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Campaign issues aside, Peter Penashue is the latest victim of misguided media training

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By now, you probably know about Peter Penashue, the former federal Cabinet Minister from Labrador who the other day resigned amid allegations of breaches of the Elections Canada rules related to his campaign.

In a nutshell, here's what it is about.

First, that his campaign overspent the limit, by something like $48,000. Also, that he took corporate contributions. Corporate contributions are not allowed. In this case they include Provincial Airways writing off $17,000 in flights, and a sizable contribution from a construction company. Now, it has come out that there were many more illegal corporate donations. His campaign also took out a $25,000 interest free loan from an Innu group led by his brother. Also illegal.

But that's not what this blog is about. I mention that only for context. My focus here is the way he handled the media, and specifically, how it is a prime example of the kind of counsel that gives media trainers a bad name.

I cannot say with 100% certainty, but I know from experience that his response in this interview, which you will see in a moment, is exactly what some media trainers advise. I have seen it time and time again.  They give one line with instructions to simply repeat it as a response to whatever is asked.

So here is the result. The interviewer is Peter Cowan of CBC Labrador, who apparently was the first to look into Penashue's campaign. This interview was back in the summer, when it was just starting to heat up. As as you watch, you judge whether his repeated response serves him well…..

Did his rehearsed line in lieu to something with substance help him? Here's a hint – he has since resigned.  Mind you there are times when this strategy is the best course, and there is no question this type of interview, in this situation, is awash in minefields. Media advice has to be extremely strategic in this case, but the tactic of robotically responding with the same one line to every question was not the way he should have gone in this case.

To me, and I suspect most viewers, Penashue's response suggests one thing – he was determined not to divulge anything. 

But they were valid questions that deserved a better response.

Maybe he shouldn't have done the interview, but once in it, the stakes were such that he was either going to enhance or diminish what people think of him. 

More recently, as the evidence became more public and more damning, he changed his response, but it didn't get much better. In essence, he threw one of his campaign team under the bus, blaming his inexperience for the apparent overspending and questionable funding. But two things about that – the man was not inexperienced, having worked on many campaigns, plus, common sense suggests Penashue must have wondered where the money was coming from to fly him in and out of remote community after remote community over his vast Labrador riding, something none of the other candidates could afford to do.

Here's the point – communications can do many things, but it cannot right a wrong.

There's no magic thing he could have said that would have make everything all right. It doesn't work that way. That's not to say there aren't better responses he could have given.

But for a media trainer to give this guy a single line with instructions to simply repeat it ad nauseam no matter what is asked is poor advice that diminishes both the credibility of the politician and, for those who understood where it was coming from, the credibility of the media training profession.

But maybe I'm too close to it since I do media training. I'd like to hear what you think. How did the way he handed this interview work for you?

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