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When your response to a question at a press conference has gone viral and provided fodder for a talk show host, it is fair to assume things have probably gone spectacularly wrong.
That was certainly the case for one spokesperson this week who produced an answer we simply cannot stop watching.
And we are not alone, as the spectacular subject and mood change midway through an answer, triggered widespread bemusement and mocking.
It came when Australian MP Bob Katter spoke to the media about same sex marriage.
The veteran North Queensland politician, who campaigned to resist changing the same sex marriage law in the country’s recent referendum, initially appeared to have softened his tone in the wake of the country’s overwhelming vote to legalise gay marriage.
He told reporters: “I mean, you know, people are entitled to their sexual proclivities. Let there be a thousand blossoms bloom, as far as I am concerned.”
So far so good, but then came a completely unexpected and somewhat dramatic change of mood, tone, subject and facial expression.
“But I ain’t spending any time on it,” he growled, “because in the meantime, every three months, a person is torn to pieces by a crocodile in north Queensland.”
When you look at it written out on the screen you would be forgiven for thinking I have randomly fused two sentences together. I assure you this is not the case – it is simply one of those clips which really has to be seen to be believed.
The footage initially did not get much coverage until a few days later when it was shown on Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Insiders programme – where the four presenters were seen crying with laughter - and was subsequently shared thousands of times on social media.
I have now watched that Bob Katter clip from @InsidersABC about a dozen times and I’m ruined. Tears flowing down my face— Ken McAlpine (@KenMcAlpine) November 19, 2017
RT if you’re into your 12th hour of watching the Bob Katter video— Bob Katter, 18 seconds in (@furioushorses) November 19, 2017
Quite possibly the most incredible example of political pivoting I have ever seen.— James Melville (@JamesMelville) November 21, 2017
Just watch Australian MP Bob Katter. A pivot from same sex marriage to crocodiles.pic.twitter.com/lDOkTlij90
I've watched this Bob Katter video about 15 times, and the bit where he's suddenly possessed never stops being any less funny pic.twitter.com/Mxvz5Cpw6i— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) November 21, 2017
And that alerted the mainstream media.
Here is how they reported it:
Australians left bemused by MP’s crocodile comments during same-sex marriage press conference Daily Telegraph
From gay marriage to crocodile culling in the same breath: MP Bob Katter’s bizarre rant leaves reporters baffled Daily Mail
Bob Katter’s response to a question on same-sex marriage has us stumped Huffington Post Australia
Australian MP’s brain goes on short, strange journey Deadspin
In fact, such was the sudden rise in prominence of the footage, that it ended up featuring on The Late Show in the US. Host Stephen Colbert, told viewers: “Wow, that was an abrupt left turn right there.
"I can't wait to hear Katter weigh in on gay adoptions, 'I mean people are entitled to the joy and laughter of children, I say live and let live. But who cares, because in the meantime, every five minutes gangs of kangaroos and dingoes are chewing your grandpa's face off'."
Clearly Mr Katter was trying to steer the conversation away from a subject he was not comfortable discussing – he did after all notoriously once claim there were no homosexuals living in his North Queensland seat of Kennedy – to an issue he is passionate about.
I would suggest he was trying to use a media training technique called bridging (I believe they use the term ‘segway’ in Australia) to do this, but he executed it appallingly.
Bridging is a crucial tool for media spokespeople, but, as we tell delegates on our media training courses, to be effective it needs to be used subtly, through briefly answering the question asked and then trying to move the conversation on naturally to an area that you want to focus on without a huge change in your demeanour.
But there is a time and a place for it and trying to use it to shift a line of questioning from gay marriage to crocodile attacks is simply a bridge too far. It is an absurd leap in subjects.
Instead, Mr Katter should have either just answered the question posed or tried to bridge to something much closer to the issue being discussed.
While he may be extremely concerned about crocodiles, he has just found that curiously combining issues in a media interview response can sometimes have a worse bite.
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