Brian Edwards Media

Sean Plunket writes a disparaging column about Judy and me in the Dom Post and I reply.

In a fit of pique over criticisms made on this site of his interviewing style, Sean Plunket has made a rather unpleasant and, more importantly, uninformed, inaccurate and not entirely truthful attack on the media training which Judy and I have been providing to people in New Zealand public life for more than two decades. In a column titled “Frivolous spending, overzealous fines” in yesterdays Dominion Post, he presents himself as a civic-minded Wellingtonian concerned about unreasonable parking fines and the irresponsible spending of ratepayers’ money by Mayor Celia Wade-Brown on a trip to Auckland for media training by Callingham and Edwards.

Mr Plunket would have preferred the Mayor not to have “burned precious fossil fuel flying to another city for the training when any number of media trainers here could have done the job as well if not better.” While his concern for the environment is admirable, he may well have been thinking about himself as one of that number, since media training has been, and may well still be, a decent little earner for him. He has been, and may well still be, one of our competitors.  

In the column he accuses Judy and me of having “a rather last-century view of the media interview as a battle of egos rather than a forum for the extraction and dissemination of information important to the public.”

The wonderful irony of this assessment is that it is an almost word for word description of the attitude to the interviewer’s job that I have accused him and other interviewers of his stripe of having.  In several posts on this site I have quoted the doyen of British interviewers, Sir Robin Day’s 10-point Code for Television Interviewers. Points 9 and 10 could have been written specifically about and for Sean Plunket:

“He should press his questions firmly and persistently, but not tediously, offensively, or merely in order to sound tough.

“He should remember that a television interviewer is not employed as a debater, prosecutor, inquisitor, psychiatrist or third-degree expert, but as a journalist seeking information on behalf of the public.”

Plunket, who  has of course never attended one of our media training sessions, goes on to say:

“Their approach seems to be that it doesn’t matter if you answer the questions as long as you win the interview.”

That is of course an outright lie. In all of our teaching and writing on handling media interviews our first principle has always been: Be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes. Less politely put: Fuck up? Front up! Fess up!

But perhaps more surprising than what he has to say about  us, is what he has to say about the Wellington mayor:

“After my last radio interview with Ms Wade-Brown on Newstalk ZB, I remarked to my producer that I thought she had been media-trained, probably by Edwards… She just seemed more, well, I hate to say it Brian, fake.”

Oh come on, Sean, you just loved saying it. But this does set an interesting precedent for radio and television interviewers: after the interview publicly criticise the guest’s performance. So perhaps we can look forward to, “Well, that was Minister X. That guy couldn’t lie straight in bed!” Or, “Thanks Opposition spokesman Y. Boy, has he had a charisma bypass!”

But Plunket’s main gripe seems to be the waste of money sending someone to Auckland for one of our highly priced media-training sessions. Well, just for the record, a half-day course for one person costs $2,900 + GST, which includes the hire of a broadcast quality, fully crewed television studio complex.

It does sound a lot, but here are a couple of questions which I’d like Sean to answer:

Have you ever charged clients $10,000 for a one day media-training session?

Were you at that time employed as a current-affairs interviewer on National Radio’s Morning Report?

Did you interview those clients on Morning Report on several occasions both before and after their media training session with you?

Do you see any conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest in media-training people whom you are also paid to interview on radio or television?

How many clients of yours would have fallen into this category?

I actually already know the answer to most of these questions, Sean, since one of those clients came to us to be re-trained. But Dominion Post readers, your current radio and television audiences, the people who follow your blog and, well, Judy and I might like the answers from the horse’s mouth.

Oh, and just one more thing: immediately after your  interview with Celia Wade-Brown on June 28 (one week after her training with us), in which you now say she sounded “fake”, did you not tell your listeners:

“I actually thought the mayor sounded somewhat more positive and onto it than she has since taking office. I don’t know if something’s changed in her life, but I thought she was incredibly competent this morning, if I could hand out that wee bouquet.”

Did you, Sean?



  1. What is the purpose of your method? Do you ‘teach’ accurate presentation or merely ‘spin’ and ‘avoidance’? Why should one need your service?

    BE: To discover the answer to these questions you could get someone to read the post above or the general information on this site to you.

