Ambushed

Posted by on Oct 31, 2011 in Uncategorized | One Comment
NYU’s Jay Rosen

NYU’s Jay Rosen is a very smart fellow. I’ve heard him speak on many occasions about the transformation taking place in the worlds of media and journalism. He even joined one of our Publicity Club of New York panels back when the sea change had not fully taken hold. I was thus surprised to see him in the news last week for an entirely different reason.

He apparently was caught in a sting orchestrated by right-wing video prankster James O’Keefe of Acorn and NPR-defaming fame. Mr. O’Keefe insidiously dispatched a young man to one of Mr. Rosen’s public lectures under the guise of having an interest in potentially matriculating at NYU.

The man’s real intention was to capture Prof. Rosen and his fellow presenter Clay Shirky’s insights into The New York Times in an attempt to discredit the news operation of the (world’s most) esteemed news organization. Ahhh…if only someone would secretly embed at Fox News to really demonstrate news bias.  I suppose there’s always Anonymous.

James O’Keefe

Of interest to me, and by extension, my PR-minded readers, is what happened next. The pseudo grad student contacted Prof. Rosen to arrange “an interview” two days after the session. with the ruse of exploring enrolling at the university, but instead used the meeting to secretly record the politically progressive professor for publication.  As a result, more fuel was added to the pretender’s prefabricated narrative.

In a Poynter piece titled “To Catch a Journalist,” Rosen reflected after the fact:

“I now realize he was scamming me and almost certainly taping me. The intended story line, worked out in advance, was lefty journalism professor jumps at the chance to assist with the discrediting of the Tea Party by passing along sensational footage to his buddies at the Times.”

By quickly agreeing to the interview, While Prof. Rosen was duped into this interview, many other newsmakers blindly agree to talk to strangers, breaking a cardinal rule in PR: don’t avail yourself to a media interview before learning about the reporter, outlet and intended story line. Truth be told, newsmakers (and their PR handlers) are perfectly within their rights to have a few questions answered before acquiescing, e.g.:

  • What is the nature of the story? 
  • How much time will be needed for the interview? 
  • Where will it run? 
  • When will it run? 
  • Who else is being interviewed for the piece?

I’ll never forget some of our media training sessions in which we would ambush senior executives as they emerged from the office elevator. With a hand-held camera and sun-gun, the executive reflexively started answering questions without any cognizance of who he/she was talking to or in what context the footage might be used. In Rosen’s defense, the faux-journalist had a hidden audio recorder.

In today’s media-driven environment, anyone with a decent-grade video camera or lowly blog can grab face-time with some pretty influential newsmakers, no questions asked. Sure, the White House press office remains solicitous about granting access to their main charge, as do the corporate communications departments of most publicly traded companies.

But without professional gatekeepers, many newsworthy folks can be feckless in their desire to attain some of that 15 minutes of fame. Many big names have even succumbed to the charms of this decidedly niche blog, and I’ve seen whole sites sprout, aggregate and flourish based on the relatively new dynamic wherein thought leaders have myriad new outlets to air, well, their thoughts.  Beet.TV and BigThink are two that come to mind.

Another positive outcropping of the times in which we live lies in the ease with which anyone can publicly share his or her POV. To this end, one has to give Prof. Rosen credit for taking the time to thoughtfully address the very reasons for which he apparently was targeted in the first place. His post is titled “A note to my conservative friends.”

(Who knew he had conservative friends?)

1 Comment

  1. Peter Himler
    November 3, 2011

    Sure I’ll amend.  Thanks for the clarification.