Allegations of sexual assault have dogged Bill Cosby over recent years and keep emerging like Junior Barnes’ snowball from the freezer, and it is Cosby that is getting hit on the head again.
The latest salvo is a video that emerged yesterday from the Associated Press (AP), which featured their interview with Bill Cosby and his wife Camille, to whom he has been married for fifty years. The subject of the interview was the Cosby’s loaning their considerably collection of African art to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, for an exhibition that started this month. The reason it emerged yesterday was the response made by Bill Cosby, during this interview, in relation to questions on sexual assault allegations that were put to him. The interview seemed to be hijacking of the Cosby’s supposed interview on the art exhibition, albeit a legitimately, where the AP were able to get Bill Cosby on camera and on the record in relation the unrelated matter of the sexual assault allegations. The full details can be found on TheJournal.ie
You would expect Cosby to be a seasoned pro with the media, however, he made three fundamental errors, which I’d like to examine here.
1. The first is that it does not matter what the subject matter of the interview is, the journalist has the right to ask you any question. So you need to be prepared. Cosby has been dogged by sexual assault allegations over the years, which resurfaced earlier this year, but he wasn’t prepared.
The golden rule here is if you have something you don’t want to talk about, or simply have not prepared a response for, then DO NOT do an interview with the media. And certainly do not do one that is being recorded on camera for TV.
Bill has been fighting off these allegations for a few years and maybe he thinks he is bullet proof or could handle it. But we are living in a new era where fame and money will not protect you and people will not be bullied.
This was his first mistake. He made more.
2. Secondly, assume all interviews are ‘on the record’ for their entirety. That is for the entire time you are with the journalists and their team. One of the oldest tricks in the book that journalists employ, is making it seem to the person being interviewed that the interview is finished, when actually the most important part of the interview is often about to begin.
By making it seem like it is finished the person being interviewed often relaxes and lets their guard down. This is when they think they’re going to engage in small talk or chit chat to end on, but this is often when the serious and most damaging questions can come, because the cameras are still rolling and microphones are still on. Often the entire point an interview has been organised to get to this point.
With the Cosby interview below, Bill initially responded on the record, that he had no comment to make. But when he thought the interview was finished and he was ‘off-the-record’, he started to elaborate on his reasons for not commenting on the sexual assault allegations and showed to the world how uncomfortable he is with them.
The second golden rule here is always to assume the camera and microphones are on and still recording. Always assume you are being recorded from the moment you step into a room and see a camera or a microphone. Then always assume you are still on the record until you have taken the microphone off and you are away from the cameras and the person interviewing you. Even when this has been done, do not go off the record when speaking to them or something may still be mentioned on air by them relating to comments you made ‘off camera’. There is no pre-interview and no post-interview, the entire time is an THE interview.
I once had a client who was about to talk to me about the subject of the interview as we walked out of the BBC’s Broadcasting House, to which I immediately interrupted and stopped them because one of the researchers from the programme, who was sat in on the interview, was walking next to us and could clearly hear what we were talking about. When I relayed this to the client afterwards, they hadn’t realised. So you have to be careful.
3. Cosby’s third mistake was going on the record and then asking for what he’d just said to be wiped from the record. This is a big ‘no no’. There can often be very good reasons for going off the record, for instance if you want to give helpful background to a journalist or present them with sensitive information, so that they can get a fully rounded picture of the subject matter. But first you must ask if you can go off the record and then get the journalist to agree that you can. If they do agree then ask them to turn off the camera, mics and recording devices, just in case. A journalist will often do this anyway as a matter of course. But once you have commented on the record like Cosby was, then there is no going back. You can’t then expect a request for your comments to be “struck from the record” because it is already on the record and you put it there.
So, good on the Associated Press for publishing the full interview.
It will be interesting to see Cosby’s next move in this comedy of errors – not even Fat Albert can save him now.
Here’s the Cosby car crash…..