PR and winning the debate
Losing your temper is rarely a recipe for PR success but, as in the case of radio host Alex Jones, blowing off steam can really damage the credence given to your side of the story.
Following Piers Morgan’s (host of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight) less-than-even-handed labelling of gun advocate Larry Prattas an “incredibly stupid man”, radio host Alex Jones organised a petition calling for the British interviewer’s deportation. Cheers could be heard all around the UK – except it would mean that Piers would come back to haunt the UK media rather than the US.
Morgan redeemed his PR skills by inviting Jones on the show – an interview which was catastrophically bad for Jones.
Ironically, the first couple of clauses of Jones’ five-minute harangue was actually pretty good. When asked by Morgan why he wanted to deport him, Jones chose the standard opening tactic of any good adversarial interview and rejected the premise of the question: the petition wasn’t actually about deporting Morgan, it was to “bring attention” to the issue of gun control.
It’s a standard tactic for a reason – it works. It takes control of the interview away from the interviewer and bestows it on the interviewee.
Unfortunately for Jones, that control can too easily be squandered, even thrown away entirely. Rather than building a cohesive argument against gun sale restrictions, Jones laid blame for the current push to ban assault weapons at the feet of an axis consisting of the Russian government, the Chinese government, international banks, police in North Dakota, and then threw in for good measure King George III and pharmaceutical companies. And that’s not even an exhaustive list.
Jones’ five minute rant about gun control is unlikely to have convinced anyone of the existence of a “New World Order” (sic.) with the express aim of overturning the US Constitution – apart from those who were already convinced. The end effect is that Jones was just preaching solely to the choir.
Jones fell into the age-old communications trap of assuming that dramatic and hyperbolic language would stir (or possibly scare) people into finally seeing “the truth” as he perceives it. Actually, the opposite is true – simple, measured language and comments which more-or-less align with audience’s pre-existing values and beliefs generally win the debate.
In the end, it’s not about arguing vociferously; it’s about hitting common denominators between yourself and those you seek to convince. The failure to realise this is what has led people like Morgan to conclude that Jones is “the best advertisement for gun control” and Stephen Colbert to, with his characteristic caustic style, to parody the whole debate.