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Archive for January, 2019

The real crisis is not the U.S. southern border. Rather, my ongoing study of media, politics and social change has yielded a list of much more serious concerns. Here are a few:

Most policy decisions are now being made by one person, the President… whose behavior is consistently autocratic, and who is most comfortable in the company of other autocrats.

Social media is being used as a weapon… individuals and governments are using new media to generate chaos, create confusion, attack enemies, and bring about social unrest.

Growing widespread anger is causing dangerous social division… in congress, political extremism is causing the parties to focus on battling each other. At the same time, virtually all areas of the executive branch are issuing directives that create social division and disrupt whole communities.

Institutions important to a democracy are under daily assault… rather than setting up nonpartisan study commissions, members of the administration and their partisan supporters are focused on discrediting the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the office of the attorney general, education institutions, and more.  A republic is only as strong as its institutions, and leadership must be about making them stronger.

Deregulation has been extreme … public health and the overall environment are being threatened every day. Business leaders are encouraged to ignore interest group pressures… thereby maximizing corporate profits at the expense of public health.

Allies have become confused about U.S.policies… presidential attacks on NATO allies damage U.S. and European security, and advance the causes of our adversaries.

Scientific findings about the impact of climate change have been rejected by our partisan leaders… thereby insuring that weather catastrophes will multiply, that natural landscapes will be destroyed, and lives will be upended.

Media revolutions are changing everything… a new media ecosystem is creating information clutter and confusion, making it almost impossible to separate facts from fiction. Digital media has also changed the way politics, families, and even religion function. Resulting individual isolation is also beginning to reveal behavior and mental health issues. More media and civic literacy education in schools and elsewhere is urgently needed.

The constitution-protected role of the press has been upended… a proliferation of competing broadcast channels, print organizations, and social media platforms, has created problems related to commercial influences, intended biases, and unintended mistakes.

Generally accepted morality is being lost… leaders without moral character, or qualifications for the office they hold, or personal ethics, or capacity for empathy, are initiating reforms based on the belief that “ends by any means” are now acceptable. Simply put, when their “means” are filled with lies, deceptions, and gross exaggerations, our values-based American culture is being corrupted. This is the real American crisis.

 

 

 

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The realities of today’s new media-generated clutter and confusion suggests that new rules may be necessary for presidential prime-time TV addresses:

NEW RULES.  1. Must be a legitimate crises. 2. May not have a political motive. 3. May not include a donation request before, during, or after the presentation.  If necessary, a group of television network executives can be formed to make a collective go or no-go decision.

NEWS PRODUCERS. Whenever necessary, use digital technology to put facts in real-time on the screen during the presentation. Existing “chyron” equipment and practice should make this possible. As one colleague put it, “it’s not rocket science.”

NEWS ANCHORS. Whenever possible, be prepared to list actual facts in the same order false claims were made during the presentation. A chart helps. Have experts ready to interview.

FIELD REPORTERS. End the time-honored practice of shouting questions at news makers. On television, this makes journalists look unprofessional, and often downright silly. Rather, ask no questions, and then go release the facts.  Graphics listing facts next to claims can work well on TV and in print.

LEADERS OF THE OPPOSITION. Avoid reporting meeting behavior as your statement to the press. Rather simply list the facts that disprove false claims. When possible, do this with graphics on a handout.

The Declaration of Independence referenced in my last post makes it clear that monarchical behavior and rule must never be allowed.

It’s precisely what we declared our independence from…

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Much of my work in the past was helping institutions become better understood. My first task was to clarify each institution’s founding purpose, to show how that differentiated it from others, and to explore how that difference might be its competitive advantage. Simply put, “who are you,” was my first focus group question?

The “who are you” question led me to founding purpose-inspired answers such as “we are all about service to the community,” or, “we develop the talent of each and every student,” or, “we will immerse you in American history,” and the answer almost always also included a set of values. In other words, how they went about their work was as important as what they did. I found that this was also true about the founding purpose of the United States of America.

I have been referencing the Constitution when writing about long-held American values. But the Declaration of Independence is clearly the best “founding purpose” document. And it declares our nation’s independence in the context of unifying values such as human rights, the rule of law, and the complete rejection of monarchical rule.

Additionally, the Constitution promises freedom of speech, religion, and the press. But when angry and polarizing speech results in tribalism and chaos, the Declaration of Independence is there to remind us about our unifying values. Never totally selfish. Never an autocracy.

Both the letter and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence assume the election of leaders with high ideals and strong character. And since we now live in a time of background checks for important positions, should we not be able to expect political parties and precinct chairs to require some level of character qualification before putting candidates on the ballot?

And should we not be able to expect political parties and political action committees (PAC’s) to have professional codes of conduct to guide the work of their communicators… i.e. political statements will be factual, promises will be doable, and personal attacks will not be tolerated?

Yes, I know. You think I am hallucinating! But if citizens and journalists scream long and loud enough about integrity in politics, maybe mobilized public pressure can eventually do some good.

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