Posts tagged “Media

Explaining Trump

Donald Trump

I’ve tried hard not to write this. The one thing this world may need least, is yet another article on Donald J. Trump. I go to work and there’s Trump.  I drive home and I listen to the radio and it is all about Trump. I go home and turn on TV and there’s Trump. I go on vacation to the places FAR away from Washington DC and there he is – TRUMP!  I confess to Trump exhaustion. He follows me everywhere. My wife and I can’t even talk about it.

So consider this a catharsis. A Trump exorcism. A purge. You may not agree with anything that follows. And if you don’t please don’t be angry with me. Know that I’m just trying to explain the unexplainable and somehow understand the unfathomable. No, I’m not talking about the origins of creation and the existence of God. I’m talking about the small, remote and horrifying chance of Donald J. Trump becoming president of the United States.

So let’s get started. How do we explain what is happening to us?

I would suggest starting with one of the best articles I’ve read to date on this phenomenon – a piece by David Gergen. It is about narcissism and leadership. It is very well written and well researched. I think starting with narcissism is a good and appropriate place when trying to understand and explain the Trump phenomenon. I would only add that while there’s a historical nexus between narcissism and leadership, there’s a human nexus as well. We all have our inner Trump. We all have our “Hey, look at me!” “Hey, ain’t I great!” “Hey, if you gave me that problem I’d fix it so fast it would make your head spin!”

So with our own “inner Trump” in mind, lesson one (and perhaps the most controversial).  Personableness can get you far.

I understand if you might take issue with the premise that Donald Trump is “personable.” How can you label as “personable” someone who calls immigrants “rapists” and liberal women that he doesn’t like “fat” “ugly” and “stupid”? And then there’s Megyn Kelly.

But notice how Trump will, in the same breath, match every critique with a back slap.

Jeb Bush is “weak”, “low energy”, and “a puppet”. Bush is also a “good guy”, “wonderful man”, “I like him.”

Illegal aliens are “rapists”, “thugs” and “thieves”. Oh, but “I love Mexicans and the Mexican people.”

China is “sucking us dry” and at the same time “I love them too … they stay in my hotels!”

Perhaps the only thing that both friends and enemies agree on about Trump is that when you are dealing with him individually he is a very “genial” guy. At a personal level, “the Donald” is engaging, witty, and yes, even generous. Beneath his braggadocio is a certain folksy personableness.

This trait can get you far. And it isn’t new.

A lot of people loved the folksy, genial, Ronald Reagan even as he was vilifying impoverished mothers as “welfare queens” and ripping solar panels off the roof of the White House. Reagan was about the most anti-union president we’d had, yet he won the labor vote.  Why? Perhaps one reason is that he seemed so personable.

Second, Trump underscores the societal focus on the inflated self.  He is a logical outworking of our diminished appreciation of moderation, modesty and humility.  All three qualities were once considered attributes of character and virtue.  They were things we exalted. The strong, silent, self-effacing hero. Those days seem far away.  We have traded our John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods for the fast-talking, wise-cracking, over-the-top and modestly vulgar.

To be sure we have always had gadflies and the delightful fringe. We’ve seen value in the quirky and those on the outside who dared speak “truth to power.”

But we have eviscerated the moderate middle. In politics, we voted out moderates like Dick Lugar and Mary Landrieu. The moderate elected officials who had been successful – folks like Evan Bayh and Mitch Daniels – have simply walked away rightly figuring there are better things to do with their time than try and fiddle with the mess that is the American polity.

We have penalized the thoughtful and heaped praise on the cock-sure. When we vilify compromise, make all politics personal, and chase away the majority of people who have a real spirit of public service, what we get is Donald J. Trump.

Finally, Trump shows us the sad dysfunction of news media.

I have friends both inside and outside of the news media and if you get them alone for a moment, most agree. The news media is dying.  Or if not dying it is morphing into something unrecognizable. It is adrift, either caught up in its own pursuit of a political agenda (Fox vs. MSNBC), chasing the latest tweet, or simply devoid of a filter of decency and decorum.

