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How to deal with the media

As I said before, I worked as a journalist for a time. While it is not true that all journalists are cruel and petty drug addicts with a thirst for gossip that would make a teenage girl blush, enough of them are so that it makes no difference for practical purposes—if the individual you are talking to happens to be okay, their editor is probably not. Protocol: if you are in a rabies zone and are approached by a strange dog flecked with saliva it is best to assume it has rabies, even if, perhaps, he is just a thirsty good boi.

In the past, the options for the public confronted by journalists were limited. A target could ignore journalists, leading to the inevitable and accusatory: “Mr. Smith could not be reached for comment.” This is about the equivalent of pleading the Fifth Amendment; people who do it look guilty, even if they are not. It is also psychologically difficult, just try walking from your office to your car surrounded by cameras, voices crying out for comment, and doing so silently; even if you keep your cool you look like some stone-cold evil bastard—and if you lose your temper or worse, stop to talk, sweating under the lights and speaking off the cuff...well…

The other option was to engage and “tell your side of the story”, with the predictable stitch up; if the journalist is not sympathetic to you—and journalists will do anything to get the story, including pretending to like you—then your words, compressed into a short article or TV segment, can be cut up and decontextualised to make you look like the kind of person that rapes children and has a good chuckle about it afterwards.

If you become *news*, your best option today is to find a sympathetic podcast and book yourself on the show. Do not speak to the media at all until you do this; simply tell them, politely, that you are telling your story on podcast “X” or, if not yet booked to appear on a particular show, on an “upcoming podcast”. If the media wants to talk to you then there will be a podcast that will have you as a guest, particularly in your subject area.

The advantage of the podcast format is that even if the host is not completely on your side the conversation is so long that you will build rapport with him; more importantly, the podcast allows the entire issue—whether it is your ground-breaking research into differences in penis lengths between the races, or your colour-coordinated collection of London Underground upskirt pics—to be explored in depth. The media makes its stories through selective quotations, clips, and suggestive language—although this is usually deliberately mendacious, it is also a consequence of the medium: newspapers and TV spots have limited space to explore and dramatise an issue, leading to misleading reports even if there is no intention to mislead.

A sincere podcast host—someone in the style of Joe Rogan—who genuinely wants to explore the issue will not consciously misrepresent you. Podcasts tend to be sincere because they are mostly hosted by amateurs or amateurs turned full-time: their interest in a subject tends to be real, not just a status trip or “a job” that involves catching people out. The name says it all: “amateur”—literally from “amare”, from love; they do it for love. Journalism is, by contrast, all professional; they are all hardened pros, you know, like hookers.

On a podcast the whole issue can be explored: the days of ten-second soundbites went out with cable TV. Podcasts are Lindy and will replace the old media outlets, since humans sat round camp fires for generations and told stories at length—podcasts are just electronic versions of the same. What we know of Socrates—even of the modern Hegel and Feynman—comes from lecture notes; the written word or second-hand TV report is not of so much interest: we want to hear the lecture directly, even Jesus worked this way. The podcast is populist: it short-circuits the “expert” media—good: the media is expert at manipulating status, not exploring the issues.

The problem is that people who attract media attention often have no experience with the media. Vanity plays a role; everyone wants to be popular—humans measure their worth by their social connections, being in the media increases your social status; and everyone fears being cast as a pariah. So, even if it is a potentially bad story, people enjoy the attention and open up to the big media outlets, assuming—as Jordan Peterson repeatedly does—that “professional” does not mean “sadistic money-grubber”. People assume that the media will be fair, and journalists will, reassuringly, tell them that they just want to “tell their side of the story”—many people, listening to the sympathetic voice of the journalist, will do so thinking that it is better to say something rather than nothing. Journalists rely on the human desire to tell your story, to confess—as do the police. If sympathy does not work the journalist will say: “I’m going to do the story anyway. Of course, it’s difficult to say how it’ll turn out without your comment…”—the idea being to create a sensation of dread. “He didn’t say it was going to be bad…but what did he mean…?” The mark soon finds out it was better to say nothing.

So give the media something—your podcast appearance date—and let them make a story from what you say there. The story will be cut up and misrepresented, but it will be too late: the media is about being there first, your podcast was there first. At the moment, people speak to the media and get burned and then go on a podcast to explain their side of the story in full. Too late! We need to switch it round so the media is ignored in favour of the podcast.


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