Are there any secrets, any words of wisdom, for how to handle this situation when possibly millions of people are watching and the reporter displays obvious dissatisfaction with your answer and re-asks the question?
Yes, there are some techniques as well as mental constructs that are necessities at a time like this. But before we delve into them, watch this two- minute clip of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner being pepper-sprayed with the same question by Chris Wallace on yesterday's edition of Fox News Sunday.
Since this is a blog about media training and not politics, we're going to zero in on Geithner's technique and not whether or not he should have disclosed more about his doomsday strategy. I'm giving him an "A minus" for steadfastly holding his own:
- he gave the same answer each time, not wavering or adding unnecessary details on the 2nd and 3rd attempts by Wallace to crack his composure
- by not changing his response, Geithner eliminated the possibility of giving Wallace new facts to open up for yet more questions
- by not changing his response, Geithner did not undermine his credibility or confuse the audience with different responses, leaving them to wonder which answer was the "real" one
- he sounded confident, in control, as if he believed in and owned his message
- he didn't display anger, fidget in his chair or move forward physically as if to dare Wallace to ask him yet one more time
If I put my ex-producer's hat back on, of course, Wallace did what he needed to do for his Sunday broadcast. He's out to (a) make news and (b) get some needed answers for the American people. But if you listen carefully to the way Wallace framed his initial question, he immediately put Geithner on the hot seat by challenging him not to answer the question: "You're not going to want to talk about this but I'm asking you a straight question and I'm counting on a straight answer." Score one for Chris because there was no way for Geithner to come out of that a winner unless he gave Wallace what he was after.
So here's the take-away message for you if you're ever in the unfortunate position of dodging repeated questioning on an issue you don't want to discuss - or can't for whatever reason. Hold your own, keep it short, repeat the same message and don't waver, fidget or raise your voice. And, if possible, frame your position at the top for the audience so they understand why you're not going to discuss the topic. For example, "our company policy is to never discuss rumors or innuendos."
And when the knot in your stomach continues to grow with each repeat of the question, remember this: Even a Chris Wallace will stop after three or four attempts because he doesn't want to come off looking like a bully. No reporter wants to ever risk the audience ultimately siding with you.