Brian Edwards on ‘media training’ and why Russell Brown is wrong

There are two top teams when it comes to media training. Both teams are brilliant at what they do. One is Bill Ralston his missus Janet Wilson, the other team is Brian Edwards and his missus Judy Callingham. I rate both teams as equals, both are are very successful. The reason for their success is the ability to remove the politics from a situation or issue and to look at the issue or challenge dispassionately and almost mathematically or scientifically.

It is why I respect both Brian and Billy.

So when Brian Edwards says that John Campbell got schooled by John Key it pays to listen. Only a silly person would scoff and laugh it all off as a lucky break and a result of media training. I mean think about that for a moment…Russell Brown, amongst others has suggested that a quick once over lightly media training session allowed John Key to destroy someone who has had constant media training day in day out on his own show…that that same media training allowed John Key to foot it with John campbell on and equal footing and then miraculously land a couple of killer punches against the general thrust of the fight?

It’s bullshit.  A crude term I know, and certainly my good friend Brian Edwards wouldn’t be pleased with such coarse language, but bullshit is what that excuse is and bullshit is what it must be called. Brian Edwards agrees…except he uses much finer words to explain.

But first an explanation as to what a TV interview can deliver in the hands of skilled operator.

In the political arena, television provides incontrovertible evidence of the truth of the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words. Its ultimate power lies in the close-up. In this respect I like to quote the doyen of British television interviewers, the late-lamented Sir Robin Day:

“When a TV interviewer questions a politician, this is one of the rare occasions, perhaps the only occasion outside Parliament, when a politician’s performance cannot be completely manipulated or packaged or artificially hyped.

“The image-maker can advise on how to sit, or what hairstyle to have, or on voice quality. But once the interview has started, the politician is on his or her own….

“Unlike a politician’s platform speech, or a politician’s article, or a politician’s TV address, an interview on television is one public act which is not in the hands of the advertising men, the pollsters and propagandists, the image-makers, the public relations experts or the marketing men….

“In a TV interview, provided there is time for probing cross-examination, the politician cannot be wholly shielded against the unexpected. The politician’s own brain is seen to operate. His or her real personality tends to burst out. Truth is liable to raise its lovely head.” 

And this is why Brian Edwards is displeased with off the cuff and illogical claims by Russell Brown.

This is why Russell Brown’s comment that the Key/Campbell debate was ‘a study in media training’ annoyed me so much – because it displayed such abysmal ignorance of the media trainer’s inability to instruct his client in the art of deceiving the viewing public. There is no such art. Why not?  Precisely because, as Day observes, in a television interview, ‘The politician’s own brain is seen to operate. His or her real personality tends to burst out. Truth is liable to raise its lovely head.’

That is nowhere more true than in New Zealand. We’re a media-savvy lot in Godzone, not easily fooled.

So at the end of the Campbell/Key debate we probably thought that Key won but was a bit too silver-tongued to be entirely credible, and Campbell lost because it meant too much to him.

The problem many commentators and political tragics have is they are too close to the battle, they are ‘inside the beltway’. I am thankful everyday that I don;t live in Wellington, in that incredibly small and incestuous cauldron of mediocrity masquerading as brilliance.

It isn’t without chance that the two teams of premier media trainers are both domiciled in Auckland, far from the political sewers of Wellington. Russell Brown too lives in Auckland, perhaps he should trot along to see Brian or Bill to grab some quality media training…instead of mouthing off about that which he knows nothing.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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