What Would Bill Do? Media Coach Bill McGowan Takes on the Week’s News


In the latest edition of our series featuring Clarity Media Group founder Bill McGowan, Bill addresses three problems that prominent personalities couldn’t wish away this week:

  • Uber’s attempt to brush its media relations failure under the digital carpet
  • Scientist Dr. Matt Taylor’s decision to wear a highly questionable shirt on the air
  • Don Lemon’s very, very poor choice of questions for one of Bill Cosby’s accusers

Journalists’ Joy Ride

Emil Michael of Uber is clearly not a Mark Twain fan.  If he were, he would know that famous Twain quote strongly advising against making enemies of journalists: “Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

Uber, by everyone’s estimate, had a bad week – a very bad week.  Michael broke one of the media training introductory-course edicts: never say anything in the presence of a reporter that you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing inside your quotation marks.  Just because a reporter at your dinner table is wielding a fork and knife instead of a reporter’s notebook doesn’t mean you can go off half-cocked with Nixonian-style revenge plots.  Assuming those way-off-pitch sentiments will not end up in print is more naïve than belief in the Easter Bunny.

This week’s massive misstep required Uber to issue a public mea culpa of Biblical proportions.  That’s not quite what happened, a development that violated rule #2: When the PR damage is bad, fall on your sword squarely and unequivocally.

Prompt a hemorrhage rather than a slow bleed so you can move on as quickly as possible.  If the general perception is that the apology was lame and half hearted, then you’re merely guaranteeing the story will stay active in the news cycle longer than you want it to.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Dr. Matt Taylor

Attention all wardrobe consultants!  The European Space Agency needs you – quickly, before they have another international incident.  While the Philae space explorer was executing a perfect landing on a distant comet, one of its scientists, Dr. Matt Taylor was suffering a devastating wardrobe malfunction back on Earth.

On what was supposed to be a day of public triumph, Dr. Taylor greeted the press in a shirt that looked like he and Tony Soprano got their dry cleaning mixed up.  The bowling shirt in question was covered in artwork depicting women scantily clad in leather – a notch above the calendars hanging in your auto mechanic’s office.  To his credit, Dr. Taylor gave a tearful apology the next day when he realized how far his head must have been in the ozone layer when he reached in his closet the preceding morning.

So, a word to the wise for all you PR pros:  The last question you should pose to anyone you’re prepping to face the media is, “so what were you planning on wearing tomorrow?”

Lemon’s Sour Note

The toxic ripple effect from the Bill Cosby fiasco came pulsating through CNN this week when anchor Don Lemon asked what may just be the dumbest and most insensitive question ever put to an alleged rape victim.

Essentially, Lemon asked Joan Tarshis why she couldn’t have used her teeth as a weapon to stop from being forced to perform oral sex on Cosby.

Perhaps CNN should hold a seminar for its anchors and reporters reminding them how repugnant it is to ask any leading blame-the-victim-type questions.