  2. I have been interviewed by Sean many times on Morning Report and hated everyone of them because he is arrogant, rude and full of himself

    The few times I have listened to him as a talk back host has made me laugh. He has not changed and now instead of being a bully to politicians and news makers he beats up old ladies.

    The only thing more laughable than an arrogant talk back host is an arrogant talk back host with his own opinion piece in a newspaper.

  3. On the Wade-Brown aspect, it’s important to know that Plunket was one of those ‘celebs’ hand-picked by Right-Wing former Mayor (and long-time National Party activist), Kerry Prendergast, to be a future Wellington City Council candidate for the political Right. (The moderately Left-leaning Green, Wade-Brown, of course, ousting Prenders as Mayor).

    Plunket ultimately decided not to go for it at last year’s local elections but is apparently seriously considering a tilt next time.

  4. As one who quietly rejoiced when Plunket left RNZ I find his article puerile and unnecessary. His abrasive, ego-driven interviewing style often bordered on bullying and seemed quite out of place on NZ’s only remaining intelligent news service.

    $10k a day to be media trained by Plunket? Touché Brian.

  5. Methinks thou doth protesteth too much, Brian.

    I’ve always had the impression that those trained by you and Judy were shown how to be evasive , obtuse and capable of presenting a polished version of the topic whilst ensuring the allocated time frame of the interview ticked away without much of indictable substance being said ?

    This is not peculiar to your media training, mind you, but is the whole point of the exercise,
    be it by Plunket et al…?

    BE: Is that right? Aside from Helen Clark and now Celia Wade-Brown how do you know who we’ve trained? Perhaps you’d like to name some names. And if you can’t, don’t talk such utter rubbish.

  6. When I read Plunkett’s diatribe I thought it a bit rich for him to talk about a battle of egos. If there is one thing that came across when SP was with NR (and has not diminished since) was that the man has an enormous ego which frequently comes between him and the person being interviewed.

    As for his comment about Wade Brown being a fake after having conducted the interview the word ‘unprofessional’ springs to mind. It really confirmed ny view that he had found his level by taking employment in talkback radio. Were I a public figure I would tel Plunkett to take a hike before agreeing to an interview with him.

    His diatribe was in some way linked to a mate of his who got pinged by a parking warden for overstaying his time at a funeral (I assume it was not the corpse). Presumably you and Judy are to blame for that misfortune as well. A pity that Plunkett does not send his mate on an adult literacy class who by way of explanation said, “the funeral…overran as there was 12 speeches”. God, the things that are sanctioned in the name of the dead.

  7. As Mr Plunket well knows where there’s muck,there’s brass.

  8. Plunket is a plonker.

    He was a waste of tax payers money on National Radio.

    That he now writes for a faux Brit tabloid, in drag, does not surprise me.

    “last century view battle of egos”!

    Plunket was always about his own ego and his own version of what the “true story” was. If he cannot get his pre-determined “story” to emerge he resorts to arrogant bully and makes up what he wants.

    I do not know what the income of the WCC is. I suspect that $4000 would not register as petty cash.

    He is obviously ego masturbating by helping enemies of Celia WB and BE.


    Talk back radio deserves him.

    ps what century was Plunket born in, educated in, trained in, experienced in?

    The man is a (I give up).

  9. Having read Mr Plunket’s “article” in the Dom Post, I offer these observatuions;

    1. It is a startling revelation to learn that Celia Wade-Brown is the only elected representative ever to have received media training. I make this assumption based on Mr Plunket’s outrage that Ms Wade-Brown recieved such training and that he makes no mention of anyone else ever having done so.

    This is obviously a scoop of national importance?

    I may be corrected on this assumption.

    2. Since Ms Wade-Brown’s election, the Dominion Post has run numerous stories about her. None have been straight-forward reporting. All have referred to some manner of “mis-demeanour” on her part – including some unsavoury leaks from her fellow Councillors. In effect, the Dompost has an on-going vendetta against her.

    Her predecessor, Ms Prendergast, never had to endure such an unceasing campaign against her.

    3. Sean Plunket’s mate got issued parking infringement tickets, whilst they were at a funeral. I offer my condolences at the passing of his friend.

    However, his grieving is no excuse to take his frustrations out on the city’s mayor – she did not park his car, nor issue those tickets.

