When life imitates art, as it has recently, it's time to take the lesson.
Grey's Anatomy's Isaiah Washington made a classic media error backstage at the Golden Globes. The actor repeated a loaded/negative word in an effort to deny it. Former President Richard Nixon made a similar faux pas when he proclaimed, "I am not a crook!"
Washington was more savvy with his written apology: "By repeating the word, I marred what should have been a perfect night for everyone who works on Grey's Anatomy. I know the power of words, especially those that demean," the statement continued. "With one word, I've hurt everyone who has struggled for the respect so many of us take for granted."
But one clearly sabotages that respect by repeating negatives. As Washington moved toward the microphone at the Globes, he should have thought of a careful way to turn a negative into a positive by addressing - instead of answering - the question.
Media Mission #1: Address rather than answer the question with your Ready answer. (But avoid what most politicians do: often ignoring the question altogether.)
Media Mission #2: Create a positive instead of repeating a negative, even in denial.
According to USA Today, Washington checked himself into a residential treatment facility. Life & Times speculated that his purpose was to "quell the controversy and save his job." Perhaps media coaching should be part of the celebrity rehab trend, which also protects public figures from themselves by letting them hide out from the media to ride out the storm.
Later in the week, The New York Times reported that in preparation to take the stage behind President Bush during the State of the Union address, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had been coached by her staff to keep a "neutral face." "They warned that any raised eyebrow or pursed lip would be captured by the cameras trained on the President." They were right. It seems the "Democrats had decided it was not in their interest to look churlish during the speech."
Media Mission #3. Watch your face and what it might say about your true feelings. You should be "on" as soon as you arrive.
The Times also reported that appearances were obviously important to Pelosi, who changed from the brown suit she had worn earlier to a soft green one, which "offered more contrast to her dark leather Speaker's chair." It also softened her look, not unlike the pale pink suit Hillary Clinton wore on all three nightly network news programs the night she announced her 2008 agenda.
Although the camera loves color, as evidenced by the classic Reagan Red or Barbara Bush Blue, there seems to be a new wind blowing in political dress for media success circles. Note that President Bush has pioneered the blue tie vs. the classic bright red one, perhaps a non-verbal attempt at taking some of the heat out of the war.
Anne Ready and Tomm Taylor are principals at Ready For Media in Malibu, CA. Ready is author of Off the Cuff/What to Say at a Moment's Notice (Career Press).