It is good that years ago they built something called a Newseum. At least you can still find good journalism somewhere.  Trump is an avatar to the news media’s desperation for a story. He is a testament to its waning capability to challenge the inaccurate or absurd. What we see today is much worse than the yellow journalism of Hearst or the liberal bias of Cronkite and his cronies. It goes beyond the traditional “if it bleeds it leads” problem. It is a news media that is rubber necking in unimaginable proportions. And we are forced to watch.

According to legend, Joseph de Maistre once coined the phrase “Every nation has the government it deserves.” Perhaps. And perhaps that is the frightening reality that we have to face when we try to explain the current popularity of Trump.

A small footnote. De Maistre was no fan of democracy. He worked for Russian Czar Alexandar I. He believed hereditary monarchies were divinely sanctioned. He viewed constitutional government as beyond the capabilities of the average Russian.

If alive today, he’d probably be voting for Trump.

 

image of Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

I am not a screen.

Tablet Love

I am not a screen (although as I write this, I am looking at a screen). You are not a screen (but you’re reading this on a screen, right?).

This is a problem.  I think we all need to take a break from screens.  Well, at least until I finish writing this blog post and you finish reading it!

 

So I was traveling this week.  I walked down Concourse A in Newark with my boarding pass, as usual, loaded on my smartphone.  Then I realized that my phone had less than 10% of its battery left. If my screen died before I reached TSA, I was in trouble.  I was a screen.

 

I walked into the United Club at Newark Airport.

 

The young man at the counter’s eyes strayed up towards mine but only momentarily. I handed him my phone. He took my screen and laid it against another screen on a console. Then he looked at another screen. As he was looking into that screen, his eyes not moving, he said “Welcome Mr. Johnson.”  I was a screen.

 

I looked around.  The lounge was crowded.  But no one was talking.  No one was laughing.  No one trading stories.  Everyone was looking at screens.  People with phones clutched them single-handed.  Those with tablets cradled them with two. Their eyes staring into screens. No head moved. People had plugs in their ears. No eyes looked up.

 

Several years ago, technologist (and musician) Jared Lanier wrote a book titled, “You are not a gadget.”  I don’t think it overly melodramatic to describe it as a cry of and for humanity in an age of disconnected connectivity.  I sorta felt that yesterday. My life lurches from one screen to another. A screen is one of the first things I encounter in the morning and one of the last things I look at at night. There is something sad about that.

 

Yesterday I was reading a presentation on how to write a book.  (Yes, I’m thinking about it.) Tip #11 was “close all the windows”. I thought wow, why would anyone want to do that?  I like the outdoors.  I like fresh air.  Wouldn’t an open window inspire writing not detract from it?  Then I realized that when he was talking about “windows” it wasn’t the normal windows of a house.  It was the windows of screens.  Phones.  Tablets.  Laptops.  Displays (these used to be called televisions but I guess that word is headed for oblivion.)

 

I thought about getting a timer and totaling up the percentage time each day that I spend looking at a screen.  But I thought better about it.  I probably wouldn’t want the answer.  Then I realized that to doo this I would likely have to use my smartphone.  Another screen!

 

OK.  You can go now.  Put down the phone.  Put down the tablet.  Close the laptop.  Take a walk.  Pet your dog.  Talk to a person.  Hold someone’s hand.  Remind yourself that you are more than a screen.  And so are the people around you.

 

We are all more than just a screen.

 

Tablet Love” by Sascha Müsse is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mad (and sick) Men (and women)

Anyone reading this who knows me knows this:  I’m no prude.

I like to have a good time.  I’ve had more than my share of long lunches the The Palm.  I’ve had my late nights out.  I did my time at some of the most fast-paced and well-known agencies in Washington DC.    I’m a liberal Democrat for God’s sake.

So I’m no prude.

