Archive for August, 2016

In this time of widespread national disruption it certainly is possible to be thinking that we are coming to the end of the road as a nation. Ideologies are clashing, hate seems to be surfacing everywhere, and everything from politics to religion appears totally polarized.,

Basic questions haunt us: Are we fundamentally a country of conservatives or liberals? Do we believe that business success will trickle down and provide opportunity, or that wealth must be shared through benevolence and services? Or have we simply been looking in all the wrong places for our identity as Americans?

Last week I attended a program on jazz and American music at the Chautauqua Institute in northwest New York State. Wynton Marsalis, along with his Jazz at Lincoln Center organization and other friends, presided. I must say it was an incredible experience. Marsalis and all the other musicians and speakers were extremely well prepared, perceptive, creative, and impressively articulate.

By the end of the first day I was convinced that most of us have been looking in all the wrong places for our national identity. The place to look is not in our politics. Nor is it in our free enterprise system. Nor is it in our balanced system of three branches of government. Rather, it is simply in our core ideas, cultural heritage, and arts.

Marsalis and friends did a masterful job of weaving together ideas and quotes from founding fathers, intellectuals, literary heroes, blues singers, jazz artists, theater figures, filmmakers, and those incredible composers of the great “American song book.” Collectively these people were our social and cultural improvisers and integrators.

By week’s end it was virtually impossible to miss the point that we are ultimately a nation of immigrants that successfully blended the down-home sophistication of hard-working people and talented artists with the highbrow intellectual sophistication of an educated elite. Our identity as Americans is simply in the “integration” of their ideas about freedom, their many different cultural traditions, and all of their arts. It is a unique blend indeed. And it is what enables the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” that we all enjoy.

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What’s most troubling about Mr. Trump sounding more informed by reading prepared remarks is that there is no way to know anything about his authenticity.

Which Trump is the real one?  The angry crude attacker? Or the slightly better informed one?  And how would such a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality actually perform day-to-day in the Oval Office?

For far too many media consumers constantly repeated lies are sounding true, emotions are replacing reason, and serious ideas have been simplified and polarized into prejudice reinforcing entertainment. The frightening consequence is that it’s now more impossible than ever to know who and what is authentic.

My fear is that when outrageous and cruel attackers begin to sound more reasonable too many disgruntled and still undecided citizens will begin to relax and think that “maybe they are actually coming around.” And what’s also troubling is the possibility that just by softening coverage the news media will actually end up reinforcing this more comfortable feeling.

But make no mistake. The digital media “confusion effect” remains the same. We must now be even less certain which Trump is the real one?

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One consequence of the 24/7 digital news revolution is that the unending appetite for attention-getting information has given those with outrageous remarks easy access to ongoing media visibility.

What’s interesting about the Trump campaign right now is that during the primary election his ability to use crude comments to stay in the news was considered star-producing free publicity. But now in the general election that same free publicity is being labeled by Trump as personal attacks on him. So he is attacking the very hand that fed him.

The reality, however, is that attacking the news media inevitably is a no-win situation. Certainly there are legitimate media issues to discuss. But to attack the media head-on will soon sound desperate and eventually reinforce a perception of instability.

What’s sad in this case is that those people supporting Mr. Trump have legitimate feelings of being left out of the American dream. They thought they found someone who can fix their situation. Persistent loyalty through times like this, however, is comparable to battered people who hang on to someone because they just don’t know what else to do.

Also, sooner or later those who grab attention with constant crude and outrageous attacks, and then suddenly sound more informed by reading words clearly written by others, will find that contrasting pictures and sound bites will show just how shallow, insincere, dishonest, and frightening all this might be.

In the final analysis, educating the public about legitimate digital news media issues is important, but a full frontal attack on reporters will inevitably be deadly.

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Cable channels with 24/7 breaking news appetites combined with an even more comprehensive digital technology revolution have produced a wide range of far-reaching and unanticipated consequences. Here is a list of only a few:

1. TV seems real, but isn’t. Camera angles, editing and special effects translates real life into how the producer wants you to see it.

