Archive for the ‘Strategic Communication’ Category

Forget the politics. Now it’s about the potentially destructive outcome of blindly and viciously attacking longstanding NATO allies in public, and about hearing and seeing a US president rant on totally ignorant of recent history. Who can possibly benefit from this? China? Putin? Anyone at all? His base might cheer the hostile tone, but what can they gain?

Angry public criticism of allies can only poison summits. Disagreements are always addressed in private meetings. But what binds them, and not what divides them, is their purpose. In NATO’s case, collective security is clearly the unifying benefit. Mr. Trump arrogantly criticized Germany’s energy pipeline arrangement with Russia in front of TV cameras. His concern is legitimate and has been appropriately debated inside NATO. But it is not a situation that will change the overall security benefit NATO provides for it members. Also, Trump’s loudly voiced problem with NATO funding imbalances has been the legitimate complaint of multiple presidents. But this also never affected the numerous security benefits of NATO, including member countries hosting major US military bases.

To make matters worse, in the midst of this NATO debacle Trump is also announcing more sweeping trade tariffs. And the UK is also bracing itself for an untimely Trump visit following this summit. The US president is unpopular in the UK and his arrival will no doubt cause huge protests. These will unnecessarily distract the Prime Minister who is currently dealing with a very serious Brexit produced political crisis.

Meanwhile daily assurances also continue that everything is safe in North Korea even though their leaders are saying the US approach has been gangster-like. Mean-spirited immigration rhetoric also continues this week while migrant children remain cruelly separated from their parents. And all this will lead the president suspiciously into a private and chummy get-together with the Russian dictator… even when most everyone agrees that Putin has expansion intentions and is orchestrating the tearing apart of the entire US electoral process. What is most troubling is how at home Mr. Trump looks when schmoozing with autocrats.

Photos of the week so far show Trump’s staff and diplomats looking hopelessly embarrassed in his presence. So what are the consequences? A complete unraveling of NATO? Greater polarization and ethnic divisions everywhere? More normalization of cruelty and “me first” behavior? Worldwide citizen numbness? Or how about a golden opportunity for China to simply claim economic and global superiority?

One colleague told me that it seems Mr. Trump just can’t help himself and is actually begging the US Congress to stop him. My analysis focuses only on the overall consequences of out-of-control wrecking ball communication behavior. But career consequences for totally paralyzed elected officials in a situation like this is anybody’s guess.

It’s really important to note, however, that when a leader’s portrait is finally hanging on the wall with all the others, it is his or her character that is most remembered.

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A big media revolution lesson: Daily lying and exaggerating destroys credibility for when things really get serious.       

Mr. Trump seems to be on a roll at home. But with his longstanding record of lies and unethical behavior, attempts to befriend an experienced and cunning manipulator like Putin will likely unleash a carefully calculated response that will cleverly tuck Mr. Trump neatly under Putin’s wing.

A baby-faced dictator in North Korea is already showing the world how gaining such an upper hand with Trump can work. It’s called, “sound cooperative and then ignore him.” And you can be sure that cool-operator Putin will have a well thought-out and ultimately Trump-ignoring plan ready to go. Putin is an old hand at this game, and a rookie foreign affairs deal-maker will very likely meet his match. Trump may be much easier to trump than Trump thinks.

Trump is not the first to argue that it’s a good idea to meet and talk with adversaries. Often this is so. But in Trump’s case the odds are not on the side of a good outcome. Dictators like Putin are obsessed with maintaining their power and are constantly collecting embarrassing information about adversaries as a matter of routine. They store it, and respond with it very strategically when the need arises. And their response is not always immediate, or obvious, or even highly visible.

Putin is an experienced political enemy crusher with a passionate commitment to bringing back Russia’s national pride. Believe me, being a trustworthy and loyal friend to Trump is not in Putin’s game plan.

