Last week gave us another astonishing media interview – with more lessons of what not to do.

Irish news channel RTE interviewed John O’Keeffe, spokesperson for the Garda Representative Association, about an investigation which found Irish police officers have been falsifying breath test data.

O’Keeffe looked calm and composed enough, but the interview unravelled as he pressed the blatantly contradictory points that a) no ordinary police officers had falsified any data, and b) ordinary officers had falsified the data because of pressure from above.

If he’d focused on the first of these points and at some point the second had slipped out, it would have undermined his argument – but been understandable as a stumble.

But he makes both these claims over and over throughout the five-minute interview, despite being challenged on the contradiction a dozen times, losing all credibility for himself and his organisation. (The interview would have been far shorter if he hadn’t: most of the time the reporter was trying to get some sense out of him.)

Why did this happen?

A lack of basic preparation seems beyond doubt. This is vital for any interview, but all the more so when dealing with a crisis situation or a scandal like this.

We can only assume O’Keeffe didn’t think through the most obvious questions and rehearse a credible position beforehand.

Or, as he was clearly on a mission to defend ordinary police officers, is it possible that he actually considered two (contradictory) potential positions; then – unable to decide which to follow – panicked and tried to claim both?

He was also unable to think on his feet and adapt his approach when challenged. When his blatant contradiction was first exposed, he should have apologised for confusing matters and gone firmly with one line or the other. Instead, he kept on repeating both claims even though they made no sense.

Subsequent twist

Adding further to the sense of farce around this saga, The Times reports that O’Keeffe has since complained that RTE was out to “ridicule” him and he’s threatening to sue.

He claims (and they deny) that RTE had agreed to edit out some of his comments. So could he have been ‘trying out’ two contradictory lines on the assumption that one would be removed?

Whatever happened, this hammers home a second lesson: the journalist standing in front of you is not your friend. They’re there to report on a story, not to do you a favour. And, if the story’s good enough, there’s no guarantee that any of it will stay ‘off the record’ or be cut out.

In this case, if there was a discussion about some parts being deleted, RTE must have later decided the interview was just too good in its entirety to be edited down.

Leaving aside that threatening to sue a news outlet is a horrendously bad move for your media relations, you simply can’t prosecute a TV channel for broadcasting your genuine comments unedited. And it wasn’t RTE that “ridiculed” O’Keeffe; he managed that on his own.

It’s well worth watching the full interview:

What would you have done differently?

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