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Media training for dentists


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Friday, 31 July 2015

Media training for dentists

Dentists, if you’re going to shoot a lion, make sure you have a good story ready for the press in case things don’t work out as you hoped.

“Dentist slays lion”, would usually warrant only a small news item, unless it happened in Macclesfield or Penge. But shooting a celebrity lion, even in Africa, is a PR disaster.     

After all those root canals, inflamed gums and impacted molars, who can blame a chap for seeking a bit of excitement? The dentist got his wish and now has more excitement than he can handle. Like his victim, he also knows how it feels to be hunted by thrill-seeking idiots - or the media and the baying mob as they are also known.

The story has all the classic elements of a “how not to” of crisis management.

Here are some lines to avoid:

“I shot the wrong lion” – not a winning tactic, unless you can convince people that there’s a more deserving or “right” lion you might have shot instead.

“I didn’t know he was famous” – your concern for the social status of your victim makes you appear shallow as well as brutal. This is rarely an attractive combination, except in parts of the music industry.

“I’m really very sorry” – usually fine when directed to the victim or the victim’s family. In this case the apology was issued to the dentist’s patients, none of whom are lions, and could easily be mistaken for a desperate act of self-interest rather than one of genuine contrition.

Although this is an extreme case, there are few situations beyond the reach of a good spin doctor.

It was said of the medic turned mass murderer, Harold Shipman, that he was “a good doctor, but a bad man”, a brilliant piece of spin designed both to exonerate Shipman’s employers for failing to notice his homicidal tendencies and to reassure the public that other doctors could still be trusted.

Bill Clinton showed that it is possible to admit a crime but get off on a technicality with his claim that he almost tried marijuana at college but could not bring himself to inhale – his precocious presidential instincts getting the better of his weaker studenty self.

The closest parallel to our lion-slaying dentist is the hunting incident in which US vice president Dick Cheney shot a 78 year old man in the face after mistaking him for a quail. The man made a full recovery, but Mr Cheney will have been aware that he could have relied on public sympathy if the affair had ended badly - his victim was a lawyer.

There is no such obvious defence in the case of Cecil the lion, but with the right advice the dentist could have entered a plea of mitigation. All he needed to do was imply partial culpability on the part of the lion, show that he had done his best in difficult circumstances and express professional regret for a less than wholly successful clinical outcome, taking care not to admit liability.

“The lion was clearly in some discomfort, possibly as a result of poor oral hygiene. I was attempting to administer a local anaesthetic when my hunting rifle accidentally went off. It is a matter of sincere regret that the patient did not survive, but thanks to my swift intervention the lion is not expected to suffer any further dental problems.”

Wildlife editor: NHS Networks


Judy Aldred
Judy Aldred says:
Jul 31, 2015 11:11 AM

An absolute classic. Made my Friday.

f lofty
f lofty says:
Jul 31, 2015 11:21 AM

Best ever yet! Brilliant!

Anonymous says:
Jul 31, 2015 11:39 AM

The dentist killed the lion using a bow and arrow! Does he still use Ether on his patients

Anonymous says:
Jul 31, 2015 11:42 AM

that is serious laugh out loud, guffaws writing. Thank you :-)

Lars Williams
Lars Williams says:
Jul 31, 2015 11:54 AM

Brilliant! Thanks so much for these posts, they always brighten my Friday.

Anonymous says:
Jul 31, 2015 12:12 PM

Yet another stupid and fatuous article.

craig robb
craig robb says:
Jul 31, 2015 12:20 PM

In the worst possible taste. Do you get paid for this crap?

sharon levack
sharon levack says:
Jul 31, 2015 12:23 PM

Whilst the article is funny, the story behind it is very sad and this dentist has killed may more animals than the famous lion. Sadder still that people find killing beautiful animals a punch line for humour. I come from Africa and respect and admire all these animals. What if he had decided to pick on a certain criteria of human being and was killing them off and hanging their heads as trophies on his wall? Would you all be laughing then?

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Jul 31, 2015 12:47 PM

Sharon, I don't think anyone reading this takes any pleasure in the death of the lion. The butt of the joke is the "hunter" (or the fatuous author, depending on your point of view).

Margaret Rowley
Margaret Rowley says:
Jul 31, 2015 12:44 PM

I suggest that unless you appreciate satire do not read these brilliant articles. This is not laughing at the pointless killing of animals but highlighting how stupid it is to do so and also taking a swipe at PR spin.

Jo Flintoff
Jo Flintoff says:
Jul 31, 2015 12:49 PM

I do wonder if some of your readers have generally missed the point of your blog (and why they continue to read it? I assume you have an option to unsubscribe?). Sharp and incisive, as always, bravo Sir

sharon levack
sharon levack says:
Jul 31, 2015 01:02 PM

I did not miss the point of the blog, I thoroughly enjoy these articles, but this one is close to my heart.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Jul 31, 2015 01:36 PM

Understood - and I always appreciate your comments, Sharon

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Jul 31, 2015 01:44 PM

Owen - you'll see I've deleted your post. I almost never delete comments but I'm afraid yours would have caused offence. Sorry.

Anonymous says:
Jul 31, 2015 02:04 PM

But was the lion eligible for NHS treatment?

barry fitzgerald
barry fitzgerald says:
Jul 31, 2015 08:30 PM

Remember when Zimbabwe was in the news for human rights abuses? They must have got them all sorted out or have I missed something?

Sue Evans
Sue Evans says:
Aug 01, 2015 09:48 PM

Thank you, as always for your style and insights. The best take I've seen so far on this story - which remains deeply sad on so many levels.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Aug 03, 2015 10:21 AM

Thanks,Sue,and others who enjoyed the piece and got the point.

Jeff Hudson
Jeff Hudson says:
Aug 03, 2015 09:06 AM

Oh <insertexpletive>!
I've recently returned from a not-so-exotic holiday to find my back garden has become something of a jungle. Without thinking I pulled out my lawn-mower and set to the cutting task the time away had required of me.
In so doing I must confess that I dispatched two GPs and a consultant in emergency medicine that were hiding out there on private activities. Thankfully the F1 took fright and ran away.
Had I known these professionals were in such short supply I would have taken more care and simply scared them rather than gunning for them in their ghillie suits.

Apologetically yours
Mr J Hunter

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Aug 03, 2015 10:31 AM

Dear Hunter
Just wait until the Taste Wardens catch up with you. Expect to be neutered at the very least for your reckless lawn-mowing.

Yours with a tranquiliser dart in the rump