Every media trainer has a video reel of do’s and don’ts that they use to coach clients on how to get the most out of press appearances. These guides are filled with useful tips on how to handle a hostile interview, how to pivot from what the interviewer wants to discuss, to the interviewee’s goals, and making sure you are briefed on relevant news before talking to a reporter. But the main lesson is: Your main power in engaging with the media is in first deciding whether you want to engage at all. So far, several members of the Trump administration look like they need to be retrained.
Did you happen to see Stephen Miller on the Sunday shows? Not good. His performance could have replaced Al Haig’s infamous, “I’m in charge here” spoken in a sweat from the White House lectern while his commander in chief was a few blocks away being treated for a gunshot wound. Miller’s performance Sunday, in which he said, “The powers of the president … will not be questioned” might be worth its own tabs in a revised media training briefing book under the headings: “Don’t scare people.” Or: “Don’t let your anger and contempt show so much.” And, finally: “Don’t come across like an authoritarian when speaking in a democracy.”
But at least Miller had something to say; some reason to make the rounds. He wanted to remind us who is in charge, (his president), and his president was pleased with his performance. So far, we haven’t heard the tweet of presidential praise for Kellyanne Conway’s performance this morning on the “Today” show, covered here by Greg Sargent. Conway violated the first rule of media trainers: Don’t agree to an interview unless you have something to say that helps you or your cause. What was Conway’s goal in showing up in the coveted first minutes of the show? Matt Lauer’s first question was about the disparity between Conway’s statement Monday that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn enjoyed the full confidence of the president and press secretary Sean Spicer’s statement that the president was “evaluating” the situation and dismissed Flynn shortly thereafter. Was she out of the loop, Lauer wanted to know? “No, not all,” she said. “Both statements were true.”
It went downhill from there. Conway, as she has been doing more of lately, made matters worse, not better for herself and the president. She couldn’t defend Flynn, and made it obvious that the administration’s best argument for dismissing Flynn, his misleading of Vice President Pence, was a fact known to the White House for several weeks. She might have said simply, “Matt, General Flynn served his country with distinction. He decided to resign. Both you and I have been around long enough to know that people in my position will respect that decision and not comment beyond what the general has apologized for. I can tell you, however, that the president is moving on and focused on several strong candidates to replace General Flynn…” But she didn’t, and unlike a media training session, she doesn’t get to erase the tape.