This all by explanation of my first experience with the show MadMen.

imagesI’ve been in the communications business for 30 years.  MadMen was the show EVERYONE said I should watch.  They said it was a story that I’d relate to.  It was the archetypal lifestyle of people in our fast-paced business of creativity in a political, cunning, personal and some times tawdry business.  It was a “behind the scenes” portrayal.

As someone who has been around the block or two it was with particular interest that I watched the first two shows of the first season with my wife and daughter Saturday night.

I’m supposed to like this?  This is what people think is cool?  Fun?

It was pretty depressing to me.

There are NO redeemable characters.  All the men are misogynists.  All the women are whores.  All the clients are either idiots, sluts, or calculating sleezebags.

The protagonist — the creative “genius” — is a dour guy that spends a lot of time either drinking, smoking or shirtless in a lifeless, mechanical, and utterly amoral and loveless tryst.  Oh, and the shallowness of his relationship to his lover mirrors that of his relationship to his wife.

The “creative team” make college frat boys look like Mensa candidates.  They are sophmoric, stupid, brutish, and seemingly incapable of intelligent or ethical thought.

The female lead in the first two shows is a mousy secretary that, immediately after taking the job beds the drunken account executive (who is the chief rival to her boss ) the night after his bachelor party.  In show #2 she wonders openly to her other whore-like secretary friend why men think they have license to take liberties with women.  Even her savvyness is sleazy:  the first thing after getting the job it to get contraception, presumably so she can bed folks in the office.

And in between it all people smoke.  Men smoke in elevators.  Women smoke while pregnant.  Physicians smoke while performing an gynecological exam.  They smoke with children, in kitchens, in bedrooms, in offices, in bathrooms.

This is just in the first two shows.

I’m supposed to like this?

This is supposed to characterize the world I’ve spend half my life in?

This is me?

This is not intriguing.  This is not compelling.  This is not even entertaining.

It is embarrassing and depressing.

Maybe that is the point.

I feel just fine … how about you? And the future of journalism.

“Communications is technology.”

Or something like that.

feelingsThat’s what my daughter said excitedly as she told me about her new english major courses at George Mason University.  The excitement in her voice and the enthusiasm in her eyes made her impromptu presentation contagious.

She took me to the creation of Jonathan Harris and Sep Kanvar.

It is a site called We Feel Fine.

Check it out.  I don’t know if it is the future of communications and literature.  But it is certainly fascinating.  It is literature, research, ethnography, technology, emotions, and crowd-sourced literature all rolled into one.

According to the site:

Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the “feeling” expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.

The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 – 20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices, offering responses to specific questions like: do Europeans feel sad more often than Americans? Do women feel fat more often than men? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? What are the most representative feelings of female New Yorkers in their 20s? What do people feel right now in Baghdad? What were people feeling on Valentine’s Day? Which are the happiest cities in the world? The saddest? And so on.

And so with that, I’ll say this, hoping that at some point some of these nuggets are harvested by the We Feel Fine site and that my contribution adds to someone’s day and another person’s science.

I feel good.  At least today I feel that way.  There have been many days in the past when I’ve felt bad.  Perhaps even miserable.  But today’s a good one.  So far.  You never know.  I could be feeling crummy this afternoon.  Something crazy could happen.  I could remember something stupid and start feeling blue.  Feelings are that way.  Very capricious things those feelings are.  But right now, I feel good.  And the fact that I’m feeling good, feels good.

Have a nice day.

Actions Always Speak Louder Than Words

This being Sunday, I thought a bit of theology combined with brand communication might be in order.

The lesson for this morning:  actions ALWAYS speak louder than words.

This is true in life.  This is true for brands.

A bit of background.

jamesLast Sunday I started on a series of email exchanges with friends on things theological.  What prompted the online discussion was a close friends’ bridling at the Pontiff’s message to the Kennedy family following Senator Ted Kennedy’s death.   The discussion took many different twists and turns and involved several people — some you’d recognize — but ended (or last left off at …) in a discussion of faith and works.  The closing observations even included the catchy and often derided “WWJD” or “what would Jesus do” acronym — and this favorably by a theologian of much repute seemingly not given to religious market hoopla.

