Don Hewitt, father of modern TV news

What do Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Mike Wallace, and Andy Rooney, have in common?  The answer, Don Hewitt, who died on Wednesday, August 19,  after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He touched them all, with his brilliance as an innovator in broadcast journalism. His decades of excellence in the TV media he embraced and helped shape, were proceeded by his experience in print media both as a reporter and also as an editor for the photo division of United Press wire service, the early years serving him well as he translated in his own inimitable way the lessons he learned along the way to create something new, as he experimented and visualized the possibilities of  a nascent medium, television.

In the process he gave us Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now and Person to Person; The Kennedy/Nixon Presidential Debates, the first of its kind; The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,  and what he himself considered his crowning achievement, 60 Minutes, which has featured  among  many noted correspondents and commentators Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney to name just two.

The accolades and honors Don Hewitt has received are multitudinous from Emmys to Peabodys. Last year he most fittingly received the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award.

Charlie Rose, who was associated with 60 Minutes himself,  has said that what mattered most to Don Hewitt was “how to best tell a story”.  It may be added, how best to tell a story using the medium of television. Hewitt told the best stories on TV, which is one reason why he most certainly must be considered a father of modern television itself.

Marshall Mcluhan (see previous post – http://bit.ly/aRoQG) promulgated the concept that the medium is the message. Don Hewitt intuitively understood the meaning of this fundamental concept underlying all effective communication.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/20/don-hewitt-father-of-modern-tv-news/

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Robert Novak, 1931-2009

I can’t remember ever agreeing with anything Robert Novak said or wrote about, but I thoroughly enjoyed his style of communicating his ideas. He took on a public persona which “earned” him the nickname the “Prince of Darkness” which he embraced to the extent of using the moniker in the title of his memoir: The Prince of Darkness, 50 Years  Reporting in Washington.

Novak held the distinction of having the longest running syndicated political column (edging out William F. Buckley Jr. due to Buckley’s own death in 2008).  His rich history in journalism and broadcasting included stints as a political correspondent with AP, chief congressional correspondent for the Wall St. Journal, and of course his involvement with “The Capital Gang”, “Crossfire”, and “Evans, Novak, Hunt, & Shields”. He even had a go at teaching as the Radford Visiting Professor of Journalism at Baylor University. For all of this and more in 2001 the National Press Club bestowed on Novak its Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement in journalism. His verve and personality will sorely be missed.

Maybe it was his penchant for digging deep (think – “deep throat” deep) to get a story, but Novak did “dig” up some controversy over the years, not the least of which involved the CIA leak case.

Nevertheless, whichever side of the aisle you may be on, Robert Novak deserves the epithet, “noted communicator” which this blog grants with great discretion to those persons who have made a name for themselves through their endeavors relating to the field of communications.  Robert Novak,  a.k.a. the “Prince of Darkness”, made such a name for himself.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/19/robert-novak-1931-2009/

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President Obama and the return of the viral email

Well, now I’m getting worried. In reply to a comment regarding the recent post “President Obama and language used stupidly” (https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/27/president-obama-and-language-used-stupidly/) I wrote: “I have some concern his communications team may be a little off stride of late: I will continue to monitor this and report appropriately on the C&C blog…and I am hoping these recent missteps are not indicative of a trend, but rather a “slip and fall” in an otherwise stellar tightrope act.” Now I’m not so sure.

Yesterday I, along with millions of others who subscribe to WhiteHouse.gov received the following e-mail:

axelrodemail
Dear Friend,

This is probably one of the longest emails I’ve ever sent, but it could be the most important.

Across the country we are seeing vigorous debate about health insurance reform. Unfortunately, some of the old tactics we know so well are back — even the viral emails that fly unchecked and under the radar, spreading all sorts of lies and distortions.

As President Obama said at the town hall in New Hampshire, “where we do disagree, let’s disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that’s actually been proposed.”

So let’s start a chain email of our own. At the end of my email, you’ll find a lot of information about health insurance reform, distilled into 8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage, 8 common myths about reform and 8 reasons we need health insurance reform now.

Right now, someone you know probably has a question about reform that could be answered by what’s below. So what are you waiting for? Forward this email.

