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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Iran’s eyewitnesses not “citizen” journalists

I have been considering the issue of elevating eyewitness reports – on Twitter – or elsewhere, to the level of citizen journalism. In fact, I have been doing extensive evaluation of this matter as the “phenomenon” occurring during the recent protests of the election in Iran has been generally hailed as technology advancing democracy. Thanks to cell phones and Twitter, citizens can provide “information” to a waiting world, no matter how hard a particular regime tries to suppress what may be taking place.

In theory, this is a good thing. It would mean that no government is able to hide behind a technology “blackout” which it might try to impose; and indeed in Iran, such was and is being attempted by the powers that be. Internet access has been successfully curtailed to strangle the flow of information in and out of the country. But the Supreme Leader did not reckon with the ability of great numbers of tweets to reach eager readers throughout the world, or cell phone photos and videos either.

This is all justifiably to be recognized as a step forward for humankind to be sure.  But, to convert eyewitness reports – which is what we are truly dealing with – into what has been dubbed  “citizen journalism” is a leap not to be taken lightly.

First, the authenticity of any given set of data, whether transmitted in words or pictures, is not finally subject to thorough verification. There is no standard under which the “reporting” is undertaken; normal professional reporting dictates corroboration through at least two separate sources for any bit of information to be considered credible and accepted for public airing. There is no oversight, or editorial scrutiny; in point of fact, one can question the source and origin of many of the tweets represented to be from Iran.

So what we have are eyewitness reports – an element often used by police and journalists in helping to piece together an incident or event; while a truly remarkable outpouring of verbiage and pictorial documentation, which certainly by its sheer volume and commonality of content, renders a “picture” of a government using totally heinous means to subdue an uprising over a questionable election, to raise these sincerely heroic efforts to get the word out to the world to the level of journalism is to reach too far and in the process to lower the bar for fact.

I have previously called attention to related matters in  prior posts which addressed the important concept of “truthiness” (see tag cloud). Truth, is not just “true enough”. The measure must be the strictest yardstick.

So while not diminishing the accomplishment of “the people” in sweeping away the “veil” attempted to cover the atrocities committed in the name of civil obedience through the use of new media and new technology, let’s not overreach, that would be to diminish the work of journalists throughout history who have indeed often risked their very lives to report the facts!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/15/irans-eyewitnesses-not-citizen-journalists/

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Jurors, a new hope for the new Information Age

Today’s New York Times article by John Schwartz http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/us/18juries.html?_r=1

 raises a number of important questions regarding for example the seeming dichotomy between traditional jurisprudence and contemporary information technology which is really the thrust of the story. But then there is, as Paul Harvey always said (may he rest in peace, see my previous post on Harvey) “the rest of the story”.

 What I want to focus on here is the quest for enlightenment beyond the confines of the courtroom for which the as many as nine jurors reported about clearly thirsted.

 “…conducting Google searches on the lawyers and the defendant, looking up news articles about the case, checking definitions on Wikipedia and searching for evidence that had been specifically excluded by the judge. One juror, asked by the judge about the research, said, “Well, I was curious,” according to Mr. Raben.”

 Peter Raben is the defense attorney for the case in question. “It was a heartbreak,” Mr. Raben added.

 Au contraire, mon amie. (caution: accumulating French flourishes ahead in this post)  In a recent post I cited the book True Enough by Farhad Manjoo. In his book Manjoo points to a concerning trend that people are accepting as gospel any pronouncements made by those they “follow” to use the Twitter idiom. This is great for the Russ Limbaughs of the world who actually laud this characteristic by giving it credence through the use of such terms as “dittohead”.

But in terms of our future as a society, I would much rather the Socratic Method be extolled.

 Well, lo and behold, these nine jurors are practicing intellectual curiosity don’t you know. Wow, what a concept! Yes there needs to be a rapprochement between the justice system and the new ways of accessing and sharing information and from some of the article’s content it seems we are groping our way in that direction, but I must say: la curiosité, c’est magnifique!

 

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/18/jurors-a-new-hope-for-the-new-information-age/

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A Jurassic Park kind of world

In many of today’s opinion pages, be they online or in print, readers were treated to a very insightful article by Kathleen Parker, titled “Weird new media world” in which, it seemed abundantly apparent to me, she was putting forth the premise that newspapers are a core communications vehicle of American society and conducted appropriately constitute the bedrock on which a free society is maintained. So granting necessary reshaping to conform to technological and cultural changes (I advisedly here avoid the term “advances” to describe such changes) the medium is important to retain. In her own words:

“Whatever business models emerge…newspapers have to focus on their traditional core of fact-based, serious reporting. We might add to that formula the need for a serious populace informed about the fragile thread that connects a free press to a free future. “

A number of considerations emerge from careful reading of her piece. Yes, I don’t have much need for the TV guide section of my local paper now that I have a TV guide accessible on my TV; so newspapers need to define themselves based on their “root” purpose to borrow a term from the computer age. A “root” directory in computer file systems is the first or top-most directory in a hierarchy. It can be likened to the root of a tree – the starting point where all branches originate. (Paraphrased from Wikipedia). This is basic Marketing 101 of course. Amtrak isn’t in the business of running trains, they’re in the business of transportation. Find the “root” and stick to it she seems to be urging, and keep a first amendment bulwark in place in the bargain.

What is fascinating, is the “spin” this gets in the “comment room”; I just checked out one: http://townhall.com/columnists/KathleenParker/2009/03/15/weird_new_media_world?page=2 and the majority of comments at this site are made by fire breathing persons who seem to have read only one word of her article, that word appearing as the last word of the article’s third paragraph and spelled b-i-a-s, “bias”. But the real bias, as I see it, is on the part of the commenters; which leads me to the book True Enough by Farhad Manjoo. The Publishers Weekly review of the book puts it this way: “Salon blogger Manjoo…in his perceptive analysis of the status of truth in the digital age, critiquing a Rashomon-like world in which competing versions of truth vie for our attention.” The book deserves more attention in a separate post, and the book deserves our attention in general because it presents a pretty disquieting picture of our future as a society of many different groups of “Dittoheads” as referenced in paragraph two of Parker’s article!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/16/a-jurassic-park-kind-of-world/

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