LOGOS IN THE NEWS: Helio Fred Garcia Quoted in Christian Science Monitor

On November 13, 2020, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in Christian Science Monitor about how Americans are divided over factsThe article explored the way in which the country’s present political and media environment has created echo chambers of misinformation, which has lead to widespread distrust in the media. As a result, we have seen many  voters distrust this year’s election results.

The authors note that “there remains the wider problem, many scholars say, of the country’s massive media ecosystem unmoored from a common set of facts, and the tremendous amount of faith tens of millions of Americans place in President Trump over traditional and nontraditional news sources.”

Garcia noted the role that leaders play in creating worldviews that lead people to questions the facts: “Leaders influence the worldview their followers are in, and those worldviews define their private reality. Create a worldview in which the media is ‘fake news’ and that science is a deep-state conspiracy, and the evidence suddenly is irrelevant.”

He continued, “Leaders who lie persistently create a false worldview for their followers, who cling to those worldviews even when the leader moves on,” continues Mr. Garcia. “So, even after the Bob Woodward recordings revealed that Donald Trump knew that the virus was deadly, airborne, and worse than the flu, his followers kept showing up for rallies unmasked and undistanced,” even as many said they believed the coronavirus was a hoax. “When he said he was cured and that the nation was turning the corner, they continued to believe him and not the objective evidence.”

Read the full article here.

New Book by Logos President: Words on Fire

Logos Consulting Group is pleased to announce that the next book by Logos President Helio Fred Garcia is now available for pre-order.

Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It is about the power of communication to do great harm, and how civic leaders and engaged citizens can hold leaders accountable to prevent such harm. Garcia focuses on the forms of communication that condition an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against a targeted group, rival, or critic.

 

Sending Up a Flare

In the book’s preface Garcia writes,

“In my teaching and research, I study patterns: patterns that help leaders enhance competitive advantage, build trust and loyalty, and change the world for the better. I study the patterns of audience engagement and audience reaction. I study persuasion and influence, and the power of language to change people, mostly for the better.”

But he also provides a caution:

“I’ve also been acutely aware of the use of communication to hurt, to harm, and to humiliate, and of how dehumanizing and demonizing language can lead some people to commit acts of violence. I typically don’t teach those things in a classroom, but I often send up a flare, warning students, former students, and others of the predictable, if unintended, consequences of speech that, under the right conditions, can influence people to accept, condone and commit violence against members of a group.”

Garcia notes that he found himself sending up many flares in recent years, but that something changed in 2018. In the Fall of that year he posted on social media persistent warnings about stochastic terrorism, the technical term for language that provokes some people to commit violence. He says,

“My concern grew into alarm as the 2018 mid-term elections approached and as President Trump’s language crossed a line. I worried that someone would be killed by Trump followers who embraced his increasingly incendiary rhetoric about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and critics.”

Garcia’s fears were soon realized.

“In a single week, about ten days before the mid-terms, two separate terror attacks took place: one killed eleven people at worship in a synagogue; one failed but had targeted a dozen Trump critics with mail bombs. In both cases the perpetrators justified their actions by quoting Trump language. One of them, the mail bomber, described his conversion from being apolitical to being ‘a soldier in the war between right and left’ that resulted from his several years in Trump’s orbit.”

The following day Garcia posted a blog on Daily Kos describing the relationship between language and violence. That post was republished by CommPro.biz. Words on Fire is the continuation of that original blog post.

In reflecting on the President’s language, Garcia noticed another pattern: the forms of his language were familiar. He realized that the president was using the very same rhetorical techniques that had preceded previous mass murders, including genocides. He worried that, left unchecked, the president would continue, with increasingly dire consequences.

Garcia explored the kinds of language that historically had preceded acts of mass violence. And he studied contemporary sources including the U.S. Holocaust Museum Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. The center defines “dangerous speech” as:

“speech that increases the risk for violence targeting certain people because of their membership in a group, such as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. It includes both speech that qualifies as incitement and speech that makes incitement possible by conditioning its audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group.”

One of the key elements of creating such conditions is to dehumanize others. The Center’s handbook Defusing Hate notes that:

 “Dangerous speech often dehumanizes the group it targets (e.g., by calling its members rats, dogs, or lice), accuses the target group of planning to harm the audience, and presents the target group’s existence as a dire threat to the audience.”

Garcia also studied the work of Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, who says that when leaders persistently dehumanize others they lessen the capacity of citizens to empathize.

The Playbook

Dangerous speech begins with dehumanization but doesn’t end there. Garcia has identified twelve communication techniques that individually and collectively create a social context that conditions an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group. Each technique is a bit different from the other, although the individual techniques have elements in common. They serve as a kind of Playbook that malicious leaders have used to divide communities and to accumulate power. The twelve forms are:

  1. Dehumanize: Calling groups of people animals or vermin who are infesting the nation.
  2. Demonize/Delegitimize: Attributing to a group or rival a menacing, evil identity or calling into question the legitimacy or qualification of a group or rival.
  3. Scapegoat: Blaming a group for all or many of the nation’s problems.
  4. Public Health Threat: Claiming that members of a group are carrying or transmitting dangerous diseases.
  5. Safety Threat: Claiming that a group, rival, or critic is a threat to public safety – likely to cause death or injury to the nation or to the dominant group – or is a threat to civic order.
  6. Violent Motive: Claiming that a group has violent or hostile intentions toward a dominant group.
  7. Severely Exaggerating Risk: Labelling a minor issue or routine event a major threat.
  8. Sinister Identities: Attributing vague or sinister identities to a group or its members.
  9. Conspiracy: Saying that something is part of a sinister conspiracy.
  10. Discredit Information: Discrediting the source of objective information or of information critical of the leader.
  11. Conflation: Conflating the leader and the state, so that any criticism of the leader is seen as an attack on the nation.
  12. Menacing Image: Juxtaposing a menacing image (noose, swastika, flaming cross) with a person or person’s image, a location, or a facility associated with the target.

Words on Fire documents these forms of communication, and the consequences of that language, both before Trump and by Trump.