In the days ahead it looks like Trump will face big disappointments in both North Korea and Russia, proving that admiring sleazy dictators is no pathway to global prominence. The bottom line here is that the best way to achieve competitive advantage for the United States is to once again proudly champion the founder’s values-based “idea of America,” the “big idea” that the world still most admires.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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Facing a crisis such as a potential nuclear showdown has nothing to do with one’s political ideology, party, or voter base. But it has everything to do with substance, intellectual competence, experience, preparation, and ability to think clearly under fire.

As I reviewed the North Korean “on-again off-again” exchanges of the last few days, I also found myself reviewing a list I previously made of Trump’s leadership characteristics. Now I ask you is there anything in this list that gives you even a little confidence in our nuclear showdown negotiator?

  1. Has no moral code or ethics… and is primarily interested in the appearance of a personal “win” and wealth.
  2. Uses endless lies and bullying to achieve his ends… and those ends divide far more than unite.
  3. Has no knowledge of history, or experience in complex problem-solving.
  4. Constantly expresses contempt for people different from himself.
  5. Uses media as attack weapons.
  6. Relentlessly attacks freedom of the press guarantees… repeatedly “branding” them “fake news.”
  7. Ignores the traditional American values of life, liberty, opportunity, and justice for everyone.
  8. Takes personal credit for accomplishments, but still demands loyalty from everyone, and gives none of it back.
  9. Constantly attacks the credibility of those who came before… eliminating any possibility of national unity.
  10. Openly admires dictators and autocrats… with a desire to become one, and to dominate all of them.
  11. Recruits people onto his staff to help him create chaos… showing little regard for competence or experience.
  12. Attacks the leadership and guts the staff of government institutions… and many of these he needs to bring experience and substance to the investigation and management of security-threatening crises.

In the final analysis, is this the leader you can trust to negotiate high-risk nuclear disarmament with a manipulative tyrant who has a consistently dishonest track record? And is there any possibility that this tyrant is stupid enough to trust a demonstrated liar and bully to deliver the economic well-being he promises? With two ego maniacs competing for the upper hand, let’s pray for something short of a devastating war!

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I taught international communication in the UK during summers for almost 20 years. Truthfully, I found the Royals mostly amusing, much like watching a fairy tale live on TV. And many of the British academics I knew regarded them as very expensive relics. So I guess I was never sure of their cost-benefit.

But “Prince Harry the Maverick” might have actually pulled off something quite spectacular, and just when the world needs it most. My take is that we witnessed in this wedding a game-changing inclusive coming together of many cultures, not just a Royal marrying an American. I think it’s very likely that the Harry-Meghan partnership will go on to produce other events and projects that will put human rights back on the agenda with worldwide visibility and praise. No racism! No divisiveness! No arrogance! And no Trump.

What we witnessed Saturday was a blending of some of the pomp, pageantry ,and horse-drawn carriage Royal traditions, with a more contemporary less formal wedding ceremony staged in a more comfortable chapel. Surprising many, an African-American Episcopal Bishop from Chicago delivered a very lively and quite dramatic sermon… pleading for more love in the world and an end to hunger and poverty. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, administered the marriage vows in a more traditional tone. Contrasts continued, however, with a beautiful classical cello solo contrasted with a loud toe-tapping gospel music choir. When all was said and done I think most of this mixing of cultures and styles worked fine. Diana’s boys obviously had already worked their magic and the Royal family was far more ready for change than most of us realized.

So we now have a new mixed-race Royal who took off her American Hollywood makeup, exposed her natural freckles, and demonstrated that she was ready to quit her movie star job and join a full-time partnership with a different kind of Prince… a partnership with the real possibility of changing the world agenda. After all, she majored in both theater and international affairs at Northwestern University, and has already led many human rights projects in Africa and other places in the world. It’s obvious from her past volunteer projects that Meghan shares Harry’s passion for realistic world problem-solving.

So I am betting that Harry and Meghan have many more surprises up their sleeves. It should be really exciting to see what they do next. And you can be very sure the television cameras will follow wherever they go, and the news reports and tweets won’t be fake!

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