Cunliffe repeats media interview mistake

1 January 1970

It may seem pedantic to some, but by using the language of denial again this week, David Cunliffe did little to distance himself from his wife’s admission that she set up a Twitter account to attack her husband’s rivals.

I’m not saying the former Labour Leader had any knowledge of it, but by saying to reporters: “I’m not into gutter politics,” he did himself no favours. He should never use his own name and the words ‘gutter politics’ in the same sentence, because it gives reporters a great quote and makes him look defensive.

And sure enough, the following day, the story in the NZ Herald used the quote, but not only in the story. The Headline read: “Cunliffe: I’m not into gutter politics”. That’s a negative headline, but it’s only using a quote he made.

This is something we focus on with our media training clients. He should have said something like: “I’ve always been into honest and clean politics.” That’s a positive quote and one he would like to read in the paper and the headline.

Cunliffe made the same mistake a few months ago when admitting he had written a letter in support of a residency application for a Chinese businessman. He had earlier said he had no knowledge of the man. When asked, “Did you lie about this,” he answered “I did not lie.” Once again, that negative quote was used. He should have said: “I’ve always been totally upfront.

There are some famous examples of this. After Watergate, Richard Nixon said: “I’m not a crook,” and who can forget Bill Clinton’s famous line: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” These were both negative quotes that became famous.

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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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