But it does more. It assesses how American political life came to this dangerous and demoralizing place.

And it offers hope, a path forward: a framework, a mindset, and a set of techniques to help civic leaders and informed citizens recognize the patterns of dangerous speech early, intervene early, hold those who use such language accountable for the consequences, and ideally prevent such violence in the first place.

Garcia and a team of researchers spent 14 months working on the book. In addition to studying historic mass killings that followed the persistent use of dangerous speech, Garcia and his researchers watched hundreds of rallies, interviews, and public appearances by Donald Trump as candidate and president, and read thousands of his tweets. Garcia also examined hate crime violence statistics and trends. And he examined national security and law enforcement scholarship on lone wolf violence up to and including lone wolf terrorism. Garcia synthesizes the fruits of this research and describes how lone wolves develop a terrorist mindset and how they are activated to commit violence.

 

From Stochastic Terrorism to Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism

Since 9/11 the use of communication in ways that trigger lone wolves to commit acts of violence, up to and including terrorism, has been known as stochastic terrorism. The name comes from a principle in statistics and describes something that may be statistically predictable but not individually predictable.

But Garcia has concluded that the phrase stochastic terrorism is difficult to grasp, and even to say, and tends to limit discussion. He proposes a different way to describe the phenomenon, based on who is motivated to act on the communication – lone wolves – and what triggers them to so act – a kind of dog whistle that he calls a lone-wolf whistle.

He says:

“Acts of violence triggered by such language I call lone-wolf whistle violence. When such language triggers mass violence with a political, ideological, or similar motive I call it lone-wolf whistle terrorism.”

A Call to Action

Words on Fire also profiles leaders who stepped over the line and were called on it. All, in their own ways and in varying time frames, stopped what they were doing. As responsible leaders do.

Garcia also explores humility as an essential leadership attribute that makes empathy possible. It is empathy that allows leaders to see the damage their rhetoric may cause, and humility and empathy that lead them to stop.

The book closes by providing a framework for civic leaders, engaged citizens, journalists, and public officials to recognize when a leader may have crossed the line, and a way to understand the likely consequences of dangerous speech. Garcia takes the Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism Playbook and recasts it as a toolkit or checklist in the form of questions to ask that can help determine whether a leader’s rhetoric is likely to inspire lone wolves to take matters into their own hands.

Early Endorsers

Early reaction to Words on Fire by those who have read the manuscript has been quite positive, and the book has several early endorsers.

David Lapan, Colonel, USMC (ret), former Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security spokesman, says:

“Language is power, and powerful. It can uplift, or harm. Helio Fred Garcia is an astute student of language and communication. This book offers historic examples, keen insights and valuable advice on recognizing patterns of language that can harm or lead to violence.”

Evan Wolfson, Founder, Freedom to Marry, says:

“Drawing on history and his deep expertise in communications, Helio Fred Garcia documents how Trump’s barrage of hate, divisiveness, falsehoods, and triggering are even uglier and more dangerous than we thought, right out of the autocrat’s playbook. During the Nixon administration, John Dean blew the whistle on the ‘cancer growing on the presidency.’ Words on Fire provides a clear and alarming CAT-scan of the cancer growing from this presidency, and a highly readable guide to how we can call out and combat Trump’s toxic language and malignant agenda, pushing back against the corrosive forces that enable Trumpism and put our country in such peril.”

James E. Lukaszewski, America’s Crisis Guru®, says:

“Many of us were taught a lie as youngsters that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Fred courageously, graphically and powerfully illustrates that it is words on fire that bloodlessly, without scars or visible traces cause deep internal permanent damage while often triggering accompanying physical damage. And that if we remain silent one victim incinerated by words on fire damages the rest of us.”

Lukaszewski adds,

Words On Fire should be mandatory reading and a guide book for every reporter and editor anywhere. Journalists have significant responsibility for spreading the flames of intentionally incendiary, punitive, abusive language. There should be ethical and cultural sanctions for mindlessly but intentionally originating or transmitting dangerous language. Every business school needs to develop courses for managers and leaders in detoxifying and extinguishing fiery, intentionally emotional and harmful language, whatever the source, followed by every religious leader and elected official. Important institutions in our society and culture have the affirmative responsibility to stand up and speak out against the users and use of words on fire.

Public reaction has also been positive. In the week after Words on Fire became available for Amazon pre-order, it became the Amazon #1 New Release in Rhetoric and #2 in New Releases in Public Administration the #3 best seller in Public Administration.

Words on Fire is scheduled for publication in mid-June. It is available for pre-order in both paperback and kindle edition.

Prior Books by Logos President

Words on Fire is Garcia’s fifth book. His first, published in 1998, was the two-volume Crisis Communications, now out of print.

In 2006 Garcia co-authored with his NYU colleague John Doorley Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication. That book’s fourth edition is scheduled for publication in late Spring. Reputation Management has been adopted in undergraduate and graduate public relations and communication programs around the world, and was published in Korean in Seoul in 2016,

In 2012 Garcia published The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively. The Power of Communication has been adopted by dozens of graduate and professional schools, and was named one of eight leadership books on the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List. It was published in Chinese in Beijing in 2014.

In 2017 Garcia published The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis. The Agony of Decision was named one of the best crisis management books of all time (#2 of 51) by BookAuthority, the leading non-fiction review site. It will be published in Chinese in Beijing later this year.

Garcia has been on the New York University faculty since 1988. He is an adjunct professor of management in NYU’s Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, where he teaches crisis management, and where he was named Executive MBA Great Professor. He is an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in NYU’s School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, where he twice received the Dean’s award for teaching excellence, in 1990 and in 2017.  In that program he teaches courses in communication strategy; in communication ethics, law, and regulation; and in crisis communication.

Garcia is an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership at Columbia University, where he teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Garcia is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Corporate Communication at Communication University of China in Beijing.

 

Opinion: The Dangers of Indirect Calls to Violence

This post was originally published in the Daily Kos, a progressive political opinion site.

