Whoopi Goldberg vs. Jeanine Pirro: How Not to Act on Live TV

So, Whoopi Goldberg had a bit of a meltdown on The View this week. Fox News “Justice with Judge Jeanine” host Jeanine Pirro appeared on the show on Thursday to promote her new book “Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy.” As seems to be fairly typical for the President’s supporters, she aggravated the hell out of everyone present.

Of course, I think the producers knew exactly what they were doing – setting up a confrontation – they invited anti-Trump CNN contributor Ana Navarro to fill in for regular View host Joy Behar, who was absent. Navaro wasn’t the issue though. Things got ugly on the ABC show when Pirro accused Goldberg of having “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” and a shouting match ensued.

“You know what’s horrible? When people who shouldn’t be here end up murdering the children of American citizens!” Pirro said.

“What is horrible is when the president of the United States whips up people to beat the hell out of people … Say goodbye. I’m done!” Goldberg responded.

Goldberg did a lot to reclaim her poise and the audience’s attention when she came back on air after a short break to address losing her cool on-air: “You saw me do something I very rarely do … I very rarely lose my cool and I’m not proud of it. I don’t like it. But I also don’t like being accused of being hysterical because that is one of the things I try not to be on this show.”

Should you ever find yourself in a media situation that’s going, or has gone, bad, there are two things you can do to ensure you don’t leave the stage with egg on your face: prepare, and if it’s appropriate, laugh.

Prepare. When I say prepare I don’t just mean prepare your talking points or speech before you go on stage or on camera. I mean do your research. Learn all you can about the platform or outlet and the company hosting the interview or event. If you won’t be alone, who are the other guests? How do they handle interviews? How do they interact with different types of people? What is their speaking style? Know as much information as possible about your potential opponent.

When I say opponent I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. Even if this is someone who is your ideological opposite, give them the respect they deserve, and learn all you can about them. Before the interview, you should have read some of their work, watched some of their videos, read commentary about them from trusted sources, you should know the latest and greatest hits in their life and career.

Few media appearances are entirely scripted. But that doesn’t mean because you have creative license to free ball it that you should neglect to hone your message. You should know before the camera rolls what is your explicit purpose in being there. If you’re plugging a new book, you need detailed talking points around that. If you’re doing damage control after a catastrophe, you need to have talking points addressing key concerns for multiple stakeholders, and so on and so forth.

Sometimes even with thorough preparation you may find yourself in a bad spot. Things happen. Don’t panic. Even when your back’s to the proverbial wall you should appear unbothered. Smile. If it’s appropriate, wink. Interact with your audience. And don’t be afraid to employ an uncomfortable pause or two to discomfit your opponent, and give yourself time to formulate a response.

Preparation helps because your key points and messages will remain top of mind. If all else, fails, reiterate those points. If someone hammers you on them, refuse to be derailed or to go off script. You can even use repetition as a weapon. The right inflection in your tone will suggest your opponent is an idiot for asking you the same question more than once.

You should have considered multiple arguments against you before you ever set foot on the stage. Preparation will help you keep your cool. Once you get defensive and flustered, they’ve got you, and you lose.

Laugh. If things in your media appearance start to go south, try to suck some of that bad air out of the room by injecting some humor into the situation. Now, this isn’t always appropriate. If the venue is extremely corporate, for example, or the subject matter is dire, it’s best not to employ levity as a tactic with which to regain control of an interview. But there are varying degrees of the humor communication strategy that will work in almost any situation.

So, if it’s suitable, don’t be afraid to crack jokes. Further, you should feel free to crack them at your opponent’s expense. No need to go hard. Once must retain one’s dignity. But sometimes all it takes is a wink at the audience, an engaging facial expression, or bug eyes and a surprised mouth, to turn the tide of an interview back in your favor.

This is particularly effective if you’ve been straight laced and serious the first part of the interview. The abrupt change in your demeanor suggests your opponent has done something strange, and your reaction should emphasize their ‘mistake.’ Jerk a casual thumb in the jerk’s direction as if to say, ‘Look at that! Ridiculous, right?’ Invite the audience to join in your opponent’s degradation. Remember, all’s fair in love and media.

Yesterday’s The View drama spilled over into today, with Pirro squawking to multiple Fox audiences and neatly playing the victim by claiming she was callously ejected from the building post interview. But it’s like Esquire.com writer Justin Kirkland’s headline and subhed said, “Jeanine Pirro Believes The View Treated Her “Less Than Human.” Let’s Discuss That. Freedom of speech doesn’t come with freedom from people calling you on your bullshit.”

While Pirro’s been blame gaming in the aftermath, Goldberg remained calm as she told her side of the story:

“Things got hot on the air, which you expect. That happens a lot,” Goldberg said. “I want to clear up what happened afterwards, because she talked about it on Fox News and Fox & Friends this morning, but she seemed to leave out some key points….a lot of pertinent stuff.”

Witnesses including Navarro corroborate Goldberg’s version of the backstage incident. According to deadline.com, after the blow up when Goldberg left to calm down, Pirro “called everybody at the table a name I cannot repeat on TV and said it in front of the audience.”

Pirro apparently followed her off stage, stopped in front of her, “put a finger in my face, and yelled, ‘I’ve done more for victims than you ever will.” At which point Goldberg said she came back with “some few choice words I cannot repeat” on TV. “But I did not spit on her, I did not intimidate her; no one chased her out of here saying ‘get out of here.’” Instead, Goldberg said Pirro left “cursing at the people who book the show, cursed at the guys who do the security for the show.”

If that’s how things went down, good night. Goldberg wasn’t entirely right by any stretch, but Pirro sounds like school in the summer – no class. Thankfully, most of you won’t have to deal with that kind of on-air chicanery, no matter how many media appearances you do. But if things get ugly or even uncomfortable, remember, the best way to recover is: be sure you prepared thoroughly, be flexible, stick to your mission/talking points, and refuse to be drawn into a verbal altercation.

Use humor to diffuse the situation, and if need be, use it to make fun of your opponent. Just don’t go overboard. Then you become the villain. The right amount of levity, however, may work in your favor. Everybody loves to laugh – and many of us love to laugh at someone else’s expense. So, a well-timed joke or facial expression could help you to survive a potentially contentious situation with your dignity intact.

Or don’t. Pirro and Goldberg had their moment, and as I write this Pirro’s book is no. 1 on Amazon. Have a bestseller vs. keep your dignity? You be the judge.

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