In Case You’re Wondering – Nothing’s Off-The-Record

Donald Trump’s former personal assistant learnt a brutal lesson about going off-the-record with journalists.

According to CNN, Madeleine Westerhout attended a dinner in New Jersey with Deputy White House Press Secretary, Hogan Gidley, and several reporters. These dinners are common and typically treated as off-the-record.

CNN says when Gidley left the room to attend to media commitments, Westerhout remained in the room with the reporters and divulged intimate details about Trumps family.

It was a career ending conversation.

What is off-the-record?

Off-the-record is common. It is often confused with background briefings which are an opportunity to give journalists background to a story or issue.

Background briefings can be very useful for both sides. They can help journalists understand complex issues, enabling them to hopefully write a more informed and accurate story.

Backgrounders, as they are called, can easily slip into an off-the-record discussion.

That’s the dangerous point for people who don’t understand the rules.

So, what is off-the-record?

Generally, it is information you are giving to a journalist which may benefit you and them. But usually the information is not to be used and certainly not attributed to you. It’s often used in politics to damage a rival.

But different journalists have different views of off-the-record.

Some may feel they can use off-the-record information to gain further details from another source. Some may believe they can use your comments but not your name.

You need to be absolutely sure of how a journalist interprets off-the-record and you must be certain that they will respect the off-the-record agreement.

Many people, such as some experienced media and communications professionals, use off-the-record with journalists they trust.

But with so many journalists and so many different off-the-record interpretations, our advice to media training participants is very clear – nothing is off-the-record.

Off-the-record comments can become the story

Regard anything you say after “hello” as quotable.

This rule was forgotten recently by someone who should know better; an airline spokesperson whose comments were included in a negative story.

Low cost airline, Flybe, should have been basking in positive media attention after The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton were passengers.

For most organisations, having the British Royal Family use your services is a golden PR ticket.

However, Prince Harry had just been criticised for flying on private jets after publicly declaring everyone should be lowering their carbon footprint.

Prince William travelling on a commercial flight therefore should have been a good news story for Flybe.

But instead, the airline faced a messy controversy surrounding carbon emissions.

The Daily Mail reported that ‘The 8.40am flight the royal party took from Norwich to Aberdeen…is normally operated by Scottish company Loganair on behalf of Eastern Airways, Flybe’s franchise partner.’

The spokesperson for Eastern Air, which manages the route, was questioned on why an empty Flybe aircraft was ferried in to replace the Loganair aircraft.

Flying in an empty plane to replace an existing plane, reportedly for Flybe brand promotion, is obviously far from environmentally friendly.

The spokesperson’s comments to the Daily Mail then became part of the story:

In an extraordinary conversation, Eastern Air spokesperson reportedly told the Daily Mail they were “completely unconcerned” what this newspaper was intending to publish, describing the scenario put to them as “immaterial, as long as all their passengers had a nice flight”. Asked repeatedly whether the spokesperson wanted to correct anything that had been put to the reporter, the answer was “no – write what you want to write”. The spokesman eventually said, after prompting, that they would provide a “one-line statement – for what it is worth”, but despite repeated requests to both Eastern and Flybe nothing was sent by the time of going to press.

Sometimes it’s media and PR officers who make major mistakes when speaking to journalists.

Under pressure, they can forget that basic rule – everything after “hello” is quotable.

It’s very easy to go off-the-record with journalists. But casual conversations that at the time don’t seem to be a big deal could become part of a story, or become the story itself.

Journalists work in a very competitive and fast-paced environment. When you are communicating with them you need to be on the ball from the word go.


Understand the difference between background briefings and off-the-record.

Be aware that if you say something flippant and it’s newsworthy, it could wind up on the front page.

Always remain professional.

Most importantly know the rules around off-the-record, what off-the-record actually means and how the journalist you are speaking with interprets it.

Leave the off-the-record game to experienced media people who understand it. If you’re not highly experienced at this game, nothing is off-the-record.

Regard everything after “hello” as quotable.

Information Only

Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Further Assistance

If you want to know how to make the most of your media opportunities and avoid the danger zones, contact Corporate Media Services for more information on how our training programs or media consultancy can help you.


Airline bosses ‘flew an EMPTY aircraft 123 miles to Norfolk to pick up unwitting Prince William and Kate’

William and Kate spotted on budget £73 FlyBe flight following Harry and Meghan private jet controversy

‘I love Tiffany’: Donald Trump defends daughter after Madeleine Westerhout ousted from White House


Princess Di’s Butler Squirms In Awkward Media Interview

By Doug Weller

Media interviews can get ugly…

Australian morning television host, Karl Stefanovic, opened a Today Show interview with Princess Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell, saying “We have a lot of things to talk about today…”

Yet, Stefanovic seemed to have only one thing on his mind: His claim that Burrell was unfair to say the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, lacks the ‘X-factor’.