It was also reprinted under the title “Is Trump Responsible for the Violence?” on the leading corporate communication site CommPro.Biz.

 

by Helio Fred Garcia

The French philosopher and writer Voltaire warned that those who can make us believe absurdities can make us commit atrocities.

We have seen this phenomenon play out in all parts of the world for the nearly 300 years since Voltaire first warned us. And sadly, we see it playing out in the United States now.

I have spent nearly four decades studying leadership, language, power, and the intersection of neuroscience, anthropology, and influence. Most of my work has been in the service of helping good leaders become better leaders. But sometimes my work calls on me to send up a flare; to warn others of what I see happening and about to happen. Events of the last few weeks compel me to send up such a flare.

Genuine leaders understand the consequences of their words and actions and take responsibility when they see that they are having a dangerous impact. Self-absorbed leaders do not.

Stochastic Terrorism

There’s a phenomenon well known to those who study violent extremism and authoritarianism: the use of mass communication to inspire lone wolves to commit acts of violence. About six years ago it got the name Stochastic Terrorism, named for a principle in statistics about seemingly random things still being predictable.

Stochastic terrorism doesn’t make a direct call to violence. Rather, it leads people to take matters into their own hands. So stochastic terrorist violence is statistically predictable, even if it will not predict that a particular individual will commit a particular act against a particular person.

A Clear but Indirect Danger

The First Amendment protects free speech but not calls to violence that create a clear and present danger to people. But stochastic terrorism is insidious because it is a clear but indirect, yet still predictable, danger.

The Stochastic Terrorism Playbook

In the weeks just before the 2018 mid-term elections we saw President Trump use many elements of the stochastic terrorism playbook, that were amplified by conservative media and by Trump supporters who were running for office.

These include:

  • Dehumanizing populations. This includes referring to groups of people as vermin who are infesting the country. And carrying disease – in this case including diseases that have already been eradicated or are very rare, such as smallpox and leprosy. But still scary.
  • Claiming that an entire population is a threat.  From his first day in the race, Trump defined Mexicans as rapists, gang members, and criminals. Candidate Trump also called for the total and complete ban of Muslims entering the country. And on his second day in office he passed an executive order, later overturned by the courts, banning people from seven primarily-Muslim countries. What the singling out of these groups, and others, have in common is that they create an Other — a group to rally against.
  • Labeling an ordinary thing a serious threat. President Trump labeled a rag-tag group of impoverished men, women, and children walking north seeking asylum a Caravan. Note that seeking asylum is legal. And the people were more than a thousand miles away at the time, and on foot. Despite this, he further said that the Caravan is invading the country. Hence the very word Caravan (always capitalized) became itself a menacing word, repeated across all forms of communication — in speeches, in social media, and on television news headlines. He called the Caravan a national emergency. He  also called to mobilize the military to prevent its arrival. And this wasn’t even the first time he had used the Caravan scare. He did it in April as well. That group of migrants fizzled out before most of them reached the border.  Those who arrived sought asylum.  We should have recognized the pattern.
  • Attributing vague menacing identities to that group. For example, the claim that the Caravan has been infiltrated by a number of middle easterners.
  • Saying that something is part of an evil conspiracy. In this case that the Caravan is funded by George Soros, which is white supremacist code for an international Jewish conspiracy. Note that the first bomb received in late October was sent to George Soros. Followed by an attack on a synagogue by a person driven by an urgent need to prevent Jews from bringing in refugees in order to kill Americans.

Within a single week in late October we saw tangible evidence of such rhetoric inspiring violence.

  • A bomber attempted the largest assassination of political leaders in the history of the U.S., sending bombs through the mail to more than a dozen people who had each been the target of President Trump’s vitriol. Thankfully, none of the devices exploded, and all were retrieved. But authorities found the names of nearly 100 Trump critics on the bomber’s target list.
  • A gunman attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue during worship, killing eleven and wounding many more. He posted online about “Jewish infestation.” In the hours before the attack, making reference to a more than century-old refugee resettlement agency, he tweeted, “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” During the attack he yelled “All Jews must die!”
  • A gunman tried to penetrate a Louisville black church but found the doors locked, and instead went into a neighboring Kroger’s store and murdered two black customers there.

There are likely to be further such acts.

Birtherism

Former First Lady Michelle Obama this week, in interviews about her forthcoming memoir, described her reaction to Donald Trump’s birther campaign, which put him on the political map for the 2016 presidential campaign. For years before and during his presidential campaign Trump persistently insisted that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and therefore was not a legitimate president. Trump refused to acknowledge Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate, and frequently made other claims that challenged Obama’s legitimacy as president.

In her book Michelle Obama writes that this campaign was

“deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.”

This is a vivid example of stochastic terrorism at work.

Plausible Deniability is an Essential Part of Stochastic Terrorism

The stochastic terrorist uses inflammatory rhetoric in the full expectation that it will trigger someone somewhere to act out in some way. But there is also plausible deniability built in. The stochastic terrorist can deny that he or she had anything to do with the violence that occurs. Indeed, President Trump falls back on this frequently, including in the aftermath of the bombs sent to people he had criticized. The Washington Post reported,

“Trump told reporters later that he did not think he bears blame for the alleged crimes ‘No, not at all,’ Trump said as he left the White House for a political rally in North Carolina. ‘There’s no blame, there’s no anything,’ Trump said.”

But Why Do People Believe Absurdities?

So why do people believe absurdities, which is a precursor to committing atrocities?

The Pittsburgh gunman believed deeply that Jews were importing refugees to kill “our people.”  There was no evidence that Americans were being killed by refugees. But evidence didn’t matter. There was no evidence that the migrants walking north were infected with smallpox and leprosy, claims repeated frequently by conservative media. President Trump even called members of the Caravan “young, strong men” but also said that they were diseased. Why would people believe such easily refutable claims?

To answer that question we need to recognize that the rise of Donald Trump is not a cause but rather a consequence.

It is the predictable result of decades of degradation of political discourse. This degradation was facilitated by a media more interested in grabbing an audience’s attention than in covering issues.  The worst part is that we should have seen it coming.

