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  • Ann-Christin Korsing

Five PR lessons learned from the unaired Fox News interview

We all know at least one interview that had an interviewee lose it, because the journalist asked challenging questions – that’s their job. However, there are very few interviews where journalists lose their cool.

Now we can add one to our list: The interview by Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, and Rutger Bregman, the Dutch historian. Bregman had recently criticised tax avoidance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The same topic was picked up in the prerecorded Fox News interview, which went terribly wrong, after the historian criticised Carlson for being “a millionaire funded by billionaires”:

Here are the PR lessons learned from the interview:

1. Don’t swear and insult

Jonah Bloom wrote in 2002: “{…} good communication is no longer just a valuable asset - it is a must-have.” It might be an obvious statement not to insult people in an interview, but this is what the Fox News Host has done, by calling Bregman a “moron” and “tiny brain”. Even if the interview was not live, it is important to stay respectful at all times and to be objective – especially as a journalist or show host. Insulting the interviewee will also always let the listener/viewer err on the side of the person being insulted: Bregman.

Even after not airing the interview on Fox News, Carlson did not have a competent answer, when Bregman contacted him to find out when the interview will be aired instead. His response was far from professional either calling Bregman an “ashole”. So Bregman posted his reaction on Twitter (February 11):

2. Don’t lie or invent truths

Have your facts straight. This rule counts for interviewer as well as interviewee when preparing for an interview. If you are providing inaccurate facts you will lose credibility instantly (or later, when someone finds out and you are exposed) as Carlson was in the awkward situation that the interviewee criticised him which he then tried to get out of by making something up:


“Fox doesn’t even play where you are.”


“{…} Well, have you heard of the internet? I can watch things whatever I want, you know?”


3. Don’t underestimate your opponent

Usually this rule counts for PR practitioners when being interviewed – they need to prepare for potential questions they anticipate any worthy journalist will ask. However, here the interviewee Bregman asked the critical questions in this interview and Carlson clearly did not know how to give a suitable answer.

Carlson also did not expect that the interview and his email reply to Bregman would become public', but he underestimated his opponent and the power, speed and reach of social media.

4. Don’t underestimate technology

Nowadays, everything can be easily recorded over smart phones and be shared online with the public and it is very hard to get it offline. Bregman recorded the interview giving him evidence even though the interview did not go on air. NowThis published the full length of the interview yesterday (February 20): If you don’t communicate, others may will do it for you!

Bregman tweeted afterwards, on the same day:

“1/ Here’s the interview that @TuckerCarlson and Fox News didn’t want you to see. I chose to release it, because I think we should keep talking about the corrupting influence of money in politics. It also shows how angry elites can get if you do that.”

His tweet was retweeted over 13.5k times within 7 hours and has more than 31.6k Likes, a good reminder that anything can be put online today – for the sake of good or bad.

5. Apologise

Communication and other processes can go wrong, but have the guts to own up and apologise. Using Twitter, Bregman has put Fox News and Carlson on display. Even if the interview did not air, it is now a problem for the news channel as well, because it could easily damage the channel’s reputation, if it didn’t already do so. So Fox News should step up and apologise at least. Like Dave Drobis, former CEO and chairman of Ketchum, pointed out: “open and honest communication” from CEOs is “key to maintaining or improving trust in big business” (quoted from Bloom, 2002). A PR practitioner should be able to point this out to them and ensure the apology happens. Update:

Tucker Carlson published a statement on Fox News why he did not air the interview. He apologised for the "profanity", but adds: "On the other hand, it was genuinely heartfelt. I meant it with total sincerity".

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