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The president first took ownership of the government shutdown, and then shifted blame to the democrats. Then he gave false accounts of where and how most drugs are coming into the country. He also grossly exaggerated numbers of everything, as well as the threat of central American caravans. Then he threatened declaring a state of national emergency. And more recently he proclaimed that wall funding had already been allocated by Congress and major wall construction is already underway. Referencing all this, one pundit referred to all these communication inconsistencies and obfuscations as “word salad.”

I never realized that the description “word salad” was listed in the dictionary, but I found it in my I-Pad Dictionary app.

“Incoherent speech consisting of both real and imaginary words, lacking comprehensive meaning…”

Google the phrase, and you find three related health conditions:  (1) Schizophrenia,  (2) Disorganized Schizophrenia, and (3) Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Number 3 especially caught my attention: “A disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance. Symptoms may include grandiosity, disregard for others’ feelings, and excessive need for admiration.”   

Word salad leadership is dangerous anywhere you find it. You might want to listen to the 2019 state of the union address with this in mind.

The lesson of Trump rallies… Somehow this reality-show star and real estate con-man was able to attract people and media coverage to his rallies by simply being outrageous, vulgar, brutal, and unethical… and by promising miracles where factories were closing and jobs were being lost. They needed a savior, and he needed followers who felt they had nothing to lose by signing on.

When news media can’t help themselves… When your business includes covering compelling public events, it is very tempting to cover ones that promise large audiences, excitement, surprises, follow-up interviews, and next day stories. But sometimes, such events turn out to be snake oil salesmen willing to provide compelling headlines in order to get gobs of free publicity.

Let’s face it, election rally coverage made Mr. Trump even more of a star, and it was only much later that responsible journalists looked back and asked, “What the hell were we thinking?” Almost daily television and print coverage had actually turned out to be effective free publicity for an habitual liar and demagogue… and the demagogue won the election!  

The case of Roger Stone…  Here is a self-described “dirty trickster. He has said it’s better to be a known scoundrel, than unknown. Much of his clowning has been only to attract cameras. As with the presidential election, there is a danger that reporting too much of the fluffy aspects of his antics will only help him realize his celebrity dreams.

Right now, it’s more important than ever that only the hard news moments of the Stone indictment be reported. The status of journalism has been on the line. Simply put, will the news media be able to resist the entertainment temptations of covering the whole jolly Roger show?

 

 

What impact has 24/7 nonstop news coverage had on the government shutdown? Here are some thoughts about the role of conflict in the news business:

News as a business… the news business requires delivering audiences to advertising. Since any crisis brings intense public interest, intensive reporting about conflict is central to the business of news.

Competition… news organizations compete with each other for audience. Pressure to find new facts and angles is relentless. This can lead to nonstop 24/7 coverage… some call it “feeding frenzies.” Such frenzies keep conflicts alive, which is good for the news business.

The celebrity effect… the news business has its own celebrities. Competition between the different personalities and strengths of “celebrity journalists” helps keep audiences large and connected. Following your favorite anchors or journalists during a crisis is good for business.

Consequences of media revolutions… media revolutions produce information clutter and confusion. Reporting about conflicts can give career-driven journalists a chance to gain name recognition.

Biased sources… many news consumers today select biased sources that simply reinforce what they already believe. Shameless reporting can keep their audiences engaged, which is good for biased news businesses.

Exaggerations and lies… most official statements about who is to blame are flawed. Repeating these statements over and over tends to add more heat to the conflict, which is counterproductive to finding practical solutions.

Nature of television imagery… television is a drama-making medium. Action shots, close-ups, editing, and montage are its main tools. Putting people involved into hearings and meetings, and then putting them on television. raises emotions and heightens conflicts… all good for business.

Chaos and disruptions… distracting official pronouncements add to conflicts every day. News organizations feel compelled to report them immediately and thoroughly. But this means that the wild activities of administration officials and other news makers will rarely get covered. But in the business of news, conflict always trumps most everything else.

Finding conflict solutions… articulating pragmatic solutions therefore must be the business of someone else. It’s not the business of news. So… long ago the president should have appointed a commission of recognized experts on immigration to give him a comprehensive plan. Such a plan probably would have included some kind of wall… and the news media would have happily reported that!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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…

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.

For many, 2019 could be called… “The year of the search for new leadership.” But first, here are fifteen reasons to brace yourself for more division and chaos:

  1. Mueller will complete his investigations. Trump might fire him, or refuse to release the report. But, the basic findings will become public via Congress and the courts. It will not be good news for the Trump family.
  2. Trump chaos will continue to divide us. The border wall will remain controversial. Border security will now be a separate topic. Periodic demonstrations and shootings will continue.
  3. American exceptionalism will be revisited. Historians will be interviewed more frequently about America’s founding humanitarian values.
  4. Trump’s control needs will worsen. It’s the only style of management he knows. His only comfort is in the company of autocrats.
  5. Discontent among Republicans will grow. Worry about a president-caused disaster will convince more and more Republicans to separate themselves from the administration.
  6. Economic ignorance will be more apparent. Ongoing trade wars, political chaos, and international instability, will continue to produce up and down stock market swings.
  7. Actual consequences of recent tax-cuts will be better understood. Little difference in paychecks. Growing national debt. Little new job creation. The rich were the beneficiaries.
  8. Partisanship will worsen. Battles across the aisles will continue. Few statesmen will emerge.
  9. Affordable healthcare will continue as a major issue. A solution is too complicated for 2019.
  10. The Kavanaugh debate won’t go away. His second hearing emotional outbursts and partisan attacks will be referenced repeatedly whenever sexual harassment charges are in the headlines.
  11. Business deregulation and selling-off pubic lands will continue. All this in spite of the fact that extreme rulings in these areas endanger both the environment and public health.
  12. Facebook, Google, etc. will experience mild regulation. This will be their slap on the wrist for not paying attention to growing privacy issues.
  13. The Obama’s will resurface. The success of Michelle’s new book, and Barack’s need to push back on Trump, will bring each of them back in the spotlight.
  14. Fake news will be a permanent reality. Social media used as a weapon, unintended consequences of news competition, biased sources, and overall information clutter, will continue to confuse the public.
  15. Starting 2019… the need for changes in political leadership is already widely recognized. But can Democrats sort out their various factions and many candidates to bring together a united vision? And will Republicans be able to regain and articulate a winnable conservative identity? Or, will it be necessary to find a political outsider who has the ability to bring the nation together around a set of traditional values and ideas?