In fact, we could have seen it coming if we had known what to look for. We should have known.

Even now as the frightening reality is finally being recognized, we seem to be grappling only with the symptom of the problem — what Trump says — without recognizing that there’s a greater challenge that will continue regardless of how we address the immediate problem.

We can solve the Trump problem but still be as vulnerable to another authoritarian figure who energizes the disenfranchised, the angry, and the scared to similar effect.

Orwell Called It

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In 1946 George Orwell published Politics and the English Language. That brief essay served as the nonfiction treatment for what two years later would become Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Most educated Americans are familiar with Nineteen Eighty-Four. This popular novel is based in a dystopian future. The nation is in a continuous state of war. The intrusive and authoritarian government keeps people uninformed, and uses political language that is intentionally misleading. So the Ministry of Peace wages war. The Ministry of Truth controls all information, news, propaganda, and art. The Ministry of Plenty rations food. Our term “Orwellian” refers to the use of language to convey the opposite of reality.

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But most educated Americans are not familiar with the essay that served as the novel’s basis. Sadly, Politics and the English Language helps us understand the current state of the American body politic, and it isn’t pretty.

Says Orwell:

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”

“Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties… –  is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The problem arises when politicians use language in a disingenuous way, asserting things they don’t necessarily believe and making arguments that may sound compelling but that logically don’t make sense.

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”

However damaging individual instances of political language, of insincere speech, or of intentionally misleading statements may be, it’s the effect of these that causes harm.

The central idea in Politics and the English Language is this:

  • Political speech has the effect of reducing citizens’ critical reasoning skills….
  • …This creates a self-perpetuating cycle…
  • …where as people become less discerning they become more susceptible to political speech…
  • …which further diminishes their critical reasoning skills…
  • …and so on…
  • …and so on…
  • …until a fully uninformed public creates conditions for authoritarian government to thrive.

A Cause Can Become an Effect, And So On: It’s The Cycle That Matters

Presentation4The key idea, though, is the relationship between cause and effect.

Orwell notes that an effect can become a cause, and a cause can become an effect. It’s the cycle that matters. In the end the result is a citizenry that remains intentionally ignorant of the issues that matter, unaware of what is happening to them, and easily manipulated by politicians.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.”

“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

The predictable result of this cycle is a citizenry that is easily manipulated. It becomes immune to persuasion by evidence and reasoning. And it doesn’t notice the multiple contradictions all around.

Candidate Donald Trump following the Nevada primary, February 24, 2016


Choosing Ignorance:
Identity-Protective Cognition Thesis

Five years ago Orwell’s argument that political language causes a decline in critical thinking was supported by research by professors at Yale, Cornell, Ohio State, and the University of Oregon.  Their study,  Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government, showed that math problems that seem to be about benign topics are easily solved by people with strongly held political views. But when the same math problems are framed in terms of polarized political issues — in this case, gun rights — both progressive-and-conservative-leaning participants have a very hard time getting the math right.

The authors conclude that

“Subjects [use] their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks.”

A 2011 essay in Mother Jones by Chris Mooney on the neuroscience of political reasoning helps us understand why this is so.  The piece begins with seminal research from the early fifties by famous Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger, who concluded:

“A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”

Mooney explains:

“Since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”

“This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president, and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.”

Emotion Trumps Logic

Humans are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines, who also think. We don’t think first; we feel first. What we feel determines what thinking will be possible. This is sometimes known as motivated reasoning.

As described by Chris Mooney in Mother Jones:

“The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it.”

“That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.”

“We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.”

“We have seen this trend for several decades, where for political expediency citizens have been conditioned to not trust any source of news that includes conclusions contrary to those consistent with a political point of view.”

This is likely to be intensified when the news media is seen to be both purveyors of fake news and enemies of the people, two themes President Trump continuously emphasizes. This results in his followers choosing not to believe anything written in such media.

We Apply Fight-or-Flight Reflexes Not Only to Predators, But to Data Itself

Such citizens, who reflexively flee from the facts, are unlikely to be aware of, or even care about, contradictions. Simultaneously holding two contrary positions, the very definition of absurdity, would ordinarily dismiss someone as not to be taken seriously. But in the political world such contradictions seem not to matter.

In such an environment citizens literally are unable to notice absurdities. But the same part of the brain, the Amygdala, that causes the flight response also causes the fight response.  So any intruder is seen to be worthy of a fight.  And violence tends to ensue.

Within a week of Trump calling for a ban of all Muslims entering the country we saw a rash of attacks on mosques and on people perceived to be Muslim or Arab.  We have seen people removed from his rallies while being taunted by Trump from the podium, calling for his supporters to punch the person being removed in the face. In the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August, 2017, which President Trump refused to condemn, we saw dis-inhibition in the workplace. People who previously would have kept their racist or anti-immigrant or anti-Semitic opinions to themselves felt emboldened to act out, treating colleagues and customers with insult, rudeness, exclusion, and even violence.

The New York Times reported last month,

“The hate in the United States came into full view last year as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Va., with lines of men carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti have been cropping up on synagogues and Jewish homes around the country. Jews online are subjected to vicious slurs and threats. Many synagogues and Jewish day schools have been amping up security measures.

The Anti-Defamation League logged a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, compared to the previous year — including bomb threats, assaults, vandalism, and anti-Semitic posters and literature found on college campuses.

Are the Calls to Violence Intentional or Merely Reckless?

Plausible deniability is built into the dehumanizing of groups, making it difficult to draw a clear line between a particular act of speech and a particular act of violence. Some, including the president’s allies, could conclude that President Trump is not making such statements with the intention of people committing violence. Rather, he’s speaking his mind and cannot be held accountable if some crazy person takes matters into his own hands.

Contrast today with 10 years ago. Late in his 2008 run for president Senator John McCain saw the crowd crying for blood, and was admonished by people he respected about the likely effect of his rhetoric. He took those admonitions seriously, and he dialed it down. As a responsible leader does.

