John Nunziata puts his foot in it

An article in the October 22 Globe and Mail reveals that former MP and Toronto mayoral candidate John Nunziata was charged with assault. The charge followed an altercation with his ex-wife's boyfriend at a children's hockey game. The boyfriend claimed he was kicked by Nunziata (who says he plans to pursue counter-charges). The incident in question was at Mr. Nunziata's 11-year-old son's hockey game. The following excerpt is taken directly from the Globe story:

Mr. Nunziata, who has joint custody of his children after his divorce from Caroline Brett last year, was standing with his daughter, 14, who became “upset” about a comment made by either Ms. Brett or her boyfriend, Mr. Nunziata claims.

“So I approached him and said: ‘You're upsetting my daughter, please stop,' ” said Mr. Nunziata, 53. “He told me to f**k off and he pushed me. Then a bunch of people got in the middle, and that was the end of it.”

But yesterday, officers laid charges against Mr. Nunziata after his ex-wife's boyfriend, Murray Milthorpe, 48, went to police and claimed to have been kicked in the buttocks by Mr. Nunziata. Police photographed a bruise as evidence. Mr. Nunziata denies the claim, saying he was facing Mr. Milthorpe during the dispute and couldn't have kicked him.

Sure, this is a sad, unfortunate, embarrassing situation. And granted, Mr. Nunziata is undoubtedly enraged at the incident itself, as well as the ensuing charges and media attention. But this doesn't open the door for anyone, especially someone with such a public profile, of dropping an f-bomb in his statement to the reporter.

But that's not the worst of it. In my humble opinion, the truly inappropriate quote from Mr. Nunziata is this one:

"I didn't kick him. I don't know how he got the bruise on his ass, but I mean, he deserves an ass-kicking, but I didn't give it to him. This is an abuse of the process. It's all about a vindictive ex-wife and her boyfriend."

There's an old saying we use in our media training sessions -- that it's easier to get toothpaste out of the tube than it is to get it back in. This quote is a perfect example of that. Let's be clear. I'm not taking issue with the sentiment or questioning the veracity of the statement. I have no idea whether this gentleman does or does not deserve said buttock-kicking. The problem is that for Mr. Nunziata, these words are now part of the public record for the remainder of his days. In the Google-age, where nothing fades away into obscurity, a public figure (or anyone, for that matter) simply can't have something like this attached to their name.

Think about it. This quote, while it might generate some words of encouragement and slaps on the back from other burned ex-husbands out there, is certainly not going to help John Nunziata going forward. It isn't going to help him if this case goes to court. It isn't going to help him with respect to the integrity of his public personna. It isn't going to help him attract or retain clients with his consulting career.

So what would I have done differently? Well, I haven't been in this situation, so I won't pretend to know precisely what was going through his mind during this interview. Ideally, though, he could have asked the reporter for a few minutes to compose himself before speaking and then written down one or two quick messages on a pad of paper. Messages along the lines of the following:

"I want to be 100% clear that this individual's allegation is untrue. I was attending my son's hockey game, as I've been doing faithfully since he was X years old. Suddenly, I found myself in the middle of a confrontation started by my former wife and her companion, who were also in attendance. I plan to vigourously defend my name and I'm confident the facts will support the version of events I have provided to the authorities, with whom I am cooperating fully. But that is of secondary importance to me at this point in time. My top priority continues to be the happiness and well-being of my children, who are caught in the middle of this unfortunate situation."

Is it perfect? Probably not. Is it better than his actual quotes that appeared in the media? Absolutely. And it took me less than five minutes to write. There isn't a reporter around who won't give you five minutes to get back to them or to collect your thoughts. Even if you're gritting your teeth as you read it off the page, it's better to take the high road.