Cunliffe falls into media trap

20 June 2014

David Cunliffe made a subtle media mistake when admitting he had written a letter in support of a residency application for a Chinese businessman.

When asked, “Did you lie about this,” he answered “I did not lie.” While that may seem a reasonable answer, using those specific words causes more credibility issues when said in a media interview. I’m not telling him to dodge the question, just answer it in a different way. When asked, “Did you lie about this,” he should have said something like, “No, I’ve always been totally genuine. I just couldn’t remember.”

Why the change? Because by saying: “I did not lie”, he has given journalists a great negative quote and he is now using the language of denial. Let’s think. Where have we heard this before? Nixon is probably the most famous. After Watergate, he made a long speech outlining what he had none as President and that he was honest. Then he said: “I’m not a crook.” By using his own name with the word Crook, it was a terrible look for him. That quote is now what most people remember about Nixon.

I’m not in any way saying Cunliffe should have avoided answering. But by using positive language like: “I’ve always been totally genuine, I just couldn’t remember,” he answers the question and avoids the language of denial.

Another famous person to fall into this trap was US President Bill Clinton. This was when he said: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” If asked, he should have said something like, “No, my relationship with that woman was purely professional.”

This is a subtle change in answer, but one we advise our media training clients to use if ever under the media spotlight for negative reasons.

For more on our media training or crisis communication training, conact


Filed under Media Training

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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