Stefanovic appeared incensed about comments Burrell made in an earlier interview about Kate Middleton.


Referring to Middleton, Burrell had stated, “…that extra something which you call the X factor, the magic quality, charisma…it’s not there.”

He also said, “I met Mother Teresa, she had it, Pope John Paul II had it, the Queen has it, Diana certainly had it, Kate doesn’t.”

Don’t lose your cool

The butler quickly found himself in the firing line and The Today Show host was relentless in his questioning about those X-factor comments.

The interviewer’s questions and statements included:

•“You said she lacks the X factor that Diana had. That is way too harsh, isn’t it?”

•“I don’t even know where you came from, she doesn’t have the X factor of Mother Teresa, the Queen, Diana… Why would you even say that?”

•“How dare you even say that?”

•“Do you have some sort of oxygen deprivation at the moment? I mean, come on. Leave her alone”

•“If William is king one day and I found out you had said that about Kate I wouldn’t be letting you back into the country.”

No matter how many times Burrell answered in support of the Duchess, Stefanovic stuck to his line of questioning. He wouldn’t let go.

Burrell apologised straight off the bat for his comments saying, “I apologise if that was taken out of context. What I was trying to say was Diana was unique and irreplaceable and she had that something, which is charisma or magic. I’m not quite sure what it is.”

As the interview became more hostile, Burrell remained calm and answered politely.

In this case, many audience comments on The Today Show’s twitter feed were critical of Stefanovic’s performance and sympathetic to Burrell.

Maintaining composure in hostile interviews is essential. Losing your cool will only reflect negatively on you.

If you want your audience to remember your message, rather than your anger under pressure, remain calm at all times.

Backpedalling on your statement

As the interview continued, Burrell said, “…maybe my comment was out of kilter. I didn’t mean it that way.”

Don’t make comments for which you must apologise.

Backtracking is a bad look.

Generally, you’ll only have to back down if you haven’t done adequate preparation and anticipated the consequences of your comments.

If you make a claim in an interview, back it up. Don’t back down under pressure.

But if for some reason you do have to back down, do it in a definite way. For example, “You’re right. To say that was out of line. I should apologise and I do.”

Don’t waste your media opportunity.

Paul Burrell was on the Today Show for a reason. It’s unlikely he chose to be there for this grilling.

He may have been there to discuss the etiquette seminars he was conducting at the Versace Hotel on Queensland’s Gold Coast, or the charity morning tea he was hosting with proceeds going to Youngcare.

Perhaps he was there to discuss the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s tragic death.

Unfortunately for Burrell, he didn’t take control of the interview and whatever points he had hoped to deliver were lost.

You always need to make the most out of any media opportunity to deliver your messages.

Paul Burrell’s media opportunity became an awkward interview where he spent the entire time on the back foot.

The time he had to deliver his messages on national TV was wasted.

Never go into a media interview expecting an easy interview.

I don’t know what was going through the mind of Mr Burrell before the interview but I don’t think he expected to cop what he did.

It doesn’t matter what the topic is, it doesn’t matter what conversations you’ve had with a journalist or producer beforehand, expect the interview could go pear shaped at any time and prepare accordingly.

Have the danger zones covered off before you enter any media interaction or interview.

Information Only

Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Further Assistance

If you want to know more about how Corporate Media Services’ training programs can help you make the most of your media opportunities and avoid the danger zones, contact contact Corporate Media Services for more information. Email your enquiry now to or call 1300 737 913


The Today Show Twitter

9 News


Media Language – Drowning in your own words

By Doug Weller

Media players, listen up. You can learn a lot about media language from the Eddie McGuire/Caroline Wilson ‘drowning’ saga.

Eddie McGuire is a media guru. A high profile Australian TV presenter, radio commentator, Collingwood Football Club President and former TV network CEO.

With that much media experience, Eddie should understand the influence and effect of his media words and know what is clearly inappropriate.

But Eddie McGuire has a history of media gaffes.

Yet again he has made media headlines, this time for his ill-considered comments about drowning female journalist, Caroline Wilson.

So what can we all learn from this episode?

For many people, the more media experience you have, the more relaxed you become.

When you’re comfortable being surrounded by microphones, you become less aware of them – they become part of the furniture.

There’s a long list of high profile people who’ve been recorded making private, flippant or highly inappropriate comments when they thought their mics were off.

President Obama was recorded during private exchanges with world leaders including Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev  and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy 

Australian Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, was caught joking about climate change with then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott when they failed to notice a boom microphone.

But Eddie McGuire wasn’t unknowingly recorded by a live mic. His blunders resulted from intentional comments during public broadcasts.

McGuire’s inappropriate comments about Caroline Wilson sparked national outrage and the fallout was substantial.

Female journalists were insulted, social media erupted and politicians weighed in.

