| Media Tactics
By Victoria Deaton
Here goes...off the cuff...my basic rule on how
to deal with reporters (mostly TV) when they show
up at the shooting scene, and later on at your
door and at the courthouse. I'll try and post
a more concise version later. Grab a cup of coffee.
It's a very long post but subtle nuances are important
here. I'm not supporting or damning the media,
just giving y'all a feel for what usually happens.
If you have a shooting buddy, and you feel pretty
comfortable with what I'm outlining, discuss a
media plan with him and your attorney in case
a shooting occurs to give you some level of preparedness.
You may need your buddy as a designated family
spokesman. Don't identify him as a shooting sports
partner...just a "friend of the family".
I'll assume the shooting happened in a public
place, making it a bit more high-profile, like
in a road-rage situation where good guy and bad
guy aren't immediately evident, unlike a situation
where some guy broke into your house at night.
The following thoughts are based on heavy media
coverage in a town that has a big newspaper, several
TV stations, and a neighboring town that has the
same. You might get lucky and just get a reporter
or two. Unless your local law enforcement agency's
jurisdiction has 800MHz systems you can expect
the media to show up shortly after the law enforcement
officers are dispatched to the shooting scene.
800Mhz systems can cut down on what the media
pick up on the scanner, but some law enforcement
agency's are providing the media with 800 MHz
receive-only radios upon request. In short, you
may have to deal with reporters and cameras during
one of the most stressful moments of your life.
Stay cool, and take care of business.
At the scene, don't duck the cameras. It makes
you look guilty. Never, EVER put your hand over
or on the lens of a camera, or get in a shoving
match with a photographer. It makes you look guilty
and evasive, and the photographer in most jurisdictions
can and will press charges. Most of all, it makes
you look physically aggressive not a good
thing at this time. If you are in a patrol car,
don't duck down; don't cover your head. If the
officer can give you a copy of a report or even
a piece of useless paper to look at, it's even
better to look occupied. If not, a simple nod
to a camera is okay. Do NOT talk to reporters
or answer questions yelled at you. They will be
set up in a line along the crime scene tape and
a camera will always be on you. Reporters will
be talking to the designated law enforcement officer
spokesperson. There might be choppers overhead.
Live vans and sat trucks will set up on sidewalks.
The circus has come to town.
At some point you may have to walk into your
local courthouse/police department. Expect cameras
during this "walkdown". Again, don't
duck. If you're cuffed in front, ask the law enforcement
officer if you can fold a shirt or jacket over
the cuffs. Photographers will be walking alongside,
ahead, and behind you and scurrying pretty quickly.
This is a function of having to have walkdown
shots that are 30 seconds long plus having shots
to edit, so they're gonna be moving pretty quickly
and jockeying for position. Don't misinterpret
this as aggression. Again, a nod is fine. Do NOT
say anything more than "It's best I don't
talk to you guys yet." if anything at all.
Always use conversational language whenever possible.
Walk tall. Don't slouch. Don't appear cocky. Just
walk normally. You can do anything for 3 minutes
and that's all the media wants at that point:
pictures and maybe some sound (TV slang for "interview")
with one of the folks involved in the shooting.
Pray for a tornado, hurricane, landslide, meteorite...anything
to divert crews (manpower) to other stories. <g>
If you have an attorney at this point, coordinate
a statement of some sort and contact your family
to make sure they get the same message. The media
will descend upon your house to get a shot of
where you live and will probably knock on the
door. If it was up to me, and if it's a high profile
shooting, I'd put my family in a hotel room for
a few days. Expect live trucks on the street.
Expect your neighbors to be asked questions. The
line your family is to use is "hi, guys...sorry,
we just can't talk right now" if they are
getting in the car to come down to the PD. Conversational
Reporters have deadlines. TV reporters have to
have pictures and an interview for that deadline.
TV folks will need something for 12 noon, 5pm,
530pm, 6pm, and 11pm, and the stuff will get regurgitated
for the early am show at 6am or whatever; they
call this "feeding the monster"--a huge
demand for fresh pictures and interviews. They
are not interviewing you because they want to
or want to "nail" you. They are there
because of managers who are competing to be #1
with the story, and that crew is the one that
got dispatched. Don't take it personally. Depending
on whether the shooting was a big deal they will
do liveshots, and photographers will be looking
for pictures. Did you use a pistol or an AR-15?
Expect to see a shot on the news of a law enforcement
officer handling it, and boy does that AR look
big as hell. Simple COM (center of mass) shots
from a Glock 19? Pictures of the brass on the
street. A 12ga. fired at near point-blank range
leaving a mess on the bad guy's car? Depending
on the video standards (rules of what gore can
be used on-air) at a station, that mess from the
shotgun may show up. Shootings are ugly. The pictures
won't be of you fighting for your life so that
you can go home to your family, but of the aftermath.
