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Backing it Up

by Al Rothstein

You are in a crisis. It may be full blown or simply a confrontational interview. You saw it coming, so you went through media training, prepared your points, and practiced. our interview is going well and you're proud of yourself - until the reporter asks, "Can you prove that?" What do you do?

Rule #1 - During a media interview, we should never make a statement unless we can back it up.

Great. So you tell the reporter that you can absolutely prove it. The reporter then says, "Okay, let's see." How do you present your documentation?

Rule #2 - Keep it brief.

If it is the Starr Report, with its juicy bits of information, lengthy is okay. But you aren’t talking about the Starr Report. Your documentation should highlight the key points, just as you do during your verbal interview. Highlight in yellow or use bullet points. A good example is a late-breaking court order. If it comes down at 4:30 pm, and the reporter wants to go live at five, you will be helping the reporter, and your message will be clearer, if you can point him/her to the real meaning.

Rule #3 - Keep it simple.

If you're talking to a business reporter and your stock price is the issue, charts come in handy. The visuals must be simple. Don't expect the reporter to use your exact visual aid, though. Most of the time it will be reworked to match the broadcast outlet or print publication's format.

Rule #4 - Don’t just insist that something is right. Show them!

While researching interviews for my media training clients, I have heard more than a few times the phrases, "Cause I said so!" and "I'm telling you that's the way it is!"

This may seem like a forceful response to a cynical reporter, and you may think that it will convince the public to side with you. However, there is nothing worse than to hear such a response only to have the reporter say, "We checked, and found just the opposite is true." Your forceful response has made you look bad.

Rule #5 - "May I see that, please?"

There have been instances when reporters will tell you, during an interview, that they have in their hand a document that proves something. Always ask to see it! After all, if you should back it up, so should they.

As I preach to my clients, no matter who is talking, if it can't be backed up, it shouldn't be said.

1. Document it.
2. Keep it brief.
3. Keep it simple.
4. Don’t just insist.
5. Ask the reporter to show you.

Contact Al Rothstein for spokesperson training, media relations, and crisis communication.
Al Rothstein Media Services, Inc. E-mail:
Toll-Free Phone: 1- 800-453-6352.

See case histories at

See also:
Getting the Most from Interviews
Guidelines for successful interviews
Off the Record
After the interview
Involve Your Audience During TV Interviews
Oh, the Mistakes Spokespeople Make: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Blow an Interview
When Bad Things Happen to Good Spokespeople: Handling Tough Interviews
Meeting the Media Face-to-Face
Sources Media Training