Thanks,
David

David Axelrod
Senior Adviser to the President

P.S. We launched http://www.WhiteHouse.gov/realitycheck this week to knock down the rumors and lies that are floating around the internet. You can find the information below, and much more, there. For example, we’ve just added a video of Nancy-Ann DeParle from our Health Reform Office tackling a viral email head on. Check it out:

email_reality_check

http://www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck/71/?e=11

For my purposes, I have here only reproduced the introductory section of the email, which is what I want to consider. You can read the complete text at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/The-Return-of-the-Viral-Email/

Now, what is my concern? Effective communication, as usual – and therefore, I was more than a bit taken aback by the tone and particular use of language in the email, issued after all by the “Senior Adviser to the President” and bearing both the “imprimatur” and letterhead of the White House. In fact, whitehouse.gov, the internet “face” of this administration has itself changed somewhat in character. For those not familiar with this web site, it was to be  an “open window” for the public to the White House and the current administration. On his first day in office, President Obama issued an executive order, the purpose of which was to ensure that the entire federal government should be more open, transparent, and internet-friendly. It stated that agencies must put information about their operations and decisions online and make them readily available to the public. So far so good. In spite of some “technical” glitches at first, whitehouse.gov has tried up until most recently to  practice what it has preached.

The health care reform initiative, characterized most recently as health insurance reform as hopefully more “palatable”, confronted by the opposition – including a barrage of TV ads opposing such reform, the town hall meeting protests (see my post regarding this:https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/11/town-hall-protesters-communicate-effectively-not/), etc. have moved the administration’s communications approach into attack mode. The tactics being employed have been called “push back”. Basically there’s nothing wrong with a good old battle of words, depending on what the words are – the overall strategy may be OK at this juncture, it’s the methodology which is in question. The idea seems to be,  “fight fire with fire” – the only problem is the administration is starting to appear as if it is mud slinging instead of mud wrestling. 

There is a stridency to the email which was sent (stri-dent, adj. making or having a harsh sound; grating; to make a harsh noise) which could backfire.  The use of terminology  such as “spreading…lies” is akin to the use of terminology such as “acted stupidly” – remember the reaction to that.

The overriding consideration in any fight of competing ideas must be to ensure that the party that is in the leadership position by virtue of standing (such as a President) always  is seen as such; that doesn’t mean you can’t “take the gloves off” and strongly defend your position, or point up the fallacies in the argument of the opponent, but don’t resort to anything resembling an ad hominem attack – don’t use language which may be taken to suggest the other player is a liar for example. We’ll have to wait to see who lands the next punch!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/14/president-obama-and-the-return-of-the-viral-email/

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Town hall protesters communicate effectively, not?

It is time to examine – in a dispassionate and calm manner – the effectiveness of the communications strategy enlisted by those protesting at  town hall meetings being held around the country, in particular those protesters  raising their voices – quite literally – when the ideas being proposed by the Obama administration and in Congress related to the issue of health care reform are the focus of attention.

With the Congress summer recess,  legislators are heading back to home territory and to their constituents, employing the opportunity to try to connect with those who put them in office through, among other means, a communications vehicle that has been used for some time albeit with much sparser audiences than during this “summer of discontent”, the so-called “town hall” format; a forum in which, ideally, the elected official speaks to the issues and garners feedback in the form of questions and comments from those “regular folks” who attend. The idea theoretically is to provide give and take between voters and the politicians who represent them; the town hall concept is intended to provide a sounding board to take the measure of those at the local level.

Well, this summer the “measure” seems like it should be taken with a decibel meter! Relatively large groups of people are fomenting considerable discord  seeming to treat these occasions much like a sporting event and as a stage upon which to showcase their approach to disagreement, and it is their modus operandi that is our interest here.

Dr. P.M. Forni is an award winning professor at John Hopkins University,  founder of the Civility Initiative, and author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct. His work has been featured in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the London Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, and he has appeared on national media including National Public Radio (NPR) and The Oprah Show.  

What has been taking place is available to be seen on YouTube videos and cable and network TV. Suffice it to say that the protesters have just about smashed the tablets of Dr. Forni’s “Twenty Five Rules” including especially Rule 10 – Respect Others’ Opinions; Rule 13 – Keep It Down (and Rediscover Silence); Rule 14 – Respect Other People’s Time; Rule 15 – Respect Other People’s Space; Rule 23 – Give Constructive Criticism. To find out more about “Choosing Civility” go to:
http://krieger.jhu.edu/civility/choosingcivility.html

John Stuart Mill, the 19th century philosopher and political theorist, author of On Liberty, and influential advocate of freedom of speech, is quoted in Forni’s Choosing Civility: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” But it seems apparent a main thrust of the protesters’ efforts is in fact to “silence” the speaker.

We will resist the temptation to address whether these protesters are coming together in an organized or spontaneous fashion, whether truly grassroots or “astoturf”, non-local “mercenaries”, sponsored by major interests – stakeholders in the outcome of the health care reform debate – or whether one believes the rabble have been roused by the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et.al.  and on the “other side”  whether Dems. have brought in “union goons” to intimidate the protesters. You can see from the terminology alone, the temperature is definitely rising .