Journalist and national convenor of Women in the Media, Tracey Spicer, found McGuire’s comments “reprehensible” and called for sanctions and penalties.

Australian Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, said “…it is no longer an excuse to say the language was meant to be flippant because it has an effect.”

McGuire’s comments even rippled out to the federal election campaign trail.

Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, cancelled a scheduled radio interview with McGuire and said “I just wish people would think about what they say before they say it”.

Major Collingwood Football Club Sponsor, Holden, reviewed it’s relationship with the club.

Richmond Football Club boycotted Triple M radio station which aired McGuire’s ill-considered comments about Caroline Wilson.

Eddie McGuire’s handling of the media uproar in the aftermath of his comments was also scrutinised and his initial apologies were deemed insincere.

In a further attempt to redeem himself McGuire made a video apology via the Collingwood Football Club’s website.

It would seem from Eddie’s repeated media gaffes that he doesn’t consider his media messages and their fallout.

Whether you’re a media commentator or a media spokesperson, what you say in the media and the language you use, matters – a lot.

Media commentators have the power to influence public opinion on many issues

Combatting violence against women is an important and high profile media topic. Organisations including the Australian Football League (AFL) are actively raising awareness of that issue.

Eddie McGuire is an AFL club President and the AFL itself supports White Ribbon, Australia’s national campaign to stop men’s violence against women.

McGuire’s inappropriate comments about drowning Caroline Wilson were made during the AFL’s White Ribbon round. His words were completely incompatible with White Ribbon’s message of preventing violence against women.

White ribbon released a statement saying the comments were “examples of language that demean women and reinforce violence-supporting attitudes.”

Female co-host of Channel 9’s AFL Footy Show, Rebbeca Maddern, put it eloquently when she said, “I think in the media, we have to be reminded that we are in a very privileged position. We have a voice. That voice is listened to by many people, and people absorb what we say. And in turn, because of that, we have a power to change the conversation and shape the public perception about certain issues.”

Treat media interactions with respect

If world leaders and media industry veterans can make outrageous media mistakes, so can spokespeople, even if they’re very experienced.

All media interactions should be treated with respect regardless of how casual the media moment.

Making inappropriate comments, or using offensive language in the media can result in extreme personal, professional, financial and reputational damage.

Even worse, your choice of words could harm others.

In the media, no matter who you are, think before you speak!

Information Only

Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.


Eddie McGuire’s gaffes file – when the Magpies chief and Channel Nine star’s mouth got him in trouble

Barack Obama microphone gaffe: ‘I’ll have more flexibility after election’

Nicolas Sarkozy complained to Barack Obama of liar Benjamin Netanyahu

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton caught joking about the effect of climate change on Pacific islands

‘These guys live in a bubble’: The AFL’s big blokey problem

Eddie McGuire’s comments ‘incredibly disappointing’, Cabinet ministers say

Eddie McGuire and Caroline Wilson: Bill Shorten snubs McGuire after ice pool remarks

Eddie McGuire: Magpies president to front board meeting as sponsor reviews links with club

Tigers boycott Triple M over Eddie McGuire, Caroline Wilson controversy

Eddie McGuire likely forced to apologise for drowning comments, Caroline Wilson says

McGuire’s Apology

Violence Against Women Is No Laughing Matter

Sam Newman blasts Caroline Wilson over Eddie McGuire ‘joke’ furore

Blog image by Ron Tandberg

Further Assistance

If you want to know more about engaging with the media, contact Corporate Media Services for more information about our media training programs and services. Make an email enquiry now… or call 1300 737 913


Corporate Media Services e-Bulletins

Volume 1 Edition 1

Volume 1, Edition 1 – 29 April 2010

Corporate Media Services e-BulletinsMelbourne Storm and the Crisis Ripple Effect – How would you handle the media if this happened to you?

It will be a long time before the dust settles following the eruption last week within the rugby league football club, Melbourne Storm. The unprecedented crisis for an Australian sporting club unfolded into what we call a Crisis Ripple Effect.

What was a crisis for Melbourne Storm last Thursday afternoon as the news broke had become, by early Friday, a crisis for a range of other organisations as the Crisis Ripple Effect took hold.

Organisations such as sponsors and other sporting bodies across Australia found themselves swamped by calls from a media, desperate for comment on this incredible story.

A series of quickly organised media doorstops and media conferences were held, as individuals and organisations attempted to limit the damage to their reputations.

Dealing with a Crisis Ripple Effect is different to dealing with a direct crisis: a different media strategy needs to be quickly implemented.

If you suspect you may be hit by a Crisis Ripple Effect, ensure you start preparing your key messages and spokesperson or spokespeople immediately.

If the media is coming to your premises, pick your interview location and ensure your signage is NOT in the background. Choose your words carefully and only speak about your issues, not others.

Look professional, sound professional, remain calm and stay on-message.

Make an enquiry now or call us on 1300 737 913 or +61 412 298 905