Here are 5 Media Training Lessons from Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner’s recent interview with the New York Times regarding his upcoming book “The Masters,” which features interviews he conducted with artists such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and others while at the helm of Rolling Stone.
Wenner, when interviewed about why his new book profiles only white males as pioneers of rock, made various statements about blacks and women that have set off a firestorm of criticism.
Among his infamous statements, The Times quotes Wenner as saying, “Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”
Such a quote makes Wenner a perfect example of why media training is vital before any media interview.
Wenner personifies a lesson I’ve taught in every media training class since the mid-1990s, which is for a spokesperson to ask themselves, “If I could attach a dollar to every word I say, would I make money or lose money?”
Wenner’s verbal faux pas was done in conjunction with an interview to promote a book. How much has Wenner damaged his book sale? Plus, how much has he damaged the revenue, reputation, and brand of Rolling Stone magazine?
Many executives arrogantly think they can enter any interview without preparation. Arrogance combined with denial are a one-two punch that few executives survive when they enter an interview without practice. I’ve long taught executives in my media training classes that it is better to make a verbal mistake in private than to make that mistake in public.
Media training is not supposed to make a spokesperson change their core beliefs. But if the spokesperson’s core beliefs will stir unwanted controversy, it is the media trainer’s job to coach the spokesperson on how to rephrase their statements, since controversy will undoubtedly hurt revenue, reputation, and brand.
In an interview, the spokesperson must understand the difference between their internal monologue and their external conversation. Case in point, Wenner is quoted as saying, “For public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism,” and “Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a (expletive) or whatever.”
Guess who does give a (expletive)? Women, blacks, and many other potential readers of Rolling Stone and potential purchasers of his book, The Masters.
You can’t put the genie back in the bottle and you can’t put lipstick on a pig to make an “ugly” creature look prettier. In a clear “oh sh*t” moment, the publisher of Wenner’s book issued a statement that says, “In my interview with The New York Times I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks.”
Wenner’s quotes caused Rolling Stone magazine to go into crisis response mode. The magazine issued a statement that says, “Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019.”
In conclusion, no media interview should be taken lightly, and no media interview should ever be done without practice. Every word, phrase, and nuance of an interview will be scrutinized by the journalists. There is no margin for error.
To discuss media training for you and your organization, schedule a complimentary, confidential call with me https://calendly.com/braud/15min
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…” and founder of SituationHub crisis communications software.
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