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Dissent in America:

  1. Dissent in America is patriotic when it springs from a true love of country and expresses a sincere desire to make it better. In fact, this kind of dissent was basic to America’s founding.
  2. But dissent becomes dangerous and often un-American when it is cruel, produces social division, disregards its potential to incite violence, and appeals to deep feelings of hate.

Intent is what separated the president’s approach to rallying his base from the four dissenting freshmen legislators. One approach was hateful and divisive, and the other was distinctly American. One reflected a country that was made for immigrants, and the other chose to ignore it.

The vice president stood next to inhumane conditions for children and families seeking asylum in the U.S. and said that Americans would be proud of what he saw. He was talking directly to followers, and the cruelty of his statement had to be intentional.

The fact that cruelty is used as a rallying point for political followers is a tragic example of what has happened to the use of language in our digital media world. Media has become tools for dividing and conquering… not unifying and inspiring.

And the fact that all this is tolerated by so many in the name of competitive politics is an additional tragic example of what has happened to a nation founded on the fundamental principles of liberty, justice, and human rights.

Only enlightened leadership can fly above all this and put unity and humanity back in our discourse… and our lives. But right now it’s not yet clear from where, or even if, that leadership will appear.

My previous blog post pointed out that news media are really businesses. I follow-up here by suggesting that the entire topic should be dealt with in newspapers and on television as important public interest news.

Stories about big changes in major media organizations, the inside workings of biased news organizations, profiles of extreme talk show hosts and writers, sources of domestic fake-news, social media as weapons, foreign government generated fake-news, and much more, are all sources of potential audience-grabbing news stories.

Some news organizations already have media reporters. Brian Stelter at CNN is one of the few with high visibility. His program on Sunday mornings reports inside news about organizations, people and places, and also deals with the hot issues of the week.

Beyond reporting news media news stories, it is also in their self-interest for news organizations to invest heavily in media education. For them, promoting media literacy should simply be seen as essential immediate and long-term audience development.

 

It’s not fake news. But it is a business.

Television cannot resist making drama, and newspapers cannot resist writing provocative headlines. After all, they both must deliver audiences to their advertisers.

Both newspaper and TV news organizations develop journalists and anchors with star power because it’s good for business. Both are attracted to covering the outrageous over the mundane because it’s good for business. Tweets become attention-getting headlines and are also good for business. And a government in chaos and out-of-control is certainly good for the news business.

When NBC producers designed their approach to the recent debates, they clearly had the nature of their visual medium in mind.. After all, TV likes drama, and the colors, set design, use of music, staging, and even the anchor’s introductions and questions were written with this medium’s power in mind. Some pundits even thought the program resembled a game show! But however you saw it, it certainly was good for the TV news business.

Bottom line: It’s difficult to imagine how news media organizations will fix things for us anytime soon… especially when the daily headlines are so good for their businesses.

Communication is impossible in an environment of lies and confusion. Problem-solving processes simply shut down.

Even when our president begins with a smidgen of truth, he grossly exaggerates it, and then embellishes it with fictitious additions until it all becomes a sea of lies and mass confusion.

Whether it’s about what’s going on in Iran, the treatment of children on the Mexican border, the actual status of his wall, the true impact of Chinese tariffs, his love for North Korea’s dictator, his strange behavior with Putin, his attraction to the Saudi crown prince, his comfort in the company of any dictator, his disrespect for U.S. allies, his total rejection of climate change science, or all of the promises he hasn’t kept… whatever he says is intended to dominate the headlines, but it also produces widespread fear and unrest.

This is not about political ideology. It’s about how communication works… and as a result, his need to make it “all about him” has also made us vulnerable to social upheaval everywhere.       

There is no such thing as a communication expert… only professionals like me who chose to spend an entire career struggling every day to make it work. One proven communication truth, however, is that people hear what they want to hear.

Some pundits thought both evenings were disasters for the Democrats because there was so much challenging and so little unity. Socialism charges were now easier to make. But others thought that aggressive challenging was a good thing because in “mass” debates like these each person must find a way to stand out. Unity will come later in the process.

So here’s my take. I actually dreaded these debates. I was convinced that we would learn nothing and only add to information overload and confusion. I shrugged them off as “debating games.”

But I must confess I did see some talented, informed, and articulate people. And it was easy to see who was informed about what… healthcare, or tax reform, or climate change, or the military, or foreign policy, or racism, etc.

I can now imagine how time on the road might produce some strong candidates for president, vice president, and cabinet slots… and all without regard to age. I can also see how message guardrails against charges of socialism can easily be built.

When all is said and done, I came away from these debates encouraged that we actually might have the talent and political strength in this country to oppose autocracy, and to bring back American values-based leadership to the world. Please don’t tell me I’m fooling myself.

Fifty years of trying to make communication work teaches that you can’t have genuine communication without having credibility. And being credible equates with being believable.

While it might be possible to lead for a limited period of time by generating chaos and uncertainty, experience clearly teaches that it is impossible to lead any cause, institution, or government for a sustained period of time without being both credible and believable.

So what establishes leader credibility? Here are some of the essential factors:

Credible leaders are not perfect, but are generally seen as honest, reliable, and extremely well informed…

They also ask for and use expert advice… collaborate every day with competent team associates… behave in a manner that earns respect in all settings… have clear goals that benefit most all constituents… and communicate clearly and concisely.

In the final analysis, history honors the leaders who endure as both credible and believable. The others are quickly exposed for who they really were…