I know, wrong?

i_know_right_-_Google_SearchEvery generation has its annoying catch phrases.  The valley girls and their wannabes famously sprinkled every sentence with “like.”  More recently,  “not so much” has been used ad nauseum to express disapproval or disagreement.

“Whatever!”  It’s not “all good.” Admittedly, often it’s “my bad,” “yada yada.”

I have a house full of teens and young adults these days, so I’m particularly aware of a prevalent catch phrase.  When I assert something that meets with the youngsters’ agreement, a rare event, they invariably respond with “I know, right?”

The main problem with this, or any catch phrase, is that I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear those words coming out of my mouth.  Catch phrases are contagious that way.

I desperately don’t want to let this phrase into my lexicon, because it particularly irritates me.  It makes no sense to respond to an assertion with a question about whether the assertion is correct.

My mama taught me that it is polite to respond to direct questions.  So, it strikes me that the “right?” part of the response requires a response, which leads to mind-numbing exchanges such as this:

Me:  “The Twins starting pitching is crappy.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  “Right.  That’s why I just said it.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  (stink eye)

I know, it’s not really a question.  But then, why include the “right?” part.

I guess this is the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation that we raised.  Even when they are agreeing with us, they need still more affirmation that agreement is acceptable.

Right?

- Loveland

R. T. ‘s Wonderfully Intemperate Words

You go boy. R. T. Rybak deserves kudos for telling it like it is on gun control. We seldom hear politicians saying something that sounds like a real human, but R. T. is laying it out on the political dancing going on over whether we can curb military weapons in our streets and communities.

With President Obama in Minneapolis Monday calling for tougher background checks and limits on automatic weapons and ammunition magazines, R. T. got his two cents’ worth in, at a premium. He was quoted in The New York Times, the Star Tribune and many other news outlets. (It’s not clear from the stories, and I can’t find anything on YouTube, whether R. T. said this stuff from a podium or to reporters. Anybody know?)

RT gunFrom The Strib: Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak expressed outrage at politicians who already were talking down the proposal’s chances. “Well, guess what?” Rybak said. “People are dying out there. I am not satisfied with the main sort of front from the people in Washington, that this is sort of a game. Where are the other people on this issue? Get a spine, get a backbone. People are losing their lives.”

From The Times: R. T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, mocked politicians in Washington who are unwilling to support an assault ban. “Oh, it’s not going to pass,” Mr. Rybak said. “Well guess what? People are dying out here, and I’m not satisfied with the lame kind of response we’ve gotten from some of the people in Washington who look at this like some kind of game… I don’t think any of us should accept anything other than complete effort and knocking off the political wimpsmanship that I think too often takes place around these issues. Get a spine. Get a backbone because people are losing their lives.”

“Lame.” “Political wimpsmanship.” “Get a spine.” These are not measured words, not the stuff of gentlemanly debate. They’re pissed-off words. They’re intemperate. They’re real. They are the words of a leader, strong enough to move us. They are a call.

Outstanding. More.

– Bruce Benidt

(Image from Newsobserver.com)

The Top 5 Best and Worst Things About the Blogosphere

People either love or hate blogs, with little in between. When I first started writing this one, I was definitely a hater. In fact, these were the first words I ever uttered in the bloguverse:

“Blah, blah, blog.  I hate blogs.  Self-centered, self-righteous, self-reinforcing, self-gratification.  Seldom right, but never in doubt.”

Thus began my self-loathing career as a person who writes blogs, but most assuredly is not a “blogger.”  (Those people are pathetic, don’t you think?)

But almost six years later, my take on blogs is a bit more nuanced and ambivalent.  Upon further reflection, this is how the pros and cons of the blogosphere net out for me.

The Worst

Anonymous contributors and the vitriol that brings.  Where blog participants are allowed to be anonymous, conversations get juvenile and shallow in a hurry.   That says a lot about human nature, and it limits the promise of blogs.  For me, this is the worst part of hanging around blogs.

The lack of fact-checking.  When it comes to truthiness, you can trust mainstream news outlets much more than blogs, because there are accountability rules and editors at the ready at mainstream news outlets.  Lots of bloggers don’t care about accuracy, and their readers take them at face value and get deceived.  Even bloggers who care about accuracy make bad mistakes when they are blogging on the fly in the middle of a work day, with no support staff to save them.  All of the inaccuracy in blogs is bad for blog readers, and for the credibility of the medium.

The overwhelming volume of information.  The Google machine tells me that there are currently more than 180 million blogs in existence.  The sheer volume of blogs makes it very difficult to find the worthwhile needles in this cyber-haystack.  That limits the promise of blogs. The “drinking from a firehose” cliche is inadequate here.  Drinking from Niagra Falls?

The echo chamberiszation of the planet.   In the blogosphere, most of us seek out voices that support our preconceived notions.  That balkanizes opinion, insulates us from true contemplation and make us all boorish.

The rush to judgement.  Unlike traditional publications, blogs can be published in the time it takes to click a mouse.  This makes the world move a lot faster.  If bloggers don’t post on breaking news now, they feel like the post will be stale.  As a result, bloggers often bypass education and deliberation, and go straight to pontification.  The world needs more education and deliberation, and less instant pontification, and breakneck speed of blogging aggravates the situation.

