Clown questions: Navigating difficult media interviews

By now, you’ve probably heard the catchphrase that’s gone viral: “That’s a clown question, bro.”

If you haven’t, here’s the background. Nineteen-year-old Nationals rookie Bryce Harper had a great game against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. After a huge home run, a Toronto reporter asked him if he planned to take advantage of Canada’s lower drinking age with a “celebratory Canadian beer.”

Although his PR representative quickly suggested a different line of questioning, Harper confidently responded with the now-trending clown line. End of discussion.

So why was the reporter out of line? First of all, Harper is underage. Secondly, Harper is Mormon, and the question intersected with his faith’s prohibition of alcohol.

Media interviews can be difficult. From time to time, the interviewee may feel trapped or confused by a reporter’s line of questioning. Although Harper’s approach isn’t necessarily the best in most interviews, here are a few things to remember if you’re ever in a sticky situation:

1- They can’t quote you if you don’t say it. If you are asked something that feels uncomfortable, take a deep breath and think about your response before ever opening your mouth. If you don’t know the answer, be upfront and say that you’ll help them find the best person or best information instead of commenting yourself. However, avoid just saying, “no comment.”

2- Bridge back to your messaging. If you feel like the question is off-topic, bring it back to the messages that are important for you to express. If you’re well versed on your corporate messaging and goals, you should have no problem weaving them into the conversation.

3- Beware of a Sarah Palin mistake. No amount of preparation could have prepared Palin for the now-famous faux pas she made in her interview with Katie Couric; media training doesn’t teach you what newspapers you read. Again, if you’re caught off guard, just keep your cool and you’ll be fine.

By the way, Harper is being called a catchphrase genius. Am I going to use this phrase in my everyday language? Of course. That’s a clown question, bro.