This blog is committed to discussion and analysis of what constitutes effective communication. I have in previous posts addressed a number of the principal considerations in this regard, and I particularly draw attention in this instance to the post “President Obama’s scorecard as communicator-in-chief”:

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/08/president-obamas-scorecard-as-communicator-in-chief/, not because it refers to President Obama at that early time in his administration when his communication team was attempting  to kick start renewed confidence by the general public in our faltering economy, but because the post gives some basis for assessing  the effectiveness of  communication efforts in general. I wrote: “How do you determine whether you’re communicating effectively? By evaluating results. You set objectives…for your effort…and then you use some appropriate means to measure effect.” Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Let’s see if we can apply this standard to the protesters at the  town hall meetings.

Of course all this has to remain speculative, but if you are trying to demonstrate anger for a proposition, it probably makes sense to find a video camera and a microphone and start shouting “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” (famous line delivered by Peter Finch as the ex-TV anchor Howard Beale in the 1976 movie “Network” ).

So, while it may not be according to Hoyle, or in this case Forni, the point of all of this may just be making an impression, but with whom? John Q. Public?, the rank and file of the Republican Party?

This gets us to the matter, also previously broached on this blog, of “truthiness”; I referenced the book True Enough by Farhad Manjoo in a previous post https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/16/a-jurassic-park-kind-of-world/ ; there I quoted from the Publishers Weekly review of the book that Manjoo analyzes, “…the status of truth in the digital age, critiquing a Rashomon-like world in which competing versions of truth vie for our attention.”

So do the tactics employed by the town hall protesters have traction? It depends on who you ask and poll.  For now though, without any doubt,  they are generating less light than heat!

Addendum: In response to a particular comment received related to this post, I want to state that any appearance of prejudice – positive or negative – for any group in this present health care debate is unintended. The health care issue gravitates around larger issues – one in particular being the perspective  different people have of the very nature of our society. My only bias is in favor of effective communication.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/11/town-hall-protesters-communicate-effectively-not/

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Internet addiction, seriously

Recently I came across a Time magazine article about patients at a Chinese Internet Addiction Center that started me doing some serious research on the existence of this condition, debated as to whether it is to be considered a bona fide psychological disorder, and also the implications of a totalitarian society like China declaring it as such. I conjure up images of A Clockwork Orange and  Nineteen Eighty-Four.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1880659,00.html

There is certainly a legitimate concern it seems to me about “overuse” and “abuse” – cybersex in particular comes to mind, but should it be included in the next (2012) edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)?

Apparently the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association have had some ambivalence about labeling this as an actual clinical disorder as well.

The Wikipedia article on Internet addiction, which provides a pretty fair overview (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_addiction) points out that while “a person could have a pathological relationship with… specific aspects of the Internet…that does not make the Internet medium itself…addictive.”

On the other hand many consider this definitely a matter to be reckoned with, for example the Texas State University Counseling Center devotes a full section of its web site to the issue: http://www.counseling.txstate.edu/resources/shoverview/bro/interadd.html

Dr. Kimberly B. Young of St. Bonaventure University in her article “Treatment Outcomes with Internet Addicts” published in a journal I wager few outside the “tech-way” have heard of, CyberPsychology & Behavior, (2007, Vol. 10, No. 5; pp. 671-679) writes, “Technology is changing the nature of problems people are having as well as how we treat them.” Dr. Young, a psychologist,  has published numerous works relating to this, including her, some might say, groundbreaking book, Caught in the Net: How to Recognize Internet addiction and A Winning Strategy for Recovery. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (1998). She is also the executive director of the Center for Online and Internet Addiction.

The idea of Internet addiction started out as somewhat of a joke. In 1995, Dr. Ivan Goldberg, a New York psychiatrist, coined the term Internet addiction disorder (IAD) in jest. Some still treat the matter lightly, perhaps feeling uncomfortable in their own enthusiastic, dare we say, time consuming utilization; W. M. Auckerman, the Editor of Computing Japan magazine advocates reciting the following “prayer” if concerned about being overtaken by the malady:

Almighty Webmaster:
Grant me the serenity to know when to log off,
The courage to know when to check email,
And the wisdom to stay away from chat rooms.

To the patients at the Chinese Internet Addiction Center in Beijing whose strict disiplinary schedule during their obligatory three month stay includes rising at 6:30 a.m. to a regimen of military drills, therapy sessions, and reading, and of course no access to cell phones or computers, this is no laughing matter!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/08/internet-addiction-seriously/

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Timing isn’t everything

Posts on this blog often deal with the news of the day, but not necessarily on the day it’s news. First, a reminder as to why a blog devoted to all things related to effective communication would spend time – at any time – addressing current events. It is because “culture” and “communication” are inextricably connected as I wrote in a previous post –https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/22/culture-and-communications/.

