Working With the Media Print
Thursday, 04 April 2002 00:00
Develop answers to difficult media interview questions before you attend demonstrations. Don’t put it off, hoping that inspiration will strike at the moment when the microphone is thrust in your face. It’s good to use the same answers as your friends - that increases the chances that the sound bites you worked out together will actually get into print or on the air.

An additional reason for working out answers in advance, is that what you say to the press can be used in court against people who are arrested - such as you and your friends. Even if you yourself are prepared to accept the consequences of whatever you say, you may be changing the fate of others. Be particularly careful about questions which imply that you believe you’re doing something wrong, or that you’re acting with ill-will or carelessness. For example:

Question: Did you come here to get arrested?

Answer: I’m not here to get arrested. We don’t want to go to jail, but we’re willing to risk our freedom to help close down the School of the Americas, which fosters terrorism in Latin America.

Don’t feel obliged to answer a difficult question - you can reply with one of your sound bites, even if it doesn’t match the question. For example:

Question: How many of these people are going to get arrested?
Answer: We’re here to bring public attention to the School of the Americas, which promotes torture techniques, political kidnapping, assassination and other forms of terrorism.

And there’s always the classic response:

I’d rather not be interviewed. Would you like me to introduce you to _________, our media liaison?

Listen for negative assumptions underlying a question. Bring them out into the open and neutralize them. For example:

Question: Are you kind of disappointed by the small turnout today?

Answer: Actually, we’re amazed at how many people showed up, given the current governmental attitude toward civil rights. It shows how much people want to put an end to the School of the Americas, so that our country is no longer training terrorists.

Question: Isn’t it inappropriate to criticize the military when our nation is in crisis?

Answer: Now that we ourselves have been victimized by terrorists, we’ve realized that it’s more important than ever to close down the School of the Americas, so that the United States stops training Latin American terrorists.

Question: Do you think your beliefs entitle you to break the law?

Answer: We’re not breaking the law. We’re exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Sometimes we do have to break a small law, in order to protect people’s liberty or people’s lives. That’s the principle of civil disobedience, as developed by two great Americans: Henry Thoreau and Martin Luther King.

Question: Aren’t you concerned about the huge cost to Columbus, to arrest all these protesters?

Answer: Actually, Columbus doesn’t have to spend a penny arresting us, because this march is lawful and protected by the First Amendment. Besides, the annual SOA Watch procession produces more revenue for the people of Columbus than any other business activity.

Question: With all the legal ways to make your opinion known - public speaking, petitions, letter-writing, voting, etc. - why do you insist on breaking the law?

Answer: We’re not breaking the law. We’re exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, to help stop terrorism.

We do all those other things and more; but the School of the Americas continues to recruit and train terrorists. We are marching today to draw attention to this great wrong, because even one more day of fostering terrorism is one day too many.

Question: The authorities at Fort Benning have assured us that the School of the Americas was permanently closed last year. Aren’t you a little out-of-date?

Answer: The military changed the name of the School of the Americas, but not the curriculum of terrorism. Take a look at this table, which lays out the facts about this deceptive name-change.

Question: Do you have a job? Do you pay taxes?

Answer: Of course, I do. And in addition to the job that supports me [and my family] and allows me to pay taxes, I have a job — as a ___________* — to help put an end to terrorism, particularly the training of terrorists that occurs here at the School of the Americas.

* Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, citizen, Jew, Moslem, person of conscience, person of faith, etc.