The book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilmann and Mark Halperin, describes Senator McCain’s moment of awakening. Senator McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, had used harsh language to de-legitimize Senator Obama. Governor Palin persistently declared that Obama “palled around with terrorists.”

Game Change reports:

“As the election barreled toward its conclusion, something dark and frightening was unleashed, freed in part by the words of the McCains and Palin. At rallies across the country, there were jagged outbursts of rage and accusations of sedition hurled at Obama. In Pennsylvania and New Mexico, McCain audience members were captured on video and audio calling the Democrat a “terrorist.” In Wisconsin, Obama was reviled as a “hooligan” and a “socialist.

With the brutish dynamic apparently on the verge of hurtling out of control, a chagrined McCain attempted to rein it in. In Minnesota, when a man in the crowd said he would be afraid to raise a child in America if Obama were elected, McCain responded, “He is a decent person and not a person you have to be scared of as president.” A few minutes later, he refuted a woman who called Obama “an Arab.”

 

Senator McCain heard from two of his heroes: civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis, and life-long Republican and former Joint Chiefs Chair and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Game Change reports:

McCain’s efforts to tamp down the furies were valorous, though they did nothing to erase his role in triggering the reaction in the first place. The civil rights hero John Lewis, whom McCain admired enormously, compared the Republican nominee and his running mate to George Wallace and said they were “playing with fire.”

Civil Rights Legend, Representative John Lewis (D-GA)

Another prominent African American was watching with alarm. Colin Powell had been friends with McCain for twenty-five years. The senator had been actively seeking his endorsement (as had Obama) for nearly two years. Powell warned McCain that his greatest reservation was the intolerant tone that seemed to be overtaking the Republican Party. McCain’s selection of Palin bothered Powell because he saw her as polarizing. He was dismayed by Mc-Cain’s deployment of Ayers as an issue, perceived it as pandering to the right.

And then there were the hate-soaked rallies, which he considered anti-American. This isn’t what we’re supposed to be, he thought.

Powell had leaned toward staying neutral, but these outbursts were all too much—and McCain had moved only belatedly to stop them. Obama, by contrast, had displayed terrific judgment during the financial crisis, Powell thought. And his campaign had been run with military precision; the show of overwhelming force struck the general as a political realization of the Powell Doctrine. On October 19, he endorsed Obama on Meet the Press.

Colin Powell endorses Senator Barack Obama on Meet The Press

The general’s repudiation was a stinging blow for McCain. Beyond their longtime friendship, Powell represented the same brand of Republicanism as McCain’s. Tough on defense. Fiscally prudent. Pragmatic and nondoctrinaire. McCain had to wonder what had become of him if his current incarnation was repelling someone like Powell. He was startled by the crazies at his rallies. Who were they? Why were they there? And what did they see in him? In the final two weeks of the race, McCain began to try to salvage something of his reputation.

He put away the harshest of the personal invective against Obama and went back to talking about the economy, rash spending, and Iraq.”

Leaders Choose Responsibility

Senator McCain saw the unintended consequences of his fiery rhetoric and stopped. As a responsible leader does. Leaders choose responsibility, even if there is not a direct line between what they say and the violence or threatened violence that ensues.

There are two possible conclusions about President Trump’s incitement of violence. Either it is intentional or it is reckless. Either he wants the violence, or he doesn’t care about the violence. Neither absolves him of responsibility. Indeed, it may be even more frightening if the violence is not his intention, but that he is indifferent about it.

The poet TS Eliot gave us a way to understand this.

TS Eliot

He said,

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

But whether intentional or merely the result of indifference, the victims of violence experience it as real. And an effective leader would stop.

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Please note: Helio Fred Garcia is executive director of Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership and is on the adjunct faculties of both New York University and Columbia University where he teaches, among other things, ethics. But the views expressed here are solely his own and not necessarily reflective of any other entity.

 

How Brian Williams’s Mind Played Tricks on Him

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
9 Feb 2015 | 12:50PM

Brian Williams is under fire (figuratively) this week for falsely claiming he was under fire (literally) in Iraq in 2003.

The NBC Nightly News anchor apologized for the error two days ago, which only spawned further critiques, detailed timelines, and very high-profile calls for his head (figuratively again).

The BriWi Affair has also raised questions about how America’s most-watched news anchor could have so casually discarded his credibility. “Why did Brian Williams lie?” blared Politico this morning.

I’m pretty sure that Williams didn’t lie. His mind just played tricks on him.

Williams has likely succumbed, in the 12 years since the Iraq incident, to his labile (or changeable) memory. In a way, our minds play a trick on us each time we recall a memory. We slightly, unknowingly edit the facts to make them more relevant to our lives, and over Williams’s 12 years, that’s a lot of editing.

Listen to this fascinating explanation from Johns Hopkins neuroscientist David Linden:


It’s tough to tell whether any one person has been lied to by his own memory, or whether he’s really been lying to us. In any case, while the scientific discovery of labile memory is pretty new, humans have long known that our memories are unreliable: We talk about memories that are “fuzzy” or “lost” or, most apt for Williams’s case, shrouded in the “fog of war.”

So, whether he intentionally lied or not, Brian Williams is most definitely on the hook for one big failure.

Although he did report on the incident accurately in 2003 — “On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” — he failed to review that history in order to compensate for his labile memory. For a journalist, that failure of documentation is particularly grave.

Instead, Williams told the story from “memory” each time, but each time the “memory” had changed.

It’s a lesson to all of us, for our most important memories, to arm ourselves (um, still figuratively) with what we need — photos or documents or journals — to keep our minds from playing tricks on us.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

Leadership Lessons from an Accidental Admiral

Book Review and Commentary

Helio Fred Garcia Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
28 Dec 2014

James G. Stavridis tried to leave the Navy in 1981, after his five-year commitment was up, to attend law school.  But he got a call from his Annapolis mentor, then Lieutenant Commander Mike Mullen (later to become Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).  Mullen said, “You want law school. OK. Let me try and get the Navy to send you to a law school.”  The next day he called and offered to have the Navy send Stavridis to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  Stavridis pointed out that Fletcher is not a law school, but school of international relations.

