(By Jeff McHugh) As a lifelong fan and coach of media personalities, I am sad when talented people shoot their career in the foot.
We all know that you will inevitably offend somebody if you are being authentic and entertaining, but the line keeps moving. Career-ending mistakes usually involve egregious content and/or workplace behavior.
When it comes to content, some complain that today’s politically correct audiences can be oversensitive to edgy humor that used to get laughs.
Many times an audience member is concerned that someone might be offended and it kills their own appreciation of the content. If that concerned audience member is one of your advertisers…guess what happens next?
Great entertainers know it is the audience’s perception of the content that matters. When smart players’ content is offensive or hurtful, they change it. The world is evolving into a more inclusive place, and you evolve with it.
How you interact with others off-air is important. When I started in broadcasting in the 1980s, there were fewer lawyers, corporate suits, and HR rules. Many of us behaved like drunken louts.
Let’s learn from the mistakes of others. Here are seven easily avoidable transgressions that cost some talented media personalities their job or reputations.
1. Violence as content. Kathy Griffin’s photo holding a severed, bloody head of President Trump was beyond the pale. Severed, bloody body parts were funny in the black knight scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” A fictional character and ridiculous premise is safer than a real-life sitting President with a polarizing personality.
2. Racism. Bill Maher made a poor decision to use the N word in an off-the-cuff joke, and that word has been off-limits for some time. So has “yellow,” as Australian personality Red Symonds learned last week while interviewing an Asian woman. The Greaseman’s spectacular radio career ended permanently in 1999 because of his inability to stifle racially offensive content. Anything based on negative group generalizations is a bad idea. How sensitive are things today? Reporter Katie McHugh was fired recently for tweeting hate about Muslims… from the alt-right-friendly/Muslim-unfriendly website Breitbart!
3. Falsehoods and lies. Sean Hannity began losing sponsors when he knowingly pushed a false conspiracy theory about a murdered Democratic employee. Alex Jones, whose radio show is known for fantastical conspiracy theories (he’s the guy who claimed the Sandy Hook massacre never happened), was sued and had to apologize for lies he broadcast about Chobani Yogurt. It happens in the mainstream media too. Remember Brian Williams, banished from NBC to MSNBC for “miss-remembering” being in a helicopter that was shot down? And remember Dan Rather, disgraced for not fact-checking a George W. Bush story for the CBS Evening News.
4. Threats and abuse. CBS Philadelphia reporter Colleen Campbell went viral recently with her tirade and physical assaults against police officers on the street. Troi Torain, aka “Star” was fired from WWPR New York after threatening the child of DJ Envy at Hot 97. That was 2006. He has not been back on AM/FM radio since.
5. Sexual-harassment and assault. Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Gian Gomeshi at the CBC. Everyone should keep their hands and any gender-specific commentary to themselves.
6. Drugs and alcohol. We showbiz folk get a little more leeway than your average accountant, but far too many act as if it is the Burning Man festival at work. Your talent cannot shine if you are high. If you are at a work or client party, aspire to be the most sensible person there.
7. Being uncoachable. It is not “your” show. The show belongs equally to cohosts, producers, program directors, music directors, promotion directors, website managers, social media directors, market managers, vice presidents, presidents, and (a tiny bit) to your talent coach. There are many tragic stories of high-profile personalities who lost it all because they wouldn’t listen to good advice.
Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company.