Archive for June, 2018

A colleague recently commented that he deeply cares about the fate of immigrant children but that he is also becoming numb to our whole political mess.

Media revolutions produce far-reaching consequences, and that can include a kind of mass numbing. For example, in today’s media ecosystem news photos depicting the horrors of war day after day are having a numbing effect on many of us. It’s a sanity protection response to constant horror when not being able to see a way out. And recent daily doses of screaming children being separated from parents at the Mexican border may soon have a similar effect.

Not being able to deal with constant life-threatening contradictions can also result in numbing. For example, this happened to many of us when Mr. Trump reported he has a mutually admiring and ongoing working relationship with the murderous North Korean dictator at the very same time his defense secretary was reporting no evidence of denuclearization.

We now have visible evidence that more and more Americans are simply ignoring or turning away from the president’s constant lying, excessive bad behavior, reality TV dramatics, personal attacks, bullying, ethics violations, political extremism, alienating allies, and schmoozing with dictators.

If you are a Trump supporter you no doubt suspended the belief you had in always telling the truth and behaving ethically, thus allowing yourself to accept his gross exaggerations about bringing back factory jobs, coal mines, making healthcare great, and draining the Washington swamp. This is a wishful-thinking kind of numbing.

And if you don’t support Trump, by now you are very likely becoming numb to his daily lies and mind changes, and are turning away from his incessant doublespeak in order to find mental freedom and solace in your work, family or hobbies.

Both political parties have also become numb. Months ago they polarized themselves into a numbing paralysis. The dominant party is completely anesthetized by their fear of losing the next election. And the minority party has numbed itself into an inability to find and state an inspirational and unifying vision for the country.

A brilliant emeritus historian at Penn State recently pointed out to me that the cresting of powerful nations seems to be an inevitable historical reality. Leaders can either choose to wisely manage through the situation, or to recklessly make dictatorial choices that speed the decline. So far speeding the decline has been the choice… and sadly, a countrywide state of numbness is not a situation that offers us much promise.


Read Full Post »

President Trump declared a win-win agreement following his recent North Korea Summit. Since friendly handshakes and generous praise might keep war from breaking out during future conversations, shouldn’t the president be given an enthusiastic pat on the back?

To be sure, many journalists believe that the only “fair and balanced” thing to do is to report any positive outcomes they see. And so isn’t it only fair to give credit to the president for improving his personal relationship with this dangerous dictator?

On the other hand, isn’t it also fair and balanced that every time the Singapore friendship is reported, his administration’s daily trade wars and other attacks on our allies and friends are also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time the Singapore handshake is shown, his strutting around on the stage showing off his instinctive bully body language and puffy facial expressions to his allies is also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time his defense of Putin is reported, examples of damages to human rights and values-based democracies are also reported?

And isn’t it also fair that every time his statements about the North Korean leader’s extraordinary talents are run, stories are also run about his abruptly ending the long negotiated agreements on trade, climate change, nuclear weapons (Iran), and his lack of knowledge and respect for the leadership and scientific talent that it took to create those agreements?

And shouldn’t photos of his schmoozing with “rocket man” be shown side by side with photos of the other dictators and autocrats he collaborates with more comfortably than with his own allies, clearly conveying his undeniable me-first, autocratic ambitions?

So if everyday is all about Trump… his tweets and pronouncements. Then all about Trump needs to be told everyday… in side-by-side stories and photos. 

Read Full Post »

Is this actually possible? Could we be sliding toward a world ruled by autocrats? Could we be at the beginning of a new world order, one without much concern for individual freedom, human rights, and justice? I hate to say it, but the signs are not good.

What makes such a horror feasible is the unexpected outcome of a media revolution. Daily information clutter created a pervasive fog of confusion. Repeated lies began to sound true. Facts got lost in extremism. Expert debates made us confused. Excessive bad behavior no longer was shocking. Politics degenerated into television entertainment. Personal attacks were awarded with headlines. Outrageous bragging became acceptable. And it was in the growing density of this fog and confusion where a disruptive and unethical candidate could actually win… and where autocrats elsewhere in the world could also gain in influence and power.

Here is a “what if” scenario to think about: What if recently announced “attitude” changes produce a super friendly atmosphere for the North Korean talks? What if the primary outcome of these talks is a declared mutual admiration? And what if future meetings are set, invitations to visit each other are extended, and each party reports back to their constituents that they achieved something no one else has ever been able to achieve?

Can such an outcome be genuine? The problem is that in this new media ecosystem there is no way to know for sure. Truth is in verifiable details, not in the hazy fog of ego-centered double-speak. The fog has become our reality. Most of the time we can’t separate fact from fiction.

Now combine this scenario with the US president’s pronouncement that Russia should be a member of the G-7. Now also add this to recent schmoozing and friendly gestures toward autocrats in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Italy, etc. Now imagine the possibility of a new world order based on an alliance of these autocracies, with the fog of the media-ecosystem hiding the process.

Finally, picture an annual Summit attended only by these autocrats, chaired by the U.S. president. Will issues such as human rights, free trade, climate change, immigration, conservation, and clean air even be on their agenda? And what will happen to the decades old Western values of freedom, opportunity, and justice for all?

With respect to the U.S. president, a happy friend in North Korea, with photo ops to prove it, will look to his base like a huge nuclear talks victory. And flattering front and center pictures of him gloating will be all that matters to this unbridled foreign policy day-trader.

Is a new world order run by autocrats possible? The signs are not good.

Read Full Post »

We learned a lot about TV coverage of dramatic events from analyzing the Trump campaign. After the Rallies, many analysts concluded that rather than expose his character flaws live TV coverage actually helped him win. Cable could not resist covering what Trump might say next, and mainstream media could not resist the audience appeal of follow-up reports. Over time they may have unwittingly enhanced his celebrity status, thereby helping him win.

So my questions here are: Could there be a similar celebrity factor involved in mass shootings? Could the idea of visibility and celebrity be promoting copycats? Could interviews with victims and families be more of an imposition than thought? Could shorter reports be as informative as longer coverage?

If you think changes are in order, here are some ideas for producers to try:

  1. Never report the names of shooters. or detailed information about their methods.
  2. Limit live TV coverage to periodic short updates.
  3. Never give publicity opportunities to politicians and officials who will only offer the same politically motivated ideas they have been touting all along.
  4. Only take up the issue of gun violence in special programs with experienced researchers and analysts.
  5. Be careful about looking for emotional stories about victims and families as events unfold. This may be good television, but it also can be emotionally imposing, and hurtful.

Live television can be good drama, we know that. But when it comes to shootings, it can also become an influential actor… when it should be simply an accurate observer?

Experience teaches us that after shootings the same old solution ideas are usually put forward by the same old partisans and pundits. Arguments against each idea are familiar, and the same old extremists materialize everywhere. And when all is said and done, deep down we already know that experimenting with a combination of all these possibilities is the best possible approach.

So why not experiment with some combination of these ideas:

  1. Restrict access to all schools to a single entrance.
  2. Place more trained plain-clothes guards in schools… with close-in locked access to their arms.
  3. Strengthen background checks, carefully control gun show purchases, and put in place fair but careful screening for anyone purchasing automatic military-style weapons.
  4. Invest in first-class mental health services in all schools… and communicate all warning signs immediately to parents, teachers, and students.

Bottom line: We need to restore common sense and remove many life and death problem-solving exercises from politics. We need to rely more on solid research and experienced experts, and be more willing to try new ideas. With this in mind, we should ask television producers to make coverage of shootings shorter and more low-keyed. And we should also ask them for more special programs that present well-researched and pragmatic ideas to try.

Read Full Post »