Message discipline 101

Several years ago, I used to help do media prep, getting various folks ready for interviews, reminding them what to say and how to say it. It’s generally trickier than it sounds — invariably, people’s instincts kick in and they want to actually answer questions, rather than sticking to the talking points.

It’s why this video is destined to be used in media prep classes forever more.

The clip is of British Labour leader Ed Miliband, commenting on the public strikes that are rocking England this week. Time‘s Adam Sorensen seems to think the clip is an example of message discipline gone “wrong,” and from a journalistic perspective, it is. A reporter wants to get the person being interviewed to say something genuine and unscripted. Good journalism means going beyond the talking points.

But from the other perspective, Milliband’s comments were a clinic on how to get one’s message across. The person being interviewed never knows what a media outlet is going to use on the air, so Miliband ensures that, no matter which quote the BBC used, it would be the one Miliband wants them to use.

He went in with a specific message, and he repeated it, over and over again, turning every question into another opportunity to say exactly what he wanted to say.

It’s pretty damn impressive, in its own way.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.