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Demming: Griffith’s low jibe at interviewer epitomises T&T’s lowered bar for public discourse

In a recent media interview, the interviewee was asked this very direct question: ‘Have you ever accepted a bribe for a firearm?’

Gary Griffith, former commissioner of police, former government minister, former senator, former captain in the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force who is now husband, father and private citizen, was no less direct with his response, which I seriously doubt the interviewer would have anticipated:

“[…] Have you been involved in prostitution?”

The exchange immediately put me in mind of my first entrepreneurial venture. It was inspired by a lacklustre presentation made by Jules Bernard, who was at the time the country’s commissioner of police. Bernard’s presentation was so bad that, before he was through, I had already made up my mind to form a company to coach leaders to become more engaging presenters. 

Professional Presentations Limited failed spectacularly—do the reasons really matter?—and I pivoted to providing public relations services.

That was 30 years ago. Today, it is still the exception to experience an engaging presentation from a public official. I say ‘engaging’ rather than exciting because some of them sometimes seek to create excitement by resorting to folktales, which is reasonable, I suppose, as well as insults and naked aggression, which is decidedly not. 

The upshot of this lowering of the bar is that the media environment has been transformed from a space accepted and respected as a locus of acceptable behaviour and appropriate language into a wild space where media practitioners and the professional hobbyists  who are often their guests feel that no subject is taboo, every public personality is fair game and the rules of grammar are little more than a completely unnecessary nuisance.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) makes a point to TV6 Morning Show host Fazeer Mohammed.

One can be forgiven for wondering if today’s media practitioners are guided by any rules at all. Is there an overarching philosophy which has at its core the pursuit of truth and which recognises that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to arrive at that destination?

Are there any rules of behaviour for invitees and guests?

The media simply would never get their job done if they declined to ask hard questions. The corollary is that if you prefer not to have to handle thorny questions, give media people a wide berth. Stay far away from all ovens and kitchens if you can’t handle heat. Unless you want long-lasting notoriety—remember ‘That’s insulting!’?—trying to embarrass or abuse the interviewer is not the way to go.

So, to return to Griffith, given the varied portfolios that he has held, I would have expected him to resort to any number of strategies to keep the discussion positive, fruitful and solutions-oriented.

‘Acknowledge, bridge and go to your key message’ is a commonly used technique when the interview takes a nasty turn—or threatens to—and you know, thanks to Michelle Obama, that your best option is to go high.

Photo: Former USA first lady Michelle Obama.

Disrespect and abuse are rampant in our society and women are often on the receiving end of this toxicity. Why don’t we simply connect the dots and stop wondering why the scourge of gender-based violence is not in retreat in our country?

Griffith’s knee-jerk reaction was to opt to go low, preferring to ask about the interviewer’s experience of prostitution. 

Some would be tempted to normalise this behaviour by saying, ‘well, that’s Gary.’ Not I. 

What I see is a high-profile—not necessarily ‘responsible’ but certainly ‘with responsibilities’—public personality with an excellent opportunity for a teaching moment. But instead of seeking to reduce the aggro potentially contained in the interviewer’s question, he opted to fight fire with fire. 

I think this response is indicative of the systemic decline we are experiencing throughout our society. I also think that traditional and social media spaces provide an opportunity to collectively change the conversation from its current base level and create a more aspirational discussion.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith talks to the media during a function for the Soca Warriors at the commissioner’s residence on 5 March 2021.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/Wired868)

Media owners have to become intolerant of talk show hosts who repeatedly insult callers by telling them to ‘go ask your mother’. Or who make slapping sounds on air while eating and talking. Or who seriously ask the question ‘so what are we doing this morning?’ Or who, as in the case of one television presenter, accept a personal telephone call on live television.

And the list goes on.

So, 30 years later, I am thinking maybe I should re-open the company. This time, however, the focus will not be on coaching leaders to do anything; the much more urgent need is to get all of us, high and low, to show one another kindness. 

And respect.

About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming grew up in East Dry River, Port of Spain and has more than 30 years experience as a Communication Strategist, Political Commentator and Event Planner. She has 15 years experience lecturing Business Communications at UWI and is the co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain. Dennise holds an MBA, a B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and a certificate Mass Communications from UWI.

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7 comments

  1. Ms Demming
    ” Class ” is unfortunately not something with which the likes of GG are familiar.

    On the world stage we witnessed the spectacle of trump ( note the non capitalisation ).
    In TT we are surrounded by people in ” high ” office who are case studies in ” lack of class”.

    Is it a reflection of all of us?

    I think not, but when our leadership class is dominated by bamboozlers and con people and visionless sycophantic people, I wonder as I wander through this life.

  2. One company may not be enough to handle this particularly complicated case. Think also about the stellar job his appraisers were doing re. the reviews that were being done on his performance while in office.

  3. Can you school all these miscreants in the basics of English Grammar,syntax,spelling ,sentence construction etc.?Please and Thanks.

    • Earl Best

      I don’t think it is fair to ask Wired868 to do that, Indra.
      I think the TV houses should be the ones to provide that kind of training for their people, don’t you? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

  4. Well, I laboured through the entire, errr, commentary.
    1. The interview was on a Tobago channel, not TTT.
    2. It was journalistic mischief 101. Do you still beat your wife? Regardless of the answer, the journalist takes it and runs with it in any and every direction.
    3. At the end of the interview, the said interviewer told Mr. Griffith that he was the best CoP this country ever had.
    4. The entire commentary smacked of plain, unvarnished self-promotion.

    • Lasana Liburd

      Thanks for the correction on the host of the show. Griffith’s position appeared to become untenable as a result of the FUL scandal. As such, I don’t know that it is mischief 101 to ask him directly if he was involved. I’m sure the investigators will.

  5. What i can say no question is foolish an mr Griffith is way be on himself for me d answer was simple yes or no inorrants isa hell of r thing r man that people look up to an what make it even worst some of d media persons is saying she is disrepectfull to ask that kind of question i thing allegation was all around d said question an their was no need to behaved in that manner

    One thing i no to get respect u hav to give respect he may hav some good qualities in him an am sure that u hav don some wrong in ur life so don’t behaved like u r so perfect i think he should apolgise