The Best

The lack of information gatekeepers.  Pre-Internet, very few of us had the money to start a publication to share our own thoughts.  Very few of us were talented enough to get published.   Even among professional writers, very few were allowed to write whatever they wanted.  Bankers, publishers, and copy editors have historically been among the many powerful barriers to mass unfiltered self-expression.  But free services like WordPress allow anyone to say whatever they want whenever they want.    If their mutterings are interesting or provocative enough, they will get spread around to others, for free.  Blogs have made free speech a little more free.

The lack of money influencing publishing decisions.  Almost no blogger makes money blogging.  That means that blog writing is less likely than mainstream media reporting and commentary to be influenced by commercial considerations, such as “what will the advertisers do if I write that.”   For this reason, there often is more speaking truth to power on blogs than there is in the mainstream news media.

The focus on connecting the dots of the daily news.  Only a relative few bloggers uncover actual news.  The rest of us merely connect the dots of news that is reported by mainstrain news reporters.  What mainstream reporters do is more important than what we do here, because it is a necessary prerequisite of what we do here. But connecting the dots is not unimportant.  News events are not stand alone entities unto themselves.  The interplay of news events matters.  These are  important things for citizens in a democracy to be discussing, and more of that type of discussion is happening because of blogs.

The coverage of previously ignored niches.  Mainstream news reporters necessarily can’t cover every societal niche.  But 180 million bloggers can come pretty close.  For people like me with nichey minds, that’s a good thing.

The lack of editing and style guides.  Many of my English major friends who cuddle up with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and my journalism and PR friends who are slaves to the AP Stylebook, can’t abide the no holds barred nature of blog prose.  They mourn the fact that no editor is used by bloggers to spare readers from the ravages of cliches, clunky phrasing, inconsistent usage, misused-hyphens,  and unconventional word choices (e.g. see “bloguverse,” “nichey,” “The Google machine,” “truthiness”) .  But the raw semantic and syntax anarchy you find in blogs also brings much color, fun, creativity, risk-taking and spontaneity to the conversations.   It makes information exchange a little less stuffy and controlled.  Sorry, Strunk, but I love all of that unsanitized prose.

- Loveland

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

– Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

Showing Up for the Show in Denver.

It is a fact of modern public life that show biz matters. Or, put another way, that when up in front of a crowd, especially a large one, you have to deliver a compelling performance. So, to pile on, Mitt Romney schooled Barack Obama in that regard last night.

Content is, of course, a whole other beast.

But, I have to tell you I hadn’t seen either of the two guys on the stage in Denver Wednesday night. Here, at long last, was Mittens Romney the super salesman, the super CEO with all his homework done and ducks in a row for the big pitch to the next company he’s going to “harvest”. The obfuscations, mathematical sleight of hand and deflective narrative all … superbly rehearsed. The only other time we got a glimpse of that guy was in the notorious “47% video”.

By contrast, here was Mr. Cool, Mr. “I Got this One”, Mr. “I’m a Great Fourth Quarter Player” Barack Obama playing man to man defense full court, refusing to slap back and down at Romney’s most egregious assertions — “that $5 trillion in additional middle class taxes or deficit may not be in your plan, Governor, but there is no way it works without one or the other or both, unless of course you’d like to offer some details”. WTF?

I seriously doubt there’ll be any significant change in the end result of this campaign based on Romney’s performance — a “win” for him — in the first (and likely most-watched) debate. But the Obama performance is disconcerting.

As much as I admire what he’s been able to accomplish in the face of a wholly obstructionist Republican caucus (and partisan media), and the way he’s restored some honor to the country’s international standing post-the Cheney/Bush debacle (the drone thing is problematic), he is still too confident in and reliant upon a Lincolnesque attitude toward adversaries. Most liberals have been driven to distraction by his willingness to concede unearned territory to the Tea Party-inspired GOP. Likewise, in Denver, his biggest mistake — the essential fault of his performance — was the unwillingness (certainly not inability) to draw some of Romney’s blood.

Had he simply brought to the show the mantra, “The devil, Governor, is in the details. So I ask again, what exactly are you planning to do?”, he wouldn’t be taking a ripping today from the full run of the ideological spectrum.

And don’t get me started on Jim Lehrer. I may be in a very small  minority when it comes to a substantial re-think of how the established media covers politics, but even Lehrer’s set-up questions were broad to the point of pointless. Did anyone watching really not think Romney and Obama have “differences” on … every issue?

Old school, heavily self-modulated moderators like Lehrer are almost genetically incapable of asserting themselves and demanding a full answer to their question (assuming they asked something that had an actual answer, instead of eliciting a stump speech). They don’t want to be part of the show.

But … they are part of the show, and a critical part at that. By refusing to flash a bit of impertinence and impatience, their old school good manners merely allows the drama to spin off into a torrent of dubious claims, lofty-sounding pitches and salesmanship.