For the un-initiated, the Christian theological debate over faith vs. works is a lively one.

The proponents of the latter inevitably look to and cite the book of James, a small book tucked away amidst the Pauline epistles.  The author is thought to be the half-brother of Jesus and some believe was written to counter any misperception from Paul’s preaching that good works aren’t important.  (If you’re REALLY interested you can look up “legalism” and “antinomianism“.)

Basically, James says that faith without works is a bunch of hooey.  To prove his point (and my favorite part of the book) James writes in a prose laced with criticism something to the effect of the following:

“If someone is poor, hungry and needs clothes for the family and all you do is give them a smiley face, buck them up with some cheap words of encouragement, slap them on the back and say … ‘don’t worry … be happy.”  Well if you actually think that by doing that you’re really helping that person you’re an idiot.   Well ok.  You’re either an idiot or a hypocrite.  Because your actions always speak louder than your words — words being always cheap and oftentimes wrong (James also has a lot to say about that!).

Want to do something that will really help the poor and the hungry?  How about getting up off your fat, lazy ass and giving people something to eat?  How about dipping into your pocketbook and buying them some clothers?  Stop all the idle, hang-wringing, self-indulgent chit chat.  DO SOMETHING!!!

Or something to that effect.  Perhaps not that strident but I think I’m directionally correct.

Which leads me to the Washington Redskins.

washington_redskinsAccording to reports this week, the Washington Redskins are suing those season ticket holders who are unemployed, desolate, and out-of-luck or who otherwise, because of recent circumstances, can’t fulfill their contractual multi-year, thousands of dollars season ticket obligations.

Based on the reports in the Washington Post, among those being sued by the Redskins are unemployed grandmothers, recently laid-off and divorced moms and dads, as well as those who’ve lost their life savings to illness.

So you sue them.

Somebody should tell the Hogettes that they better keep their day jobs.

Last I knew there was a waiting list for Redskins season tickets.

Times must be really tough.

But not really.

According to Forbes, the Washington Redskins club is the second-most valuable, clocking in at an estimated $1.5 billion in value.  Snyder bought the club for $750 million.  Pretty good return, no?

Someone at the Redskins ought to wake up.  You can play “Hail to the Redskins” as much as you want.  You can market all the maroon and gold memorabilia that you want.  You can rent out players to civic and community events.

But at the end of the day it is what you do that matters.  Who wants to be a brand that sues its fans when they’re down and out?

Actions speak louder than words.

Top Ten

Most folks who know me know that I’m a BIG fan of the number three.

In fact, I should write a post about the number three.  I think I’ll do that.  Stay tuned.

Three is the perfect number.  It is nature.  It is morning, noon, and night.  It is breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It is the perfect triangle.  The triune God.  It is the Hegelian dialectic – thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.  It is even Obamaesque.  Check out his non-state of the union address to Congress in January.  What did he talk about?  Three things:  education, energy, and health care.  Fact is that THREE is the number for just about every speech, sermon, or presentation structure.  But I’m going to write a post about three so I’ll stop now.

151fsesame-street-count-to-ten-postersAnd talk about ten.

Now that’s an interesting number.  Ten most wanted.  Ten commandments.   Top ten.  A “perfect” ten.  Ten is a bit odd in that it is associated both with the divine (God’s commandments) and the deplorable (FBI’s ten most wanted).  It is associated with children (Sesame Street) and sports (Big Ten).

So it is in that spirit that I call attention to two “10” pieces I saw recently.

First is the “10” is Lon Safko’s “The Ten Commandments of Blogging“.  Interesting.  I thought everyone was on Twitter now and had abandoned their WordPress platform.    Pretty good stuff.  I don’t do all of them.  Then again, I can’t say that I keep all of the REAL ten commandments.  But I like Lon’s approach.  Note that he saved the best to last.  Be creative.  Have fun.