2. 24/7 news creates a constant all-day appetite for new and updated stories, each requiring a dramatic headline to recapture attention.

3. Keeping attention even during a report requires a pace so fast that complete explanations are not possible and comments from experts are cut short.

4. Outrageous claims meet the need for grabbing and re-grabbing news coverage. The result is free and constant publicity for the most outrageous sources.

5. Using stars from entertainment TV and Hollywood guarantees news coverage for causes and political opinions…thereby helping to satisfy ravenous 24/7 news appetites.

6. Lies constantly repeated begin to sound true.  This is the most mysterious consequence of all. And consistency over time allows a degree of acceptance that is contrary to conventional wisdom.

7. The 24/7 news appetite has also created a situation where traditional accuracy standards have been modified. If a source can be named the story will run. It is now acceptable to just make a correction if a statement is later determined to be inaccurate. The problem is that in our new media world corrections seem to have little impact.

8. Social media producers have created their own audiences which enable news coverage based totally on the special interests of those audiences. These audiences often have no other source of news.

9. Competitive back-and-forth name calling in today’s digital world can quickly become commonplace and soon benefits nobody. The ultimate effect is that it totally eliminates taking “the high road” and drags everyone into the gutter.

We now have one presidential candidate who many voters find totally unqualified because of his crude and disrespectful remarks and lack of basic knowledge about the world, and another who can’t find a way in today’s attack-based media environment to come across as genuine and sincere. God help us.

The truth is that if news makers, politicians, the news media, social media producers, and information consumers don’t all soon wake up to what’s going on, we will be facing a future in turmoil with no end in sight.





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Years of experience taught me that the best way to evaluate major speeches is to ask key questions as guidelines. For example:

  1. How important is the orchestration of the event surrounding an important speech?
  2. What is the objective of a major speech?  Is it merely to reenergize the true believers; or complete the sale with those still uncertain insiders; or open the door to doubters on the other side and independents; or demonstrate the opponent’s incompetency?
  3. How many of these targets can be effectively addressed in one speech? Which ones are the most important?
  4. At what point does a laundry list of promises sound unrealistic and become a deterrent to crafting an inspiring conclusion?

With respect to the Clinton convention, was the event leading up to her speech brilliantly staged?  Which messages were capable of satisfying Bernie Sanders’ followers? Which messages could bring about commitments from the party’s undecided? Which arguments might convert the disillusioned from the other party? What in the speech will likely be attractive to  independents?  Can all of these be effectively addressed in one speech?  Which ones are the most important? Did her long list of party platform issues raise questions about how all this can get reasonably accomplished?  Will her relentless attacks of Trump make a difference in the end?

My “lessons learned” over the years suggest that events surrounding important addresses must be staged dramatically; that the speaker must not let lists of details get in the way of overall final impact; and that major speeches should only emphasize the most important outcome targets. Other targets should be saved for other circumstances, speeches, and media. Above all, major addresses must ultimately inspire with a vision so emotionally convincing that large numbers of people will accept the speaker as capable  of delivering a more fulfilling future.

Secretary Clinton’s entire event was clearly well staged by professionals. Her speech was an interesting and comprehensive review of the democratic party platform issues. She delivered it with high energy and strong emotional commitment. And she certainly made a convincing argument that her opponent is a self-centered and very dangerous man.

But I am still pondering these questions:

Did her long list of party platform issues get in the way of developing an inspiring enough conclusion?  Did she miss a golden opportunity to demonstrate a capacity to deal personally and honestly with past mistakes and trust issues? Could she then have painted a grander vision of American values so compelling that a majority of voters could now trust her with their families’ futures and fortunes?

And one more thought: Given the new dynamics of 24/7 electronic news coverage, will two campaigns based on daily back and forth attacks on each candidate’s character result in an anesthetized TV audience, and eventually be of no benefit to either one?


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