Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Pamela Young gave an extraordinary interview to ABC TV’s Lateline program this week, and her candid comments could have massive ramifications for her career and the investigation she is part of.
DCI Young (pictured) is from the NSW Unsolved Homicide Unit and has been part of Strike Force Macnamir – the investigation into the cliff fall death of American PhD student Scott Johnson.
It's a train wreck and well worth watching. But not for the usual reasons.
What really surprised me is that the detective's comments were not forced out of her, she was not skewered into confession by the talented Emma Alberici. To the contrary, detective Young's comments were volunteered even though she was considered a polished media performer with high level media skills.
In the interview, I saw a practised media performer deftly execute what looked like an extremely naïve game plan. If that’s the case, this isn’t a training fail, this is failure of judgement.
Let’s start with her agreeing to appear on the program to discuss Johnson's death at a time when the NSW Coroner had just announced a third inquest into the case.
Now, when a matter is before the courts, it’s prudent to limit what you say in the media. Providing an exclusive eight minute interview with Lateline doesn’t seem that prudent.
Before agreeing to any interview every spokesperson needs to question the reputational impact of what they are planning to say. Will engaging with media be effective, what are the risks, and what can be achieved?
While it's a good call to demonstrate the police are diligent and process driven, this interview doesn't create that impression.
It's hard to seen any upside for detective Young in agreeing to this interview, other than to justify her own actions or discredit the Johnson family, all of which smacks of trial by media.
Given detective Young’s evidently high level interview skills there were a few moments that particularly jarred and demonstrated the awesome power of using visual language.
First up detective Young accused Johnson's brother Steve of ‘plagiarising’ her report. That’s a harsh word to choose when ‘referencing’ may have been more appropriate.
Plagiarism is wrong, and in some cases it’s a criminal act. Word choice is a powerful way to influence an audience and get them questioning a party's credibility.
Secondly the detective referred to Johnson's ‘very sorry attempt at suicide’, quickly clarified to 'thinking about attempting to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge '.
These are very different things and it’s hard to accept that a polished performer would slip up like that. If you read this paragraph, technically you have just thought about attempting to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge - that's very different from actually attempting suicide.
Giving a media interview is not mandatory, it’s a deliberate decision. Sometimes the most prudent course of action is to issue a simple statement.
If you are letting anger or ego shape your thinking it’s guaranteed to provide great TV, but unlikely to be an effective strategy in the long run.
UPDATE April 22:
DCI Pamela Young was removed from the investigation shortly after the Lateline interview.
You can read more here.