05 November 2015

Media Training 101: Truth and Credibility #nlpoli

Last Friday, CBC’s David Cochrane asked Ryan Cleary about information Cochrane had – apparently from NDP sources  - that Cleary had tried to run in a district where the New Democrats already had a candidate.

They asked him specifically about Virginia Park-Pleasantville, where the NDP had already announced lawyer Bob Buckingham would be the star candidate for the party.

Cleary replied:  “Absolutely not.”

That wasn’t true, as CBC’s Terry Roberts confirmed on Wednesday.

Roberts spoke with Buckingham who confirmed that he’d been asked by unnamed NDP insiders if he might entertain the idea of stepping aside. Buckingham confirmed to Roberts that he rejected the idea flatly. 

Buckingham did the right thing as well.  It was right not because they rejected Cleary but because they were right to resist any effort by a prima donna to get his way.  Buckingham had decided to put his name on the ballot while Cleary was still screwing around in the federal election.  He had the sweat equity already invested in the district and it would have be fundamentally wrong for him to step aside for any presumptive star.

CBC also spoke to NDP spokesperson Jean Graham who confirmed that party leader Earle McCurdy had flatly rejected the idea as well.  There can’t be stars in a team and McCurdy’s decision reflected solid leadership instincts.

That story is essentially what SRBP gave you on Monday.  Cleary wanted the party to bend over backwards for him and McCurdy rightly told him to sod off. 

But that’s not what you should notice right now.

Notice that when Cleary was confronted with an accurate version of what happened, his reaction was to avoid a simple answer to a direct question. Cochrane’s question wasn’t loaded.  It had no hidden surprises in it.

Did you reach out to the provincial NDP.. about running for them in Virginia Waters? asked Cochrane

In Virginia Waters?  Cleary says, as if Cochrane had mumbled it.

I had a conversation…

I had a conversation…

I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the NDP, well not a lot…

And here I am

So Cochrane asked again.

And then Cleary said “absolutely not.”

Every single word Cleary uttered other than “yes” or “no” in response to the first question told you that what he was saying simply wasn’t true.

Cleary was avoiding, deflecting, dodging.  He was running from the question.

And when confronted with it again, his response was – as we now know – not truthful.

He denied speaking about Virginia Waters.  But he still didn’t stop at a simple answer to a simple question.  He added lots of vague statements.  He talked about “scenarios” for what Cleary might do after federal politics. Then he went back to more vague talk about conversations.

What Cleary said may have been sort of, vaguely true.


But frankly, all his vagueness and woolly talk about conversations and scenarios screams that Cleary wasn’t telling the truth.

Do the math, Gil

Nalcor’s Gil Bennett turned up on CBC recently to explain why a company had to go back and fix a couple of the towers involved in transmitting electricity from Labrador to the island. The interview with Labrador Morning made a second appearance with On the Go on Wednesday afternoon.

The story is actually quite simple.  There are something like 460 massive towers involved.  The design specifications are one thing.  Sometimes,  the engineers have to modify things in the field.  Inevitably there are little things here and there that need to get fixed.

Bennett explained that the whole thing falls under the original contract price so there is no cost to Nalcor.  really simple stuff, right?

Well, apparently not so simple.

Asked how many towers were involved,  Bennett said he didn’t have the exact number but that it was about one percent of the total.

So to put a “hard number” on that, we’d be talking… not a lot said Bennett or words to that effect.

This sort of back and forth went on for so long that it really made you wonder why Gil wouldn’t just do a bit of simple math.  He’d already acknowledged that the number of towers was one percent of the total.  In the preamble, the interviewer explained there were something on the order of 460 towers.

Do the math.

10% would be 46.

So one percent would be four or five.

Not hard, right?

Well,  apparently very hard for Gil Bennett.

There was no obvious reason for Bennett to run from putting a hard – that is a specific – number on things.  The figure reinforced his point that this wasn’t an issue at all, on any level.

But no b’y.

There was no way Gil would take the simple step of saying that one percent of 460 was around five.

Every word Gil Bennett said instead of answering the simple question made his responses look suspicious, even if Bennett was just being a horse’s ass. The more they talked and the more Gil dodged, the dodgier Gil sounded.

This is not the first time Bennett has run into this problem of avoiding a simple answer to a simple question.   On water rights management he did the same sort of thing.  Any time the issue of Quebec came up, Bennett would say that Nalcor had no intention of doing anything to affect Hydro-Quebec’s contractual rights adversely.  Wonderful stuff. 

The problem was that the folks with the 2041 Group had been talking about what HQ could do to screw with Nalcor.  Different question.  Bennett’s insistence on answering the wrong question kept undermining Bennett’s credibility.  Bennett could keep up the dodge only up to the point when Hydro-Quebec filed suit against Nalcor ‘s Churchill Falls subsidiary.  At that point, anyone paying attention immediately understood why Bennett had been ducking the question all along.

In media interviews, your credibility is always on the line.

Give simple answers to simple questions.

Everything else sounds like a dodge.

A dodge damages your credibility, if not immediately, then when the truth comes out.

And the truth pretty much always comes out.

Here endeth the lesson.