR legend Dan Edelman (TIME OUT: If you don’t know this name stop reading now. Please go do something else, or pause and do your homework. TIME IN) founded the eponymously-named Edelman in 1952. He did not retire until 1996 at the tender age of 76. He conducted public relations for 44 years.  Then there’s PR legend Howard J. Rubenstein (TIME OUT: You should know him too. TIME IN), who founded Rubenstein Associates in 1954. At the moment of this publication he remains President and Chairman of the firm that bears his name.

You might think these are examples of longevity, but you’d be wrong.

The thing about public relations is that more than most professions, save the U.S.M.C., you are judged daily by what you produce.  So to be that successful, for that many years strikes me as a towering model of consistency. Those who survive and prosper in p.r. are those who can pitch, dream, think, write and create on a daily basis — no matter what’s going on around them, and do it for the benefit of others. Let that last part sink in for a moment.

That is a rare type of consistency and what I mean by ‘good p.r. is consistent.’

*Also, good p.r. is, of course, consistent in the most basic sense of the word.

good p.r. is consistent