The media knows the news-maker but does the news-maker know the media? Even more to the point, if on the receiving end of a microphone, do you know who is asking the questions? This media training lesson brought to light recently while I covered Arizona Senator John McCain, who hosted three town halls focusing on the crisis in Syria. McCain has hosted these public forums for years  and I have always given him lots of credit for doing so. These public forums can be hostile, from both the public and the media.

This was the case at the Prescott, Arizona Town Hall where a packed room of residents made their feelings on Syria very clear from the beginning. There was also a decent size media presence with some familiar faces and some I did not recognize. The town hall format is an open question and answer discussion with the public, usually followed by an opportunity for the media to ask questions after.

When the public portion of the town hall wrapped up, the media swarmed to ask their questions. Most of the media questions were  about what you would expect on Syria with no real surprises. However, one “reporter” and cameraman got McCain’s attention when they asked some very slanted, leaning questions in the form of “wouldn’t you agree that…”. Arizona’s senior senator has been around a long time and can quickly distinguish legitimate media from the others. He quickly figured out these guys were not the real deal and he called them out, telling them “that was a stupid question”, and he asked who they were with.  At this point, the camera operator was shaking so hard that his camera was bobbing up and down. He responded with, “we are with NBC”. The only problem; he wasn’t. Myself and camera operator Jim were the NBC crew present.  We explained to the Senator that we were legitimately NBC and we had no idea who these guys were. The Senator told the phony crew he would not respond to any more of their questions. We called out the crew after the media conference and sternly told them not to misrepresent themselves. It turns out they are with some extremist political website.

Not everyone is as media savvy as Senator McCain. It takes years of interview experience to be able to sniff out fake crews. The moral of this story-always know who you are talking to, in advance of the interview.