Asbestos Digs Itself A Deeper Grave

One would assume the producers of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show are not exactly forthcoming when they approach people they want to interview.

Consequently, some people might be tempted to forgive Mine Executive Director Bernard Coulombe for getting sucked into doing an interview on the comedy show regarding his asbestos mine in Asbestos, Quebec.

It is obvious Mr. Coulombe had no idea the show often ridicules its guests, but that however, was an unforgivable and preventable mistake. He stated he thought it was a mainstream traditional style news show. Consequently, like most business executives he welcomed the chance to spread a little good cheer about his industry.

Who wouldn’t? Especially when asbestos is such a controversial product!

As Coulombe quickly learned though, it’s a bad idea to grant an interview to anyone unless you first do a little research. At the very least you should make sure you know the style of the news show, but it’s also a good idea to ask about the premise of the story. Never grant an interview to anyone who calls you cold and wants to talk immediately. Always tell them you are busy, ask for their number, and call them back when your head is in the game and you are prepared.

Bernard Coulombe unfortunately did none of the above and consequently got stuck in a television interview with a reporter on a comedy news broadcast who, according to Coulombe, made him “look like an ignorant imbecile.”

The Daily Show comedian interviewing him, Aasif Mandvi, who was born in Mumbai, asked Coulombe why he thought it was alright to export asbestos (known in the mining industry as chrysotile) to India for processing. It has a deadly impact on tens of thousands of his countrymen.

The main reason for such a high number of deaths, which wasn’t included in the Daily Show interview, but maybe was stated by Coulombe, was because India handles the product in a less safe manner than other parts of the world. It is a dangerous natural resource like electricity or radium that has to be treated with considerable respect.

Coulombe foolishly opined that India is used to pollution. Upon hearing this, Mandvi sarcastically shot back, “so they can handle it” and they both laughed.

Mandvi then asked Coulombe if he knew the French word for douchebag?

Not only did Coulombe make a huge mistake jumping into the interview without knowing what he was doing, a day later he made the situation worse by trying to defend his poor performance during the TV interview.

To add fuel to this raging PR inferno, Coulombe said that after the Daily Show debacle he will have trouble raising the $25 million from the private investors he will need to keep his mine alive.

Some of the statements he made later to the media complaining he was duped were worse than the original lambasting he took at the hands of Jon Stewart’s comedic reporter. Coulombe referred to the episode as a tacky parody designed to discredit his industry.

It’s never a good PR strategy to confirm what people are already thinking.

This is a perfect case study indicating what NOT to say during an interview and why media training is so important. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you cannot put it back

CTV interviewed me about the fiasco, and I told them it was lucky the Globe and Mail the next day didn’t run the headline, “We’re not Ignorant Imbeciles.”

You can read more of my take on this PR crisis at CTV Sympatico

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