    As for Richard Dow (July 24th, 2011 at 17:54);

    “…I’ve always had the impression that those trained by you and Judy were shown how to be evasive , obtuse and capable of presenting a polished version of the topic whilst ensuring the allocated time frame of the interview ticked away without much of indictable substance being said ?”

    Richard, not only does that remark reflect badly on you and your motives – but if true, they would result in an interviewee looking shifty, and Brian and Judy quickly going out of business.

    I also note that you haven’t given any examples of your accusation.

    Bad form, Richard.

  10. Both Sean Plunket and Mary Wilson (Radio NZ) urgently need media training by Brian and Judy in how to conduct interviews. Techniques in how to actually listen to interviewees would be a good start.

  11. Re: “In a fit of pique over criticisms …..

    Why should you put it down to just “pique”? Is the man not able to express a pov without your believing it’s just tit-for-tat payback over a previous column, you posted about him?

    Many Wellington ratepayers are genuinely outraged, believing that Celia Wade-Brown has misappropriated their hard earned money on what they see as nothing more than a questionable confidence-enriching exercise. If this lady wants to tart up her public persona by way of a cosmetic makeover, then she ought to pay for it from her own purse. Not the public’s.

  12. If I recall, Sean has fancied a crack at the Wellington mayoralty for some time, and now he has a ‘lefty’ to run against, I guess the timing is good?

  13. Bevan, where is your evidence that many Wellington ratepayers are genuinely outraged? Even reading the DomPost I see no great groundswell of outrage. Possibly the outrage is from around your dinner table or listening to talkback, hardly representative of Wellington?

    Personally I would be surprised if the mayor did not undergo some form of training in dealing with the media. I imagine Prendergast received such training and I would guess that every mayor of a large city would be trained.

    These days media training is not a luxury, or as you put it, a confidence enriching exercise, it is a necessity. You only have to witness that balls ups made by business leaders who are not media savvy.

    Just because the great unwashed on talkback radio bitch and moan about anything and everything, it does not make the expenditure unjustified.

    And nothing changes the lack of professionalism on Plunkett’s part for describing someone he had interviewed as a fake. I cannot believe that any journalist who aspires to high standards would behave in such a mean spirited way (possibly on the News of the World)

  14. I wonder how much extra fuel is required to add one body to the passenger list of a plane that’s going to Auckland anyway?

  15. Frank Macskasy above is quite right, the DomPost can’t mention the current Mayor’s name without hissing. Whereas Ms Prendergast had endless sunny photo-ops courtesy of DomPost photographers, and continues to do so even though she’s no longer in office, sneaked into the social event pages if that’s all they can manage.

    So Sean P would no doubt have been encouraged in his rant, and seized the opportunity to have a whack at her media trainers in passing.

    I do love it when media chaps fall out – they could teach the ladies a thing or two about bitch-slapping.

  16. Rather unfair to tar Mary Wilson and Sean Plunket with the same brush,unfair to Mary Wilson that is.

  17. I really like Sean Plunket, and have missed him on The Nation, as he’s on holiday. I like him because he’s not pretentious. Sean didn’t say nasty things about you Brian, and I’m a little disappointed that you are being mean spirited to your colleague. What does confuse me is why didn’t CWB use the services of Sean down here in Wellington, if he is doing media conditioning courses too.

  18. In another subject on this blog earlier this month, I was perhaps a little unfair towards other broadcasters in my congratulations to Maori TV’s Julian Wilcox. I compared his ability to other fine broadcasters, and mentioned Brian Edwards and Lindsay Perigo only. But there were and are others, such as David Exell long ago and the contemporary Geoff Robinson.

    Indeed, Geoff Robinson is a gentleman, and he has conducted some of the finest interviews I have heard on radio. His style, and that of his former co-host Plunket, were poles apart.

    Plunket’s style made me cringe, and I’m yet to find quite literally anyone who actually enjoyed it. I welcomed his departure from National Radio – my only regret was that it seemed to be so protracted. The feelings expressed by others in this blog I would guess – and it is exactly that, a guess – are representative of the great majority of Morning Report listeners.

    Plunket’s style commands no respect whatsoever. Why anyone would engage him for media training is beyond me – unless the motivation is to learn how to deal with bulldogs by one of that pack.

    John Stokes

  19. Sean’s been watching too much Paxman, and not listening to enough Mair…

    I’ve occasionally checked out his ZB offering. The word dire, had it not already been invented, would etc….