I stated there, “I endeavor to address the matter undertaken from a communications perspective.” So, most of the time, I take the time to analyze the news story involved to ferret out its implications and meaning from this point of view.

For example, since my intent was to consider the communications aspects  beyond the storyline itself relating to the comments of President Obama in connection with the Gates arrest incident, (see previous post titled: “President Obama and language used stupidly”) the post I finally issued was days after the nationally televised press conference at which the comments were made. Time needed to pass to let the public and media reaction occur and to assess the consequential happenings.

I am not looking to be first, I am looking to be insightful, to help shed some light on what is happening, by trying to interpret what has occurred focusing particularly on that area – communication “effect-iveness” – which constitutes the reason this blog exists.

Now this approach is not popular in today’s frenzied 24/7 cable news cycle. Our “news” must be New, with a capital “N”; we have been encouraged to automatically conclude that the more timely a published item – whether in the blogosphere or the traditional media –  the better it must be; we identify the actual number of minutes since a post, a comment, a news item has been issued, assuming that if it’s “old” it must be stale (what about fine wine?) – and we do indeed measure “old news” in minutes nowadays. There is no allowance for or acceptance of  time for reflection, and so much of what starts out as thoughtful often turns out to be shooting from the hip, and later gets recanted or revised. There is definitely a call for quick assessment, but there is most definitely an urgent call for some careful consideration.

This post is a statement of position on the matter of timeliness. I pledge that this blog will treat many of the important issues occurring in our midst as they arise in a manner befitting the portfolio of this blog and therefore, by definition, not necessarily when they arise, the better to see the forest in spite of the trees.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/29/timing-isnt-everything/

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President Obama and language used stupidly

This is “a teachable moment” according to President Barack Obama.  I agree. This blog is devoted to advancing the art and science of communications, not politics,  so I won’t dwell on the rhyme or reason of the President’s statement made during his nationally televised prime time press conference this past Wednesday which opened Pandora’s box regarding the issue of racial profiling in this country. Suffice it to say that strictly rhetorically speaking, he either knew what he was doing or he didn’t. Given the context, a press conference convened principally to push his health insurance reform agenda – the latest nomenclature chosen in lieu of “health care reform”, as hopefully more effective – this same President who usually measures his  words, certainly should have considered  that his comment would be a pot boiler  and a distraction in terms of staying on message. Giving credit to the President as an astute public speaker, which few would deny, at the time, this was very possibly a “slip of the tongue”; Speaking extemporaneously, even with advance preparation and briefing, does not give much time for reflection ahead of utterance –  so, this public speaking “incident” becomes an excellent example to demonstrate that indeed  communication – particularly verbal communication – is most certainly in many respects an art as much as anything.

The particulars are that in response to a reporter’s question posed late in the press conference asking for the President’s reaction to an occurrence involving the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who happens to be African-American and who happens to be a renowned African-American scholar and who happens to own the home and the property where he was hand-cuffed and charged  with disorderly conduct (the charges were subsequently dropped), the President used the following language – among other language used: he stated that the police officers “acted stupidly”.

There are a number of words which in any language are “charged” with emotion – “stupid” and its variations are in such a lexicon. The word was used as an adverb, a form which modifies the verb “acted” and tells us in what manner someone acted. Like an adjective modifies a noun, like a rose becomes a red rose, an action becomes “stupid”. Now what was attempted to be qualified was the action, not the actor. Unfortunately the word chosen was also in the category of what I call “splatter” words – a word that “paints with a broad brush” so that everything in sight becomes “splattered” by it; so what was imputed by the media, the public in general, and the Cambridge Police Department in particular? Was  the President of the United States suggesting –  that the police officers involved were stupid! “Strong” language –  “stupid” qualifies as “strong” language – is to be used judiciously when warranted. When warranted? When circumstances require such a term for emphasis.

The latest “Special Features” section of this blog, “The Lens”, showcases the pronouncements of none other than the great Mark Twain addressing specifically all matters germane to communications, written and oral – Twain knew a thing or two about public speaking and his work as presented in this section is recommended to you; I want to quote one pithy point here. Twain said: “An adjective habit…once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.” He cautioned about using adjectives, and by extension their cousins, adverbs, sparingly – which would then strengthen their impact when they were used. Well President Obama normally heeds Twain’s advice, not peppering his speaking with such words, and therefore his use of the word “stupidly” was reacted to vigorously (whoops there I go as well, you can see how easy it is to fall into the trap).

So what is the lesson to be learned? Choose your words carefully.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/27/president-obama-and-language-used-stupidly/

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