Mullen’s reply: “It has ‘law’ in the name. And it is hard to get orders to it. So you better take it now.”  Stavridis did.  He received a PhD in international relations and was named the outstanding student in his class, setting in motion a career that propelled him to be one of only two 1976 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy to receive four stars.  (The other, Marine General John Allen, served as head of NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan.)

The nation owes a debt to  Adms. Mullen and Stavridis, both for their service and for the decision-making thirty-three years ago that kept Stavridis in the Navy.

navyadm4wtstar

In 2009 Adm. Stavridis was finishing a three-year tour as the four-star head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) when he was appointed by President Obama to become simultaneously Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (a position known as SACEUR) and also commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). He was the first Navy officer to so serve.  In those two roles he was simultaneously in charge of both all NATO operations around the globe (including the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF)) and all U.S. operations on the continent of Europe.  In those capacities he presided over the 2011 campaign in Libya that ultimately removed Muammar Gaddafi from power.

Adm. Stavridis, who retired from the Navy in 2013 to become the Dean of his Alma Mater, the Fletcher School, has written a memoir of his time in uniform, The Accidental Admiral: A Sailor Takes Command at NATO. (Naval Institute Press, 2014)

Accidental Admiral Book Cover

Worth Reading

The Accidental Admiral is my pick for the best leadership and leadership communication book of 2014.

It is worth reading, not just because it is elegantly written and shows in clear language the challenge of leading such complex organizations.  And not just as a good window into both diplomacy and military strategy over the last five years.  But also for three other reasons:

  1. Because Adm. Stavridis is an inspired and inspiring leader, and The Accidental Admiral is also a handbook on effective leadership, with application well beyond the military.
  2. Because Adm. Stavridis is a proponent of effective strategic communication, again with application well beyond the military.
  3. Because Adm. Stavridis is one of the big thinkers about national security, who will be shaping the views of the next generation of national security leaders.  His views on smart power and open-source security (see below) are particularly worth noting.

Adm. Stavridis lays out the theme of his book early:

“The big lesson that I learned along the way, and which is the underpinning of this book, is in one sense very basic: the world is a diverse and complex place, and single-point ‘silver bullet’ solutions for its problems will almost always fail. Unilateral action is usually a disappointment; alliances, partnerships, and friendships are everything. We must apply international, inter-agency, and public-private connections in creating security in the twenty-first century.”

In many ways Adm. Stavridis echos the philosophy of his mentor, retired Joint Chiefs Chair Mike Mullen.  In his 2009 article in Joint Force Quarterly,  Adm. Mullen decried both the foreign policy and the strategic communication failures of the prior decade.  He chided the nation’s leaders for the arrogance; for assuming that our good intentions by themselves would have us prevail.

“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate…. I also hope we learn to be more humble, to listen more. Because what we are after in the end—or should be after—are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us. What we need more than anything is credibility. And we can’t get that in a talking point.”

Decision Criteria: When to Use Force?

One of the challenges Adm. Stavridis faced as SACEUR was achieving agreement and commitment for NATO operations, both in Afghanistan and in Europe, from Nato’s 28 member nations.  His investment in relationships and diplomacy came to fruition during the campaign to protect Libyan civilians between March and November, 2011.  That campaign led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed by his own people.  In addition to recounting the run-up to and the implementation of that campaign, Adm. Stavridis offers lessons learned from the Libya campaign that can help inform decisions on the use of force in other conflicts, such as in Syria or against ISIL.

what-is-the-levant-why-obama-says-isil-instead-of-isis-islamic-state

“I do think we can draw some quick lessons from Libya that might inform the decision to engage elsewhere…

  1. There must be a pressing need in a humanitarian sense. This is the somewhat controversial legal doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, as it is sometimes called. When large numbers of innocent civilians are being killed or threatened by disaster (man-made or natural), intervention must be considered.
  2. Allies and coalitions are crucial. The age of unilateral action is rapidly passing. Despite all frustrations, working with a coalition is vastly better than going it alone.
  3. Regional support is vital. The presence of Arab coalition partners in Libya was key.
  4. You must understand the language, culture, history, and hierarchy of any nation or region into which an intervention is considered.
  5. Bring lots of capability: intelligence, surveillance, targeting, ordnance, ships, aircraft, and – if necessary (and hope that they are not necessary) – troops on the ground.
  6. Try to minimize casualties. Interventions in today’s world are about relieving human suffering, not increasing it. That means working with humanitarian organizations, energizing public-private connections, using only precision-guided munitions, and paying attention to refugees at sea and on the ground.
  7. It will be expensive. More than you expect. Much more.
  8. Bring lawyers, strategic communicators, and public affairs experts, and engage the media early, often, and continuously.
  9. Do it under the auspices of the UN if at all possible. There may be times when it is not possible, but it is vastly better to intervene under legal norms provided by the UN.
  10. Probably most important, good luck. You will need it. In Libya, we had more than our normal share. It won’t always be so.”

Good advice.  And note that President Obama seemed to follow many of these principles in formulating a response to ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Lessons for Leaders

But the real value of The Accidental Admiral for civilian readers comes from Adm. Stavridis’ leadership principles.  He summarizes his leadership approach:

“Any leader worth his or her salt understands that leaders must work hard to get to know the people on the team as individuals and demonstrate sincere concern for their families. In addition, they must master the skills and technology of any job; encourage teamwork and demand determination and dedication to task and mission; build innovation as a core competency; and insist on civility. In essence, leaders do best when they approach their position with an attitude of ‘leader as servant,’ always treating their teams with dignity, honor, and respect. No mystery there – except, perhaps, why so few leaders actually put those tenets to use…

People will almost always become what you expect and tell them to be: if you are suspicious and certain that they are going to malinger and procrastinate and do anything they can to get out of work, they usually will; if you tell them that they are going to get things done in record time and give them the resources and goals to do it, they usually will… But the key is always ‘leader as servant.’”