  20. I am so happy to discover I am not alone in disliking Sean Plunket’s interviewing style: rude, arrogant, bullying and ego driven are the words that spring to mind. I used to find myself shouting at him as I listened to Morning Report, “for god’s sake let them bloody speak, you pillock” but more often I was shouting “go to bloody reading school Sean” as he stumbled his way through some simple English text. Thank you Brian.

  21. Ben, there is plenty of evidence of “outrage”. Celia can pay for her own therapy to overcome the feeling of gnawing inadequacy. Just don’t lumber the poor ratepayer with all the expenses. What this lady has done is as close as you can get to embezzlement.

    BE: “What this lady has done is as close as you can get to embezzlement.” And this is as close as you can get to defamation. Hope you’ve got deep pockets.

  22. Where is this ‘evidence’, Bevan? Please indicate your sources.

  23. @ bevan what does “as close as you can get to embezzlement” even mean? Seems ill informed at best.

  24. Definitely a bouquet to Geoff Robinson for his low key, well informed ,and witty broadcasts.There is a place for the more assertive style of Kim Hill and Mary Wilson but also a place for Geoff and his style.

  25. The self-referencing of the media never ceases to amaze (the Murdoch saturation being a prime example). Nobody slogging away in the real world gives a damn about any of this.

  26. I’ve not slogged lately myself

  27. Brian, you said

    “In all of our teaching and writing on handling media interviews our first principle has always been: Be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes.”

    I presume then that you can confirm that Phil Goff is not one of your clients!

  28. David Farrar;

    I think that question is starting to be unnecessarily intrusive (whether it was tongue in cheek or not).

    I don’t think we’ve yet reached a stage where, as in North Korea or the old Soviet bloc, everyone knows everyone’s business.

    In other words – Mind your Own.


    “…Celia can pay for her own therapy to overcome the feeling of gnawing inadequacy. Just don’t lumber the poor ratepayer with all the expenses. What this lady has done is as close as you can get to embezzlement.”

    Really, Bevan? No doubt you’ll be levelling the same outrage at her predecessors? And the politicians from the Party that you support?

    Or are you just being selective?

  29. David Farrar, what a fatuous comment.

  30. @ Farrar, that inate Tory born to rule arrogance is showing, or is it just angst that your boy has finally been outed?

  31. “…he beats up old ladies.” (Dave)

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised that he has done no such thing, Dave.

    On the talk-back I’ve been impressed with the courtesy and respect Sean Plunket has shown ‘old ladies’ and old men, and even to people he trenchantly disagrees with. Sometimes that’s ‘Brian of Tawa’, an octogenarian retired accountant. (I hope my brain is in as good a shape as his if I get to his age.)

    I communicate by e-mail. He usually reads them out. He agrees or disagrees. The world does not end either way.

    A lot of the exchanges are good-natured, and not all talk-back hosts are like that.

    Plunket does change gear when he is interviewing politicians and, for want of a better term,’public people’. It’s like he was back at NatRad then.

    Just my tuppence worth…

  32. I think David Farrar is referring to Mr Goff’s failure to simply admit that he had made mistakes recently in the case of possibly suspicious behaviour by some Israeli citizens and SIS briefings about same. On kiwiblog, DPF has contrasted this with Mr Key, who freely admitted he could have handled things better.

    Some might say DPF is being fatuous. Another way to look at is that DPF is indirectly handling out good, free advice. BE advocates admitting your mistakes. Mr Key admits his mistakes. People like it when you admit you are human, imperfect, and make mistakes. Maybe taking this advice on board would help Mr Goff.

    Whoops, after typing all that I realise that maybe the whole thing is off topic. Oh well I’ll send anyway to give you all the benefit of my wisdom. And I’ll add something on topic;

    When I read the Sean Plunket piece in the Dom-Post, I thought it quite shabby. It surprised me because I normally enjoy Mr Plunket’s work. He is lively, engaged, well-informed, entertaining. I think he was a great loss on Morning Report. I enjoy it less without him. Having said all that, I didn’t usually enjoy or approve of his Rottwieller mode interviews (except when he was trying to get Winston Peters to answer a question just for one time in his life). But the “bad cop” role was only one of Sean Plunket’s personas, he isn’t a one trick pony.

