How David Stern should have answered Jim Rome’s loaded/repeat question

Whether you’re a school teacher or the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, your approach to media interviews should include a sound strategy for handling loaded and repeat questions. Last week, NBA Commissioner David Stern gave us a not-so-friendly reminder of this very fact.

In what became a fairly contentious interview, radio personality Jim Rome asked Stern whether or not the recent 2012 NBA draft lottery was in fact ‘fixed’ – a question that has been openly pondered by fans and some NBA executives in recent weeks.

Stern’s first answer was great. He said, “I have two answers for that, I’ll give you the easy one, ‘No’, and a statement: ‘Shame on you for asking’.”

Rome chose to come back at Stern with the same question a second time, asserting that he meant no disrespect with the question but instead saying the question was valid because people in the industry were speculating about the possibility the draft was fixed. Clearly bothered, Stern came back at Rome with the infamous loaded preface media trainers have been using as a cautionary tale for years and asked Rome, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

That’s where things got a bit unfriendly. The (brief) remainder of the interview was testy on both parts and generated a significant amount of negative attention for Stern and the NBA. A quick Google News search shows nearly 400 articles on the topic, many with controversial, attention-grabbing headlines, such as Yahoo Sports’ beauty: David Stern's tantrum to Jim Rome another reason why it's getting time for him to leave.”

It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback (not to mix my sports analogies here), but that’s part of a media trainer’s job – to take examples like this, hold them up to clients and say, “There’s a better way”. In this particular instance, Stern was handed a loaded preface (the draft was fixed) and a repeat question (getting asked the same question immediately after you think you’ve already provided an adequate answer). For whatever reason, Stern lost his cool for a split second and ended up saying some things that, if most of us said them in a media interview, might lead to us filling up a cardboard box with our belongings and updating our LinkedIn profiles.

So how should Stern have responded when Rome pressed him on the ‘fix’ question a second time? I would suggest that he would have been well-served by saying the following (and this will work for you too):

“Jim, you’ve asked me that question already. And I’ve answered it. I’d be happy to answer it one last time. But I can tell you that my answer’s not going to change. And that answer is, ‘No’.”

This response puts the pressure back on the interviewer. It also indicates that you, as the interview subject, realize the reporter is on a fishing expedition and that you’re not going to bite. And in the vast majority of cases, they will move on to the next question.