The Hostile Host: How to Get Your Message on the Air in Spite of a Media Bully
by Roberta Gale Vanderslice
Remember those school bullies? The ones who yelled at or beat up anyone they didn’t like? Those same bullies are alive and well and thriving in the media.
Although you may think nothing about your book or topic even approaches controversy, woe is the guest who ignores that possibility. The media bully can create a screaming mountain out of your trembling molehill in minutes, leaving you bruised, battered, and vowing never to do another interview.
So how do you recognize this increasingly common creature and temporarily tame the bully enough to survive your on-air visit?
You’ll usually find this bombastic boor on talk-radio stations and cable news stations’ current events programs. Media bullies believe that louder is better when it comes to their voices, and less is better when it comes to your opinions. They’re more interested in shouting you down than in really hearing what you have to say. Although their megalomania may stem from insecurity, compassion won’t help you once you’re in their clutches.
However, advance preparation and psychological warfare will. Here are a few tips for keeping media bullies at bay.
Know thine enemy. Researching the host, station, and show is crucial; you need to know what lies in store for you once the mikes are on. By watching or listening to hosts’ programs and/or visiting their Web sites, you’ll be able to find a wealth of information about everything from their opinions on major subjects to how they treat guests.
Do your research before booking an appearance, so you can choose whether to avoid hosts whose brusque manner, politics, or opinions will result in an instant clash. This way, if you do decide to do battle, at least you won’t be blindsided.
Use verbal karate. Martial arts involve using one’s enemies’ own power and strength against them. You can employ this same tactic when dealing with a hostile host. For example, let’s say you’ve written a faith-based book and the host says, “Religion is stupid.” Instead of igniting an instant argument by countering with “Religion is not stupid,” you could agree with the statement, thus immediately disarming the host. An effective answer might be, “Yes, a lot of people think religion is stupid. I thought that myself for many years. That’s why I’m trying to make it more meaningful for people.”
Your side: 1; host’s side: a whole lot more. The media bully has cornered you on your way to the interview and brought a bunch of bully buddies along. That’s what it’s going to feel like once you realize that not only is the host against you, most of the listeners or viewers are too.
Many highly confrontational call-in programs boast a rabid following of like-minded people who take the host’s word as gospel. Arguing with them will be just as counterproductive as arguing with the host. Prepare yourself for callers who will echo the views of their talk-show god, and take solace in the fact that some people out there actually agree with you. Unfortunately, the latter folks have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting on the air.
Don’t take the bait. Sometimes hostile hosts will make inflammatory statements right out of the gate. These statements are usually designed to get you upset enough to blurt out something you wouldn’t ordinarily say. Anticipate this tactic and take a very deep breath before you say something you might regret.
Another weapon in the hostile host’s arsenal is constant interruption. Hosts figure that if they’re annoying enough, you’ll lose both your cool and your train of thought, thereby giving them the upper hand. Firmly but graciously, ask a media bully to allow you to finish what you’re saying, but never lose your composure.
Divide and conquer. Hostile hosts figure that positioning you on the wrong side and themselves on the right side will make you more prone to argue and lose control. Don’t buy into this trick.
If the issue is gun ownership, for example, the host might say, “And it’s wackos like you who don’t want normal Americans to protect their families.” You could inject another dose of verbal karate at this point by ignoring the dig and responding with, “You’re right. I think it is the duty of every American to protect their family, and I believe attack-trained dogs are the most effective way to do that.”
In sum, if you decide to take on a media bully, do it with your eyes wide open, and make sure you’re prepared with all the verbal armor you’ll need.
Roberta Gale Vanderslice, who has appeared on the air in major cities around the country, spent 27 years as an on-air host for the Westwood One Radio Networks and ABC Talk Radio Network. She has interviewed thousands of people, and she offers on-air interview training and publicity services through Vanderslice Media. To learn more, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit vanderslicemedia.com.