Vikings’ Jerry Burns Reminds Us How Badly PR Has F-ed Up News Viewing

The field of public relations has sucked nearly all the emotion, candor, color and sincerity out of news programming.

I haven’t done formal research on this, but my sense is that all of this started in the political world.  After the political handlers got done “training” their bosses and clients, the politicans became rhetorical robots.  As a result, they are now less likely to say anything politically perilous, but they are also unlikely to say anything remotely thought-provoking or candid.

The Sunday news shows are living proof.   Virtually no intelligent life can be found there.  It’s not because the guests aren’t intelligent.  It’s because the guests have all been trained.

About the same time, the burgeoning class of media trainers started to suck out what little color and candor ever existed in the world of corporate communications.  PR pros taught their bosses and clients to stay emotionally flat, avoid unflattering questions, and stay “on message” at all costs.  That is sound advice for the client, to a point, but it is absolutely lethal for audiences hoping to learn anything about a businessperson’s actual personality, insights, or intentions.

Increasingly, this rhetorical neutering reached, sigh, the sports world.  Listen to current Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, in all his emotionally flat, cliché-ridden blandness.  “One game at a time,” “everyone do their jobs,” “you take what they give you,” “stick with our game plan.”  Blah, blah, blahtedy blah.  Like white noise, Frazier interviews numb the ear drum.

The ever-programmed Coach Frazier will never begin to hold a player publicly accountable.  For instance, when wide receiver Percy Harvin recently spent a week acting like a spoiled brat, Coach Frazier, who had to be absolutely livid, instead looked like he had been lobotomized.  I can assure you, he had been, by media trainers.

As a result of all this training, I am no more likely to watch an interview of the Vikings’ verbal Vulcan than I am to watch an interview of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi.  I have learned from experience that none of them will ever say anything remotely genuine or unscripted.  After all, they have been trained.

If you doubt me about how bad sports interviews have become from a spectators’ standpoint, treat yourself to a walk down memory lane with former Vikings Coach Jerry Burns.

Warning:  Do not watch this with the volume up within earshot of  the kiddies, clergy or your mother:

And mind you, this was a game the Vikings won.

Put that Burns interview alongside a contemporary Leslie Frazier interview, and you will see why the NFL is now rightfully called the “No Fun League.”  Burnsy wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions out, provide somewhat frank analysis and bring his cartoon character personality to the screen.  Burns was employed in the entertainment business, and he entertained unabashedly.

If the Vikings hired me to media train Jerry Burns, I supposed I’d feel obligated to put him through Charm School.  And you know what?  F*#k me for doing it.

- Loveland

Programming note:  Thanks to a West Coast Rowdy reader for passing along the vintage video.

Reframing Minnesota’s Moronic Ballot Questions

Reframing.

The good news is that the Minnesota Legislature pledges to adjourn earlier this year than they did last year. The bad news is that they are pushing their lawmaking responsibilities off to voters. Legislators are passing the buck on policy decisions about legislative rules, labor law, voting limitations, and marriage law.

And so now, we’re going to have a little taste of California coming our way. Not balmy weather and trend-setting, but endless ballot initiative campaigns.

Because Republicans are controlling the Minnesota Legislature, they get to write the bills that put these amendments on the ballot. As such, they get the first crack at framing the issue, and reporters largely mimick their framing (though the Star Tribune does now put quotation marks on the term “right-to-work”).

Then, the job of opponents will be to try to reframe the issue. Overwhelmed voters facing a lengthy ballot aren’t likely to dedicate a lot of frontal lobe bandwidth to these decisions, so the battle will be over what soundbite voters are hearing in their heads as they read the amendments on Election Day.

One bloggers’ lightly informed thoughts about reframing:

Supermajority Amendment” should be reframed as “Supergridlock Amendment.” Tagline: “If you like gridlock, you’ll love the Supergridlock Amendment.”

Strategy: Tap into the powerful post-government shutdown sentiment that is driving the 72% disapproval rating for the Minnesota Legislature among Independent voters.

Right-to-Work Amendment” should be reframed as “Right-to-Leech Amendment.” Tagline: “Because we all love That Guy who drinks the beer, but is nowhere to be found when the bill arrives.”

Strategy: Make the argument personal instead of about abstract notions of “pro- or anti-union.” That is, make it about the fundamental unfairness of some benefiting, but expecting others to pay for their benefits.

Photo ID Amendment” should be reframed as “Voter Red Tape Amendment.” Tagline: “A bureaucratic solution in search of a problem.”

Strategy: Frame this as something independent voters are very wary of – more unnecessary bureaucratic red tape making life more complex. About half (47%) of independent voters say regulation usually does more harm than good.

Same Sex Marriage Amendment” should be reframed as “Marriage Ban Amendment.” Tagline: “Who is government to say who someone can and can’t love?

Strategy: Frame it as the government overreaching by appointing itself The Love Police.

As is my custom, I’m operating 100% fact free here. I haven’t seen any of the relevant voter research, or findings from other states. But right now, all of these amendments look like they could pass, so even ignorant brainstorming from the peanut gallery probably can’t hurt.

- Loveland

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