Second is Graham Charleton’s top ten social media pr screw ups on eConsultancy.  These are certainly the most famous.  I do take issue with a couple of them.  Personally, I thought Domino’s strategy in responding to the employee video was pretty good.  They certainly couldn’t be blamed for having a couple of  goof-ball employees out of the tens of thousands that they hire.  And the fact that they responded in the same media as the source (YouTube) was pretty smart.  Lots of folks would have gone straight to Good Morning America or something stupid like that.

But I guess he needed ten.  That’s that other nice thing about three.  There’s only three of them.

Assessing Brand Obama: The “Dog Year” Presidency

Recently I was asked to provide thought and commentary on President Obama’s first one hundred days in office.  The discussion takes place in Boston at an advisory board meeting this Friday.

I thought I’d use the Juice Bar as a handy note pad to jot down thoughts and float some trial balloons.

Let’s start with the unusual.  Typically people do that last.  You know … tell a joke, set the stage, identify the commonalities, cite historical precedent, and then wind it all up with a handful of pithy observations and quotable quotes that are supposed to get people to say “hmm … never looked at it that way …”  (Or if you’re the cynical sort (like me) the close often seems to be trying to get people to say “damn … that’s one smart guy!” … but I digress)

So for this first foray, let’s discard all the presentation foreplay and do what my friend Bink Garrison suggests and “start backwards.”

Let’s start with questions …  questions that have been nagging me ever since I was given this assignment … and questions that suggest a conclusion or two about what is making the Obama presidency different.

Today’s questions is …

Where did the time go?

As I said, the topic suggested for this panel is “Obama’s First One Hundred Days.”  Notice something odd about that?

Yup.  You’re right!  President Obama is not close to being in office one hundred days.  I haven’t had the time to figure out when his “One Hundred Day” mark will be — but my guess is that it is sometime around Easter (BTW, Happy Mardi Gras!).

So why start talking now — in the dead of winter — about something that is not going to take place until Easter?  Is this advisory board of mine a bit goofy?  Not really.  Seems there are a lot of other people interested in discussing this topic well in advance of its actual occurrence.

Google “Obama’s First One Hundred Days” and you get nearly 71 million results (all in .23 seconds!).   For a guy that has been in office just a little over a month, President Obama already seems to many as comfortable as an old pair of jeans … so much so that folks are already writing the obituary of his first 100 days right after his first news conference.

Maybe it was the Democratic primary that wouldn’t die.

Maybe it is the effect of watching the nation’s economy and your personal wealth slowly but inexorably melt away.

Maybe it is the ubiquitous and inescapable media that takes any event and expands, extends, and makes a five second event last for five days.

But the Obama presidency already seems like dog years — every day in real time seems like seven days to us normal humans.

The Spirit of Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Did you get the “Christmas spirit” this year?  Yes?  Well what kind of spirit was that?  I’m just checking cause a lot of what I see out there doesn’t synch with my idea of the Christmas spirit.  So just for fun I typed in “Christmas” into Google News this morning.  Here’s a sampling of what I found:

The Queen’s annual Christmas talk was one of a “sombre” Christmas that, according to Her Majesty, conjures “feelings of uncertainty.”

“Hallelujah!” “Joy to the World!”

Paris Hilton’s Christmas spirit took the form of a pink Bentley.

“Away in a manger … no crib for a bed ..!”

According to reports, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called Jews animals will say Jesus, if alive today, would be against bullying, ill-tempered nations.  (Someone needs to tell him that Jesus was a Jew)

“Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Google, with a gazillion dollars in market cap and sitting on billions in cash, canceled its Christmas bonus and instead will give its employees a cell phone.

“I have no gifts for him pur-um-pa-pum-pum … Me and my drum.”

The annual Disney parade will be hosted by Ryan Secrest and Matt Dallas, star of the television program in which he plays Kyle who has the 2008 version of the “virgin birth” … a boy without an umbilical cord and belly button living inside a chamber, until he woke up in the middle of a forest covered in pink fluid.”

