Bringing An End to Some-People-Say News — No More Important Time Than Now!

I published the article below at Huffington Post in 2011 and several after it on the same subject — what I’m calling “some-people-say journalism.”

As predicted in the article, over the last several years sloppy journalism using such phrases as “some-people-say,” “many people think,” “there are those who say,” instead of identified, credible sources lowered the bar in terms of journalistic integrity.  Along with the bad habit of journalists interviewing journalists, people became used to not receiving information supported by credible, identified sources.  This helped open the door to “fake news” prevalent in the recent U.S. elections.

I’m posting this article again while President Trump is attacking the media, to remind us of our responsibility as information consumers.  And to protect responsible media, so important to a free society, from strategic attacks.  We should insist that even our favorite media keep the credibility bar high for our sake and their own.

Children do not learn to become wary of sources unless their parents and teachers share the need for that with them — by occasionally asking during advertisements and news shows “Do you think that’s true?” and “What sources did they use?”  Without such practice, children grow up gullible and are easily manipulated.

As adults, if you haven’t learned to be wary of sources, to reject “some-people-say” journalism, there’s no time like the present.  And likely there is no more important time.

THE HIGH POLITICAL PRICE OF SOME-PEOPLE-SAY JOURNALISM

HUFFINGTON POST — 10/17/2011  Kathleen Reardon, Professor Emerita, USC

On televised news this evening, expect to hear sentences beginning with “some people say” or “many people think” as a means of positioning a question for an interview or providing support for an opinion being advanced. Look for such deceptive phrases on your choice of early evening televised news, CNN and PBS too.

And what’s wrong with this practice? Aren’t we supposed to assume that we’re being led by our noses by the owners of media giants, that journalism is no longer the honorable profession it was, and this is just more evidence of how far it has fallen? Isn’t it our responsibility as viewers to sift through the hype and huckstering to find shreds of objectivity?

Certainly, we are responsible for carefully considering the sources of what we read and view. And yet, from decades of persuasion research, we know that people often process information without engaging in wariness or counterargument. At least when we hear, “According to General Colin Powell or “As Senator Webb described it today,” we know something of the political leanings of the sources. We know whether to consider them credible, intelligent, experienced, and trustworthy.

How do we know the motives of “some” people? Who are they? Where do they come from? How many of them are there? Under what circumstances were their opinions obtained? How old are they? Did anyone pay them? Do they even exist?

When will experts respond to “some people say” with, “Who might they be?” Or, “In fact, recent data indicates quite the opposite.” They could ask one of these questions: “How many people actually say that?” “Who are these people?” “Where did you find them?”

We’re into an important campaign season, one culminating with the election of the next president of the United States. As we’ve seen over and over, it’s an exercise is separating hype from truth, opinions from factual information, and political machinations from admirable political skill.

Slipping “some people say” and “many people think” into “news” is not much different from placing subliminal product messages in grocery store music. It’s deceitful. It takes advantage of consumers.

Change the channel the next time you hear, “some people say,” “many people think,” or vacuous statements in this genre. E-mail the station. Tell them to name their sources. Expect better. Insist on it!

 

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Article in the American Bar Association Journal – “Learning to Say ‘No'”

Here are a few tips for women in particular about refusing “junk” assignments — written by Stephanie Ward.

Link

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Replay of “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk”

It was 1993 when I wrote the Harvard Business Review reprint bestseller, “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk,” and 1995 when They Don’t Get It, Do They? was published. But then today I read Muck Rack and Susan Fowler’s description of working for Uber. As if this past election season wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for women, it’s worth reading Fowler’s account of how little things appear to have changed.  Say what you will, if you are a woman, know a woman, are a father or mother of a girl, it’s time to wake up and realize that a new struggle is before us!

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What About the Impugning of Women and Minorities?

I’m fighting and firing mad now!  Not allowing Senator Elizabeth Warren to read a highly relevant letter written by Coretta Scott King, long-time civil rights leader and wife of Martin Luther King Jr., about Trump’s pick for attorney general is despicable senatorial conduct.  There appears to be no end to what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his inner circle will do to fill the president’s Cabinet with a number of unqualified people with questionable intentions.

