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Dealing With the Press

Over the last five years, I’ve done inter­views with many dif­fer­ent nation­al and local tele­vi­sion shows and pub­li­ca­tions about inter­net safe­ty, cyber­stalk­ing and “reg­u­lar” stalk­ing. I’ve also done one Swedish TV show, one show for the BBC, and one inter­view with a British mag­a­zine, .Net. I’ve learned some things about deal­ing with them the hard way, and after I post­ed some­thing about them to a mail­ing list, one of the read­ers asked if I’d write them up as an arti­cle to which she could link. Here it is.

My expe­ri­ence with the press in the US is just this: they lie. They will do what­ev­er it takes to get the sto­ry they’ve decid­ed they want, no mat­ter what the facts are, no mat­ter who they have to deceive, no mat­ter how much decep­tive edit­ing they have to do. Peri­od.

The BBC folks were the only ones who were hon­est, who did what they said they’d do, who actu­al­ly did a rea­son­able amount of research on their own, and who didn’t edit my words out of con­text. They made some minor mis­takes, but noth­ing mate­r­i­al. Every oth­er show, from 2020 Down­town to the local news, did twist things around to get the sound bites they want­ed. Okay, Oprah didn’t, but that show is live (actu­al­ly, I’d have to say that my expe­ri­ence with them was the best I’ve had with any US media enti­ty).

I’m very, very picky about who I’ll grant inter­views to now. I have very strict rules that the reporters must agree to up front, and if they push, I cut off all con­tact. I get noth­ing from these inter­views — I don’t NEED to do them. They ben­e­fit an orga­ni­za­tion I work with and increase vis­i­bil­i­ty for an issue that’s impor­tant to me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll let reporters vio­late my bound­aries. I didn’t have these rules in place ear­ly on, and I believe I would have avoid­ed sev­er­al bad expe­ri­ences if I had already estab­lished them.

The media doesn’t talk to or meet our chil­dren. It is unlike­ly that they will speak to my part­ner. They don’t get my street address or come to my home or, when I was work­ing out­side the home, my place of busi­ness. They don’t usu­al­ly find out where I’m work­ing, in fact, because I don’t trust them not to give that infor­ma­tion away some­how. They don’t show any of our vehi­cles on film. They find a neu­tral shoot­ing loca­tion or loca­tions for their shots — I did make an excep­tion in tak­ing two film crews to the range where I did most of my tar­get prac­tice at the time, but I fig­ured that was a fair­ly safe place that the stalk­er is like­ly to avoid any­way (and the range own­er was com­plete­ly hap­py to coöperate and get some free adver­tis­ing). I don’t change fam­i­ly plans to do an inter­view, and these days they have to come to Atlanta — it’s too upset­ting to our fam­i­ly life for me to fly else­where with­out lots and lots of notice and plan­ning.

Most of the reporters/​producers I’ve dealt with are just com­plete­ly shocked that any­body would even men­tion, much less main­tain, bound­aries. They expect any­one to be so blown away by being HONORED by the fact that they want to inter­view us that we’ll do absolute­ly ANYTHING to make it hap­pen. Nope, not so. Not here, at least.

Before agree­ing to any kind of media inter­view (espe­cial­ly regard­ing any top­ic that might be con­sid­ered con­tro­ver­sial), decide what you do and do not want to accom­plish. What pur­pose is served in doing this inter­view? What will you gain, if any­thing, either for you per­son­al­ly or for an issue that is impor­tant to you? Is the media out­let you’re deal­ing with a respectable one, and is it going to be a good venue to dis­cuss the top­ic at hand? (Hint: Jer­ry Springer isn’t a good venue for doing any­thing that you won’t regret hor­ri­bly for a long time. The Nation­al Enquir­er is not the place to explain your home life or your reli­gious views. And “free­lance jour­nal­ists” can sell what­ev­er you give them to who­ev­er they like, with­out any input from you. Don’t both­er.)

Find out the scope and focus of the arti­cle. Yes, they’re like­ly to lie about that, too, but if you don’t ask, you def­i­nite­ly won’t know. If you want to talk seri­ous­ly about your reli­gious beliefs, and they’re just look­ing for a local witch to inter­view on Hal­loween, you won’t be hap­py with the results. If you want to encour­age peo­ple to avoid being a vic­tim of crime by think­ing ahead and pro­tect­ing them­selves and their fam­i­lies, and the pro­duc­er wants a scare sto­ry to encour­age pas­sage of restric­tive leg­is­la­tion that you don’t agree with, you need to tell the pro­duc­er to find some­one else to inter­view. If you want to talk about polyamory as a respon­si­ble way to bring more love into your life and show them how healthy and secure your kids are with hav­ing four par­ents instead of two, but the reporter can’t give you an exact time because they aren’t sure how long it’ll take to fin­ish shoot­ing some film at the local swinger’s club, can­cel the inter­view. The focus is on sex, not rela­tion­ships, and will not help your goals at all.

Sit down and estab­lish your own bound­aries. If you have a part­ner or part­ners, you should prob­a­bly include them and think seri­ous­ly about any poten­tial impact on your fam­i­ly. If you’re talk­ing about, say, polyamory, and some of your SOs aren’t out to their employ­ers or fam­i­lies, is it going to cause trou­ble for those SOs? If you’re doing inter­views about a top­ic like stalk­ing, as I have, is any­thing said or shown in the inter­view going to com­pro­mise your family’s safe­ty fur­ther? Will doing the inter­view cause any harass­ment you’re expe­ri­enc­ing to wors­en (and yes, that’s hap­pened to me every time I’ve done an inter­view — I accept that fact when I agree to one) — or even cause oth­ers to tar­get you for harass­ment due to non-main­stream reli­gious beliefs or lifestyles? Is what­ev­er you’re talk­ing about going to cause trou­ble with your your cur­rent employ­er, or make it more dif­fi­cult for you to gain future employ­ment?

Once you have your bound­aries estab­lished, stick to them. Firm­ly. Don’t be pres­sured. Reporters are used to get­ting peo­ple to talk about things they might not want to dis­cuss. They are accus­tomed to manip­u­lat­ing peo­ple. They can come across as your very best friend, and might even promise that some par­tic­u­lar infor­ma­tion is “off the record.” Don’t believe them. Every­thing you say and every­thing they can learn from you, your asso­ciates, and your sur­round­ings is fair game as far as they’re con­cerned. They might claim that it was a deci­sion made by a producer/​editor/​other minor deity lat­er, and that they can’t help it — but still, the dam­age will be done and you’ll have to deal with it while they move on to the next sto­ry. I’m sure that some­where out there, there’s an eth­i­cal mem­ber of the press — I just haven’t real­ly encoun­tered them, so I tend to believe that they’re rare. You can­not regret what you do not say, and you can­not ever take back any­thing you do say or any infor­ma­tion you make avail­able. Think first!

Don’t wait to “see how things go” before estab­lish­ing your bound­aries. Media peo­ple are charm­ing. It’s their job. They will be sym­pa­thet­ic and acco­mo­dat­ing and friend­ly and oth­er­wise just won­der­ful until they get what they want. You will not want to say no to them. You will want to be coöperative and acco­mo­dat­ing, too, and before you know it you’re doing things you wouldn’t have agreed to if you’d tru­ly thought about them before hand. The time to decide what you will and will not do and say is before the reporter or pro­duc­er is in your home or office.

The bot­tom line is that you need to think defen­sive­ly. It isn’t glam­orous to be inter­viewed. There’s no acclaim. Unless you’re wired utter­ly dif­fer­ent­ly than I am (which might well be, I know), the ego-boo just isn’t a big deal.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished 2001