I think about these things because I've seen them
for the past 12+ years and unfortunately the expected
post-shooting media exposure affects my shoot/no-shoot
You can't control the pictures at the scene but
at least you can control the soundbites from your
"team" that go on TV and the quotes
in the paper. Have your attorney work with someone
you designate as a family representative, like
your shooting buddy (who may better understand
a defensive shooting situation than your non-shooting
neighbor Barney does). First, get control of your
personal situation: handle the Law enforcement
officers, get your attorney on the horn, and call
your family. Then use the attorney and your designated
family spokesman to provide the media with a statement
if they are on the story big time, even if the
statement doesn't amount to much. Once it's approved
by the attorney, have your friend Joe Soundbite
go to the house, if that's where the media are
camped out. If at all possible, give them a statement
away from the house to draw them away from your
family and neighbors. (If you ever once carted
a shotgun out to your car on the way to the gunsmith
and a clueless neighbor saw it, you can expect
a soundbite on TV to the effect of "yeah,
he was always playing with guns" or something
stupid like that.)
Spokesman: "Hi, I'm Joe Soundbite, and since
Fred Defendant is over at the police department
helping out with the report, he's designated me
to give you guys a brief statement. Before we
get going, I'd like to ask for your help. First,
we'd appreciate it if you folks will respect his
family and give them some room. No one here in
the house is going to make a statement. Second,
any questions about the situation will need to
be directed towards Todd Louis Green, his attorney,
who will give you folks more info since he's working
closely with the PD and with Fred. This okay?
Good. Now I'm going to make a statement. You guys
ready?(they'll all nod since they've been rolling
tape all this time---it just makes you look as
cooperative as possible) I can't answer any questions,
but Fred is uninjured (or is being treated or
whatever). He told the police that he'd cooperate
in any way necessary. The situation happened while
he was on his way to work/lunch/whatever. It's
a stressful time for everyone involved, and we're
cooperating fully with the authorities."
Two things have happened. You've gotten the message
out that you don't want the media hounding you
(more on that later) and you've given them a miniscule
soundbite ("it happened on the way to work...he's
cooperating") which is something benign but
usable. Make sure your buddy sticks to the script.
Keep the tone conversational, like you're telling
your employees about a new policy. Firm, but conversational.
After the statement, the media will attempt to
get more information. Joe Soundbite, your friend/spokesman,
is to smile, shake his head, and say, "Geez
guys, I can't give you any more than that since
everyone is so busy and I don't have much info.
But if you guys will help out and not hassle the
family, we'll help out by giving you guys what
you need in time to meet deadlines. Have you talked
to the cops? They've been very helpful to us.
Perhaps they can give you more than I can."
He's identified Law enforcement officers as being
"helpful" to you (that's subtle), and
then ended the impromptu press conference.
This sort of deal making usually works when you've
got a shooter who has been already identified
as being in a "self-defense shooting".
Remember the advice in other posts to tell cops
"I' was afraid for my life"? That's
a good thing. Remember that if it is a justifiable
shooting, and the basic facts come out soon afterwards
(reporters will interview law enforcement officer
spokespeople on the scene) then you have a very
good chance of working with media that will understand
early on that it was a justifiable shooting. Good
newspeople (they do still exist) will recognize
You can expect calls from the newspaper and TV
stations all day and into the night and for a
while after the shooting, so prepare your family
accordingly. Stick to your spokesman unless your
spouse is up to it. Joe or Spouse Soundbite is
to repeat the script. Change a few words here
and there as the hours progress so they have something
different to put on the air...again, it's a sort
of trade. If you give them tidbits to appease
their editors and producers so that they can feed
the monster, they'll give you a bit of room. They
may contact your employer to find out what kind
of person you are. Don't be surprised if they
look for any criminal history...anything on the
record will show up, particularly if the shooting
has any hint of being anything other than self-defense.
Going before a magistrate? If the magistrate permits,
you may have cameras on you there as well.
When coming out of the Police Department, after
talking to your attorney, you'll have another
walkdown the same as before. Best to have your
attorney come out, talk to reporters, and give
a brief statement. If he's media savvy, he'll
give the ground rules, just like Joe Soundbite
did (see how this is coordinated?). It goes something
Attorney: "Hey guys, gather round and I'll
tell you what's up. First, no cameras for a second,
okay? Fred is finishing up with the Police. It's
been a long day, and we'd appreciate it if you'd
give him and his family some room. That okay?
Can you do that? We know you need statements and
pictures, so here's the deal. He won't run from
you guys if you don't chase him. I'm gonna give
you guys a statement, answer as many questions
as I can, and then we'll see if Fred is done and
we'll walk out. How about we come out this door,
we'll get in the elevator, and walk out the front
door. He'll walk to the end of the block here
and then we're gonna get in the car and that'll
be it for today."
The attorney answers questions; his style at
that point is his choice. He goes back and gets
Fred (you), but before he comes out the door,
he comes back out to the herd of reporters and
says "we're about ready". What this
does is look like you are cooperating fully, helping
out the media who have been camped out not knowing
when you'd appear. In essence, you are controlling
your appearance, which is better than running
the gauntlet. Give them a bit of what they want
after setting up the guidelines. Most of the time,
attorneys will help their client sneak out a back
door. When that happens, media members form an
impromptu "pool" that temporarily puts
media competitors on the same team and increases
resources...they will assign photographers to
each door, with the agreement that whoever gets
the video will share it with the other competing
station. Again, give them a little bit, and they'll
usually back off and won't resort to pool tactics
or pack mentality. It works 90% of the time.