This kind of protection from criticism on behalf of Senator Jeff Sessions is the antithesis of democracy.  It’s hypocrisy as well given the barrage of ugly rhetoric from the Trump administration that most Republican senators and representatives have chosen to ignore.

This may all seem amusing to Republicans who won’t break ranks to protect their country. But it is heinous and cowardly behavior.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) defended the decision to bar Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to speak now and for the rest of the discussions about Sessions’ nomination.  He claimed senators need to be “called out” for breaking the rules of collegiality.

Give me a break!  What about the total lack of civility that has been the hallmark of Trump’s ascension to the presidency?  What about Trump’s crudeness toward and insulting of women, minorities and nearly anyone who disagrees with him?  Where were the senatorial concerns for civility then?

Under the Senate’s “Rule 19,” senators are not allowed to “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

Reading a letter that was relevant when Jeff Sessions failed in 1986 to be approved by the Senate for a federal judgeship because of concerns about his racism is far from “impugning the character of a colleague.”  It is honestly and credibly sharing with the public information they need to know.

Speaking of rules — by the way.  The main one guiding much of government now appears to be doing whatever it takes to keep the public from information they need to have in order to make intelligent, wise decisions protecting their right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

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When a U.S. President Won’t Be Persuaded — What Then?

The first day of teaching graduate and undergraduate persuasion classes, I’ve always included a discussion of the primary enemy of effective persuasion — unexamined assumptions.

We all base our views and most of our actions on assumptions. To be persuasive, it’s important to understand the assumptions of others and how our own differ from or overlap with those.  The formulation of effective arguments depends on such knowledge.

The Trump administration likes to keep people, particularly the press, off-guard with regard to underlying assumptions.  Such knowledge is therefore difficult to ascertain.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer regularly argues that controversial choices made by President Trump are similar to those made by President Obama, Bush or Reagan.  On the other hand, the president and his coterie of enablers regularly demean the actions of those same presidents.  So, which is it?  Are they guided by the choices of their predecessors or not? They really don’t want you to know.

The term for such contrived confusion is strategic ambiguity.  The goal is to confound people.  Apparently, Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is known for applying this strategy by overwhelming people.  Rather than roll out change incrementally so people understand and come to grips with it, he prefers to keep hitting them with “stuff” until they’re beside themselves.

So, what does this mean for persuasion?  Can it be used to influence people like this?

Persuasion is something done with people, not to them. Compared to other forms of influence, it tends to be up front.  At its best it relies on reason, evidence, expert opinion, experience, passionate argument and facts.  When people act rationally, when they share similar rules and at least respect each other, persuasion can be very effective.  It’s fair to say that while the preferable means of influence in civil society is persuasion, it usually does not work directly with people who prefer to coerce and manipulate.

Does that leave us with becoming bullies and manipulators?  Must we sink to the level of liars who think little of us?  If coupled with power, perhaps not.

Eliot Cohen, former Counselor to Condoleezza Rice and Director of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins, believes that eventually Trump will make too many enemies — trounce on too many toes.  Payback for those who supported him at high levels will be on an installment plan lasting a long time.  Those with power who see the light may best the president at his own game.  The question is whether this will happen soon enough to protect democracy.

That’s where protesters seeking to persuade can make a difference.  They can urge the powerful to see how they’re being duped and used.  They can alert those with the capacity to confront Trump that their time to be harmed will surely come — that people who think so little of those outside their circle are not in the habit of keeping promises.

Persuasion is useful to expedite change even with those who coerce and manipulate.  It can influence those with power to stand up and take action.  It can help them realize that the tentacles of deception so beloved by the Trump team will one day reach their doors and harm the country they love — what former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Christiane Amanpour is among the key dangers we now face.

The sooner those with power outside the Trump circle begin to worry about such things, the sooner they realize that they’re being deceived, perhaps being used, the sooner they’ll feel the pressure on their toes predicted by Eliot Cohen and begin to fight fire with fire.  In that sense, all of us have power.

