When people think of an "ambush interview," they typically conjure up an image of a television interviewer--a Mike Wallace type--chasing after a scandal-tarred politician with camera and microphone in tow.
Those types of ambushes still occur on occasion. But today's political candidates are just as likely to face ambush-style interviews from campaign trackers, who are paid by candidates' opponents to record their every move in an effort to capture--or create--a harmful media moment.
Regardless of whether your ambusher is a reporter or a tracker, they're both after the same thing: a great visual that makes you look bad. If you respond with defensiveness, anger, or shock, news outlets will run the video of your lousy reaction repeatedly, perhaps for days--and you'll have handed your opponent perfect fodder for a negative ad.
In June 2010, for example, two young interviewers sent by Republican political strategists approached Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC). He responded by striking the camera and violently grabbing the wrist and neck of one of the interviewers. Etheridge lost his re-election bid by about 1,500 votes; this incident likely sealed his fate.
Congressional candidate Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) fell into the same trap last September when she, too, was approached by a campaign tracker. Before the interviewer even had a chance to ask a question, she took his camera and threatened to keep it--and was caught on tape saying "F him" about her opponent. (Although the incident earned her a few negative headlines, she narrowly won the race.)
You win ambushes by denying the reporter a great visual. When cameras are present, it's usually a good idea to be polite, warm, and friendly--the better you look in the video, the less likely your opponents will have any inclination to use the video at all.
Just remember the words from that old deodorant ad every time a camera is nearby: never let 'em see you sweat.
Taegan D. Goddard is the founder of Political Wire, one of the earliest and most influential political web sites.
Goddard spent more than a decade as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he was a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You
Won - Now What? (Scribner, 1998), a political
management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from
both parties. In addition, Goddard's essays on politics and public
policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers across the country,
including the Washington Post, USA Today, Boston Globe, San Francisco
Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and Christian Science
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University. He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.
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