Adm. James G. Stavridis

Adm. James G. Stavridis

Adm. Stavridis outlines what he calls “tricks of the trade: important ways in which a good leader can put broad philosophical ideas into operation, make sure the goals of everyone in the organization are aligned, and maintain grace under pressure.”  They include:

  • “Speak and write with simplicity and precision, and don’t accept imprecision from those around you. Casualness in speech and writing can lead to huge disconnects. This is particularly true with e-mail, which – when you hit Send – becomes etched in stone…
  • Prepare thoroughly for key events. Make sure you understand which events truly matter.   Don’t let the chaff floating around in the wind distract you from what is really important to your job…Leaders need to look ahead several months or even a year or two at a time; pick out the events that really matter; and spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources ensuring that they are fully prepared.
  •  Be your own spokesperson. When things go wrong, it is much easier to find reasons why you should say nothing than to step up to your responsibilities…. But that gives the impression that the senior leadership is uncaring or unaware…After a sexual assault took place recently in the Australian Army, the Army’s commander, General David Morrison, posted a hard-hitting video and made repeated personal appearances condemning such attacks in the strongest terms and telling the offenders in direct terms: ‘Get out of our Army.’  Similar assaults have plagued the U.S. military, but many senior commanders have held back, fearing that they will ‘prejudice potential juries’ and ‘exert command influence.’ That is the wrong approach in my view – being your own spokesperson means stepping up and calling it like you see it in public.  The Aussies have it right.
  • Carve out time to think. Write down your thoughts. Share them with others whose opinions you respect.
  • Don’t lunge at the ball. Too many decisions are made in haste, under pressure, based on emotional reaction, or with incomplete facts. Take the time to gather the information you need. Don’t be driven by anyone else’s timeline unless absolutely required (i.e., by law).
  • Details matter, but think big thoughts. Balance the time spent on absorbing and understanding details and that spent sitting back from the thicket of the day to day and trying to think through new ideas, concepts, and necessities for your family, your organization, and the nation.
  • Look at the new law or regulation for yourself. Don’t rely on summaries or a staff member’s or lawyer’s opinion as to what the law says. Get it and read it yourself.
  • Organize yourself.  Don’t turn over personal organization to assistants, no matter how good they are. Much of the value of getting organized… is that it forces you to think holistically about events. The essential material thus gets into your head.
  • Carve out time to read. Take a balanced approach: fiction, nonfiction, professional journals, and so on.
  • Make mentorship a priority. Listen, learn, educate, and lead… Walk around and listen to your team. And show up early for meetings.”

Leadership. Churchill

Taking Strategic Communication Seriously

A second reason to read The Accidental Admiral is Adm. Stavridis’ view on strategic communication, which he sees as the glue that holds together all other strategic initiatives.   His recommendations are completely consistent with best practices and with the approach I advocate in my book The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively (FT Press, 2012).  He knows that you can’t move audiences unless you meet them where they are.  In particular, he understands the power of human connection; of taking audiences seriously and engaging them effectively, not as an afterthought but as an essential element of leadership.  As I often say, communication is the continuation of policy, by yet other means.

His philosophy of strategic communication is summarized as follows:

“Effective communication is the key skill a senior leader needs in today’s world… Winston Churchill is said to have observed that the principal difference between management and leadership is communication. Effective communication requires leaders of an organization to take an early and persistent role in deciding how ideas and decisions are shaped and delivered.

Simply stated, the objective of strategic communication is to provide audiences with truthful and timely information that will influence them to support the objectives of the communicator. In addition to truthfulness and timeliness, the information must be delivered to the target audience in a precise way. This generalized approach can be applied to essentially any organization. It may sound easy, but in practice it is as hard as hell. The U.S. Department of Defense and NATO are damn good at launching Tomahawk missiles but can’t launch an idea to save their lives, figuratively (and occasionally literally) speaking.”

Save their lives

He notes that strategic communication is vastly more art than science, but also offers the following insights.

“Here are some things that I have seen work, although none of them is foolproof.