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Hell Hath No Fury — This Time Let’s Make It Stick!

Was the Women’s March on Washington and around the world a one-day event — a one-time venting?  It looked to me more like the women’s protests of the 1960’s.  My irascible, tireless friend, mentor and fellow professor, Betty Friedan, would have been overjoyed to see over a million women crowding the streets and walkways of their cities. She would have agreed with Gloria Steinem that the wake-up call finally happened.  For so many women walking and watching, it was a moment of precious light in the mist of looming darkness.

We get it now.  The job is not over. The work of feminists before us need not have been in vain.  In fact, we now realize that so much of what was accomplished is at risk.  Women around the world have heard that message and we are a force with which to be reckoned. This is one time when “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” actually applies.

One of the beauties of the Women’s Marches was the depth in age.  There was no sense of generations divided.  Women from diverse backgrounds mobilized.  It took an instigating force, a man who won the presidency despite his crass disparagement of women.  It took a sinking-in period after the election to alert women to the dangers for themselves and their families.  It took Hillary Clinton to show us how a woman who gave it her all, who was — in Barack Obama’s own words — far more qualified than previous presidential candidates, was nevertheless held to a different, higher standard.

To borrow from sociologist Irving Goffman, we give male politicians more idiosyncrasy credits.  In short, they’re more readily excused for less than exemplary actions and character.  If we don’t understand that we’ve been inadvertently trained to be more critical of women, then we are victimized by our socialization.

People wanted to be excited about Hillary Clinton as if all elections can be like that of Barack Obama.  Many of us were unforgiving of what were touted by the media as her faults. We fell easily into the trap of exaggerating her shortcomings because she is a woman.

How often I’ve been asked, “But wasn’t she a flawed candidate?” as if Donald Trump is flawless.  The absurdity of that angers many women.  It reminds them of double standards to which they’re held at work — the  slippery criteria not used to judge men.

This election reminded women of how easy it is to find fault with us — to denigrate our appearance – offense often perpetrated by men who should look in the mirror.

We were reminded over the last few months to support each other — to avoid slipping into the cultural trap of picking women apart based on the ways we cut our hair, walk, and express ourselves.  Many of us were reminded that “bitch” and “nasty woman” are disparaging labels from which we needn’t flee.  They are used to unsettle us, to render us demure.

As I’ve said at the beginning of many of my speeches, “You’re looking at a bitch!”  It brings laughter.  But to me, it means that I refuse to run from labels used to silence — and haven’t for some time.  Such easy labeling hounded Hillary Clinton.  And when that wasn’t enough, Russia and James Comey had to help stop her in her tracks.

This time we need to make sure that our mutual support sticks.  That means at every level, not merely during marches.  We must remember the anger — renew and refresh it.  We must be as one no matter our age or stage.  We must write, post, and speak out and never let our senators and representatives think we have become quiet again.

We need not have voted for the same candidate or voted at all.  We’re awake now.  As California Senator Kamal Harris said, women’s issue are the economy, climate change, defense, safety, infrastructure, health and education — to name only a few. Women’s issues are all issues that make America and the world better places to live.

The Women’s Marches showed that we have the power to make a huge difference.  Let’s keep the feeling strong in our hearts firing our determination.  Let’s assure that we use our individual and collective power.  Let’s refuse to allow men confusing great privilege with greatness to smirk, dismiss and patronize as they obstruct our rightful path.

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The Wake-Up Call Happened Today

So proud of the hundreds of thousands who marched today. Right after the election, I wrote about the “wake-up call”. Today we saw how awakened women have become. For years we’ve fallen silent, thinking the job of obtaining equality and respect was over. Not so, we learned during this election.

I’m reposting the blog I wrote about that wake-up call right after the election.  It received over 6,000 likes only having been posted briefly by Huffington Post. Women are now awake, as Gloria Steinem said today, not going to sleep again.

The wake-up call blog here.

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