  33. Thoroughly agree with Bill Forster’s remarks about Sean Plunkett – he is a skilled and useful interviewer, and a loss to National Radio. But his DomPost article did poke the Borax a bit…

    I think some commenters above also need to remind themselves that talkback has a provocative format designed to attract callers as well as listeners. Hosts like Plunkett are required to push the envelope to engage their target audience. It is quite a different interviewing style to National Radio ;)

    That all said, an expose on Sean’s potential National candidacy could be interesting – both Michael Jones and Inga Tuigamala backed off standing for the Nats after they were outed hanging with Key ;)

  34. Well, I for one, am totally and utterly happy about the fact that she is having media training, fer chrissakes…

    Why shouldn’t she be learning and upskilling on the job? Bob Parker, after the Christchurch earthquakes,showed great skill in pulling the community together (yes – I know – he is somewhat cheesy). I WANT my mayor to have good presence, to be be able to articulate points of view clearly, and demonstrate some ‘savvy’ when confronted with a serious problem or two. More training for all Councillors please.

  35. bob

    Plunket’s interviewing style on National Radio exactly fits your description of talk back radio’s requirements.

    It is not about the interview. It is about the interviewers ego.

    Plunket is not alone . There are several media “personalities” who blur their role with “performance art”, (aka “Look at me , aren’t I clever”)

  36. “I think some commenters above also need to remind themselves that talkback has a provocative format designed to attract callers as well as listeners. Hosts like Plunkett are required to push the envelope to engage their target audience. It is quite a different interviewing style to National Radio…”

    Bob, I understand what you mean. It’s all about ratings. And ratings translate into advertising revenue.

    Unfortunately, that seems to be precisely how Murdoch’s “News of the World” came to grief; people willing to “push the envelope”; nothing mattered except getting the “scoop”; ethics and everything else be damned.

    It’s a shame that, in the process, the media is becoming more and more irrelevant, and in some instances ‘pornographic’ with it’s “If it Bleeds, it Leads” ethos…

    Twenty years ago, I would buy the “Evening Post” or “Dominion” every day. (Sometimes both papers.)

    Now, I buy the “Dominion Post” on Saturday’s only. And not always, at that.

    As for TV news – it appears to be an extension of “Police Ten-7″, more and more – with additional bits about rugby (outside of the Sporting Section) and royal weddings.

    The deadening hand of commercialisation and profit-seeking has wrought it’s obvious conclusion; mediocrity served up in a sesame-seed bun…

  37. We experienced the Sean Plunket style when he interviewed Simon Schama to a packed town hall at the Wellington festival last year. His questioning was surprisingly banal and he didn’t seem to have read up on his subject or know anything much about art.

    He was a poor choice and hardly needed as Simon can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Disappointing and cringey.

  38. Quite the mutual admiration society is this ascerbic ‘lil blog…actually,I don’t mind Sean Plunket…at least he gets to the point !

  39. 39

    Lustic Bountifuls

    Quite the mutual admiration society is this ascerbic ‘lil blog…actually,I don’t mind Sean Plunket…at least he gets to the point !

    No such word as “ascerbic”, but there is an acerbic.
    Other than that, I agree. When media folk poke the borax at each other, it’s the same as fêting one another. “Inverted praise”, so to speak.

  40. @Lustic, I think you’ll find no more so than on any of the plethora of New Zealand’s ridiculously right wing blogs. The tone and intelligence of the arguments seem to me to a much higher standard, as evidenced by David Farrar’s, and other blatant right wing perpetrators of troll like comments, beating a quick retreat when confronted with sound and level headed repost rather than a chorus of parroting sycophants whose playground insults pass for debate on their usual blogs of choice.

  41. @Quinnagin Please point to the sound and level headed repost to David Farrar’s post. I see one commenter wondering whether his question is tongue in cheek, and suggesting privacy considerations make it unanswerable. A second accuses him of being fatuous with no other content. A third throws some juvenile insults at him without addressing the issue he raises.

    Hardly the comprehensive rebuttal your comment implies! Rather than withdrawing from battle to lick wounds, it seems much more likely he gave up due to the boredom resulting from no one seriously challenging him.

  42. I always felt Sean was less than professional on Morning Report, but for another reason -his “Fluffs”.
    There were mornings when he could not get out two sentences without three mistakes.
    Geoff, on the other hand,manages about one a year..