Do not discuss the case in any way shape or form.
Don't give much personal information other than
the most positive (Sunday school teacher, etc).
Don't let anyone who is making statements say
stuff like "Fred is well-trained...shoots
IDPA...is on a tactics list." It will come
out as "Fred trained to do this sort of shooting."
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OFF THE RECORD, AND
CAMERAS ARE ALWAYS ROLLING. It's the media version
of "treat every gun as if it's loaded".
Never let your guard down. Don't say anything
stupid. Also, wireless mics are pretty much standard
nowadays in TV. It's unethical, but sometimes
a reporter will show up on a doorstep with no
camera with the intention of getting someone on
the record...with a photographer nearby recording
the audio and pictures. Never be afraid to ask
if you are being recorded (and ask them to stop
if necessary and insist on an off-camera interview),
and always assume that you are being recorded
anyway to be safe. A good reporter will knock
on the door, politely ask if you (or family member)
will consent to be interviewed on camera. If not,
will you make a statement off-camera? If not,
can they get pictures of you and the reporter
talking but without sound? You may feel like not
saying anything, and that is your right. But if
nothing else, comply with the last one (reasons
follow), but be sure and ask if they are recording
the conversation. Remember that while you may
not want to give a statement, the victim's family
certainly will, and it is best to be on the record
in some way that makes you human. But do it in
a controlled fashion. Never lose your cool, even
if the reporter is a jerk. Let your attorney handle
the folks who are on your private property against
your wishes *after* you have officially, politely
asked them to leave. Have your attorney place
a phone call to the station's general manager
or the newspaper's publisher. Crap rolls downhill,
and no news director wants to hear from their
boss that an employee was acting unethically.
Expect to hear some sort of excuse about "reporting
the news", so don't bother calling unless
it's over-the-top aggressive tactics.
If the police report comes out favorably to the
shooter, have the attorney, or family member,
leak a copy of it. Send it first to the reporters
who are cooperating with your request for some
Do NOT threaten reporters/photographers. One
incident a few years back had a shooter threatening
to *shoot* reporters if they came on his property.
Not good <g>. If they do come onto your
property, let the cops know. If the shooting happened
on your property, the media will be behind crime
scene tape and that distance is determined by
Law enforcement officers. They will also look
for other angles, like the street behind your
Take a look at your property and where the public
right-of-way is. Once the crime scene tape comes
down, the media knows where the right of way is
and will sit there. This means that they can't
sit on your lawn, but they can shoot from the
sidewalk, or across the street. Remember that
if you take an adversarial position with them,
they will find ways to get pictures that are worse
than those that you control--i.e, the controlled
walkdown, the statement on the steps, etc. If
you can get them away from your house by keeping
all the statements at the PD or attorney's office,
Also remember that the victim's family will be
involved and may be interviewed. They *will* provide
pictures of the victim to the media. As you can
expect, the picture won't be of a snarling, crazed
gunman who pulled a gun on you. It will be a picture
of him at a family cookout or some pre-crack-addiction
picture with him smiling and looking nice and
neat, or him accepting the employee of the year
award at work. You'll hear the relatives say "He
was a great dad/son...he never hurt anyone...now
what will we do now that Sally has no daddy?"
That picture and interview will be shown in the
same report as your picture going into the courthouse.
The victim's family can talk for hours and make
themselves heard to every reporter who will interview
them. You're stuck with short soundbites through
your attorney and spokesman at first.
This is why image is so darned important. If the
shooting incident goes as far as to change legislation
(the Seagroves shooting in NC, for example) the
pictures will be trotted out for years to come
whenever the issue arises. Image is everything.
Don't lose your cool. Take care of business with
the Law enforcement officers and your attorney,
then take care of your family. Make sure if you
have kids that you help them deal with the focus
that will be on your family. Keep young kids away
from the TV initially since the pictures from
the scene may be frightening to them. As soon
or someone you trust has time, explain in appropriate
detail the situation and the resulting publicity.
Your kids may take some crap at school; your kid's
teacher or guidance counselor may be able to help.
Again, never release any info that may come back
to haunt you.
Never play up to the camera. No Bible-thumping.
No false tears (remember Susan Smith? Every newsroom
in the county knew within 10 seconds of her first
interview that she was guilty). No matter what
you think of the media, there are usually professionals
here and there in very market who will give balanced
reports right up until the point where they feel
you are manipulating them beyond what can be reasonably
expected, but no further. Understand what they
need to "feed the monster", give them
enough to keep them out of your hair, but do not
give them anything that will ever come back to
Just my 2¢ worth. The counsel of your attorney
and local Law enforcement officers takes precedence
and none of this is legal advice.YMMV, etc. I'll
be more than happy to answer any specific questions
and I promise I won't be as long-winded.
Victoria Deaton is a Photojournalist with over
12 years of experience working for major news
organizations. She is also an avid shooter and
an advocate of the 2nd Amendment and carrying