Bernard O'Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer
It has been described as “the interview of the year”, “one of the funniest TV news moments ever recorded” and a real “Yes, Prime Minister” moment.
As Labor MP Bill Shorten proved, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
In a live television interview that has since gone viral, the workplace relations minister was asked whether he felt the troubled parliamentary speaker, Peter Slipper, should be allowed to go back to work after being accused of sexual harassment and misuse of funds.
Aware Prime Minister Julia Gillard was overseas, but unaware of what she had actually said on the matter, Shorten blunderingly responded: "I haven't seen what she's said, but let me say I support what it is she said."
Sky News Australia’s political editor David Speers presses Shorten to explain his view, to which he responds: “My view is what the Prime Minister’s view is."
Bewildered, Speers says: “But you don’t know what she said,” to which Shorten replies: “But I’m sure she’s right.”
So farcical was Shorten’s response that the world’s press has mockingly dubbed him “The Talented Mr Shorten”; “the world’s most loyal politician” and a “brown nose” to boot.
It was a moment of madness that could easily have been avoided. A live television interview is no place for an impromptu response on an issue you’re either not fully informed about or haven’t planned for. Even if he was just toeing the official party line, albeit sarcastically, it flopped badly.
Shorten, widely seen as a future leader, obviously wanted to distance himself from the latest scandal engulfing Gillard's leadership. But he is smart enough to know the Slipper issue was the hottest political story of the day and he would be asked about it.
He should have planned a suitable response - one that resonated with the wider community.
If he had simply said he had not seen the PM's comments and did not want to contradict what she had said, the fallout would have been much less embarrassing.
Dealing with the media is often high stakes and sometimes it pays to call a spade a spade. Otherwise, just don't go there.