Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh: A tale of two media training approaches

The one good outcome from the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Justice Brett Kavanaugh last week is that I now have an easy way to describe the difference between my approach to media training and that of my competitors.

A composite photo of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Justice Brett Kavanaugh being sworn in durng testimony at the US Senate Judiciary Committee
Dr. Blasey Ford answered every question posed by the committee. She paused and thought, answered the question asked (and only the question asked), and stopped talking as soon as the answer was provided.

Pause-answer-stop is the first skill I teach my clients. As Dr. Blasey Ford demonstrated, it is a wonderful defensive strategy for avoiding being quoted out of context, and it enables the person implementing that basic strategy to communicate effectively and credibly.

And it works. Dr. Blasey Ford was transparent. She was respectful. She communicated clearly. She maintained her credibility and, most of all, her dignity.

Justice Kavanaugh came out swinging. Yes, someone falsely accused of sexual assault would be upset. But once that emotion was expressed in an opening statement, if I had accepted an engagement with Justice Kavanaugh, my advice would have been to pause and think after the question is asked, to answer the question asked and only the question asked, and stop talking.

I wouldn’t have taught him how to bridge to something more important than what was being asked (a common technique taught during traditional media training), nor would I have ever counselled him to be belligerent to the point of attempting to control the interview with a question like: “Have you ever drank to excess, Senator?”

I would have taught Justice Kavanaugh my proprietary defensive strategies, at least one of which Dr. Blasey Ford implemented during her testimony. And we would have dealt with the inevitable question: “Have you ever drank to excess?”

As one of my clients often says: “If you can survive Eric, you can survive anyone.”

While my wife and I were watching his testimony, I turned to her and said that he was in for a long, long week because of his belligerence and his inability to answer the question and stop talking. I told her that he’s going to be quoted out of context by everyone, and that his credibility would be in question. And that prediction has come true. Justice Kavanaugh has been quoted out of context all week, and his reputation is no better off today than it was a week ago.

The next time you’re looking for media training, keep this comparison in mind. Who do you want your spokespeople to emulate?

Do you want them to strive for the credibility and poise of Dr. Blasey Ford? Or do you want them to try to control the interview, tell others what’s important, talk too much, and be constantly quoted out of context?

The choice is yours.

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Media training consultant Eric Bergman in front of his motorcycle near Lake Ontario with the Toronto skyline in the background
As Canada's most experienced, credentialed and effective media training consultant, Eric Bergman provides services to clients globally from his base in Toronto.

Contact Eric if you’re interested in having spokespeople be more like Dr. Blasey Ford than Justice Kavanaugh.