“Oh come, let us adore him.”

There was the guy who dressed up as Santa and massacred people.  There was the WalMart shoppers who trampled to death the poor soul chosen to open the doors to the store.  And indeed, most stories were about shopping, retail, and sales.  So much that one story retold the quote from Bill O’Reilly who said in 2005 that, “Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born.  Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable.”

Not the spirit of Christmas that I know.

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” … “For unto you a child is born.  Unto you a son is given.”

Have a Merry Christmas.

Is New Media Helping or Hurting the Market Meltdown?

Are you scared?  No?  Then you must not be paying attention.

You must be living somewhere without electricity or access to the Internet.  (Which of course means you’re not reading this.)

So if you’re reading this I’m betting that you’re right there with everyone else.  Scared to the point of numb as you see your retirement, savings,  personal finance and everything else that once had a value in dollars disappear literally over night.

I see a new MasterCard ad.

Retirement savings portfolio:  Zero dollars.  Home equity:  Zero dollars.   U.S. Government’s Social Security payments:  Zero dollars.

A secure store room with water, canned goods, and ammo?

Priceless.

So here’s my question.

Has the increased velocity of news and information helped accelerate the meltdown?  Are we so surrounded now with an incessant barrage of bad news that new media is helping push us over the edge into crazed panic?

Or has the ubiquity of instant information beeen a break on what would otherwise by now have been a complete implosion of economic activity?

Is there ANY relationship between the historic meltdown of the stock market and new media?

Aaron Brazell had it right.  “Fear breeds a lack of confidence. A lack of confidence breeds fear.”

And the interconnectedness of the new media means that ANYTHING — including fear — can be transmitted easier, quicker, and cheaper.

So the quote in Bloomberg.com reads:

“This is what happens when the contagion of fear spreads,” said Quincy Krosby, who helps manage about $380 billion as chief investment strategist at the Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut. “No one is paying attention to fundamentals. People are very, very scared. Ultimately investors decide to sell.”

Used to be bad news was confined to the newspapers.  Now it follows me on my cell phone.  This is the flip side of the all the benefits of new media.  YOU CAN’T GET AWAY FROM IT!

Almost makes you yearn for the town cryer.  Or just yearn to cry.

Two big worlds collide in San Diego

I try and keep the business of my business outside the Juice Bar. But sitting at the Starbucks on the corner of 1st and Market in downtown San Diego, I feel compelled to do a quick post on two big events that collided in San Diego.

First, the BIO Convention taking place in San Diego this week. It is big. Very, very big. All of the convention center and dozens of hotels. BIO people everywhere. Oh, and not only is the convention physically big, it is conceptually big. Their theme: Heal, Feed, Fuel the Planet. Now that is big. No setting the bar low here. (Note: I and some of my colleagues are doing some work with BIO. But they were the ones with the “heal, feed, and fuel” thing. Which is good. And big. And accurate. Great combination.)

Second, up the beach there was the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. It was the biggest Open ever … and perhaps the most exciting. 50-60 thousand spectators. And estimated group fifteen thousand just following Tiger Woods. Now that is a posse! All around San Diego, every airport concourse, every hotel lobby and bar, every street … people toting USGA bags and U.S. Open memorabilia. And it came down to a draw after an 18-hole playoff and Tiger Woods, the world’s greatest golfer, emerging victorious.

The Open was to end Sunday. The BIO Conference Monday. But the U.S. Open’s 18-hole playoff caused these two giants to collide.

So there everyone was.

BIO Conference badges melding with U.S. Open paraphernalia. Corporate execs huddled in front of any flat screen that they can find in between meetings. Cheers and groans from each shot at Torrey Pines filtering down convention halls, committee meetings, hotel lobbies. For a moment, healing, feeding, and fueling the world had to take a short pause. Anybody who saw the Open contest could understand.