  • Remember that the postman never rings twice. You get only one chance to make a first impression on any story. Pick your spot and start talking carefully, thinking about the setting and the context, getting expert advice, and get out in front – intelligently.
  • You can’t un-ring a bell. Something once said can never be pulled back, especially in the media echo chamber, which demands constant content to fill the 24/7 news cycle. Ill-advised short-, punchy, cute phrases can kill you. Before you speak, make sure you know exactly what you want to say. And remember, there are times when silence is golden.
  • Tell the truth. The most important principle is the simplest: Always provide the truth to your audience. Nothing will more quickly doom strategic communication to failure than a falsehood. A strategic communication team can have a superb message, excellent messengers, and a carefully crafted plan – yet a single lie can bring the entire effort crashing down… Tell the truth and emphasize that you do tell the truth.  Over the long run, it is unquestionably the best approach.
  • Have a good message. The most brilliant strategic communication in the world will not sell a bad message… Again, this seems self-evident, but there are many in the world of strategic communication who believe that a bad message can be sold effectively. It cannot. The strategic message must resonate with the audience because it shares appropriate human values such as liberty, justice, honest, economic improvement, security, and fair treatment.
  • Understand the audience. Can there be two more different countries in the world than enormous Portuguese-speaking Brazil and tiny English-speaking St. Kitts? Or Spanish-speaking, economically strong Chile and poverty-stricken French-Creole-speaking Haiti? The audience is different in each country or territory and each group of people, during each particular season. Therefore, the messages must be evaluated and tailored with the diverse qualities of the receiver in mind.
  • Pull the trigger promptly… Do not let the ‘perfect’ become the enemy of the ‘very good.’ Develop a reasonably good plan fast and execute it right away. Otherwise you are likely to end up back on your heels in the world of the perpetual news cycle. Leaders tend to want to wait until they have all the facts before acting, but they often won’t have the time. Especially in this modern electronic media-driven world you will literally and figuratively be buried before all the facts come in.
  • Think at the strategic level… A strategic communicator must stay at the strategic level and not dip down into the tactical level represented by public affairs…. Indeed, strategic communication consists of a wide variety of tools and processes within a command… Each has a role to play in effective strategic communication at the tactical or operational level, but none of them is a substitute for a strategic plan operating at the level of the entire theater across time, space, language, and culture. At the strategic level, the intellectual firepower of the command must be brought most distinctly to bear.
  • Measure results. Many strategic communication plans flounder because the implementers, thrilled with having developed and ‘sold’ the plan, are completely consumed with its execution and fail to take the most important single step: measuring its results.  The absolute key to effective communication is rolling out a plan, organizing it widely, executing it energetically, and then measuring its results. ‘Organizing it widely’ means making sure that all of the key stakeholders are in on the formulation of the plan – essentially, ‘in on the takeoff, in on the landing.’ Too often strategic communication plans are cooked up by brilliant public affairs professionals, vetted swiftly with the top leadership, and then promulgated. Without wide support on the buildup, though, it is unlikely there will be much ground-level support when the plan comes out.
  • Adjust fire. No strategic communication plan is perfect at conception. All must be adjusted as time goes by. You may go to war armed with the ideas you have, but you will not win unless you are willing and able to modify those ideas along the way – discarding those that fail and welding on new approaches as needed.   One way to approach measurement is to adopt short-, medium-, and long-term views. The short term is immediate reactions – say, twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Medium-term measurement is done after thirty to forty-five days. Long-term measurement takes place at the one-year point. After each of these measurement windows, the plan should be evaluated and recast according to what is working and what is not.
  • Add spice. Strategic communication should not be boring.
  • Maintain steady pressure. Very seldom do strategic communication plans succeed overnight…. All good strategic communication plans take time, sometimes generations, to fulfill.
  • Bursts of energy. The analog of steady pressure, of course, is bursts of energy. In any strategic communication plan there will be moments when it is opportune to hit with bursts of energy…. A creative strategic planner is constantly looking for the right moment to come in high and hard with an energy burst.
  • Accepting defeat and moving on. Some strategic communication battles are un-winnable. Sometimes the message is not going to have any effect no matter how effective the plan.
  • Knowing when you win. Sometimes the hardest thing for any strategic planner is not accepting defeat but rather recognizing victory. As a general rule, ‘winning’ in the world of strategic communication is never clean and seldom obvious.”

These principles make sense, but like Adm. Stavridis I am often shocked by how many individuals and organizations that use the phrase “strategic communication” seem to be neither strategic nor focused on effective communication.  Rather, they tend to blend the strategic and the tactical, or assume that only one set of tools (media, social media, lobbying) matters, rather than seeing the big picture and aligning all the forms of influence.  The discipline of thinking first at the strategic level, what I call being habitually strategic, is difficult, but the key to effective communication.  Flawless execution at the operational and tactical levels also matters.  But if the strategic part isn’t right, flawless execution can have counter-productive consequences.

Adm. Stavridis offers four recommendations worth considering for strategic communication in the twenty-first century.

“First, strategic communication is a team sport. It must be part of a joint inter-agency, and commercial system. It does no good whatsoever to have a perfect strategic communication plan that is ultimately contradicted by other U.S. government agencies, as – unfortunately – is often the case.

Second, at least for strategic communication that goes beyond the shores of the United States, … the international community must be considered and then consulted often.

Third, as we develop and execute our strategic communication plans, we should ask the simple question: who are the thinkers, the idea makers?… Recognize that the ‘strategic communication director’ is more like the conductor of a band than an expert on any given instrument. Moreover, give the director of strategic communication unfettered access to the commander.

Fourth, and finally, anyone who is trying to move a message must work with all the participants to arrive at a shared understanding of what constitutes strategic communication in an international sense.

These insights by themselves would make paying attention to Adm. Stavridis a good investment of time and energy.  And it is gratifying to see this generation of military leaders — Adm. Stavridis, Adm. Mullen, Gen. Allen, understand the need to be effective both in leading complex coalitions and in aligning all actions with effective communication.

But there’s a final reason to follow Adm. Stavridis: He is helping the nation and its leaders re-think the use of power.

Rethinking Power

In many ways he is following in the footsteps of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government professor Joseph Nye, whose 2002 book, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone described the distinction between hard power — military might and economic clout — and soft power — diplomacy, academic and cultural exchange, and other forms of attraction.   The paradox, according to Nye, is that the more the US would use hard power the more it would squander its reservoir of soft power.  But the converse didn’t apply: the US could use its soft power effectively without diminishing its hard power reserves.  And in his 2011 book, The Future of Power, Nye describes how power is now diffusing and how many threats to national security now come from non-state players.

The-Future-of-Power-Nye-Joseph-S-JR-9781586488918

Open-Source Security

While still in uniform Adm. Stavridis took this approach and introduced the notion of Open-Source Security.  In a TED Talk while still serving as SACEUR/EUCOM, he outlined the concepts of Open Source Security as follows:

“Instead of building walls to create security, we need to build bridges.  Open-source security is about connecting the international, the inter-agency, the private-public, and lashing it together with strategic communication, largely in social networks.  Why do we need to do that? Because our global commons is under attack in a variety of ways, and none of the sources of threat to the global commons will be solved by building walls.”

Among the threats to the global commons — the infrastructure we all share — he includes piracy on the seas, cyber crime, and trafficking — the movement of narcotics, weapons, and humans.  These are done primarily by non-state players, but they create instability and flash-points that can lead to shooting wars.  But there is no single state player solution to these global threats.

Says Adm. Stavridis,

“So here we are, twenty-first century. We know our twentieth century tools will not work. We will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun.”

Silouhette of sniper.Stavridis

While some military might may be necessary, and while it must always be available to policymakers, the challenges are much more complicated.  He gives the example of the Afghan security forces.  One of the key challenges they face is that the Taliban restricted education.  So most men and women who serve in the Afghan forces join without the ability to read or write in their own language.  So through a combination of security services, many government agencies of many nations, and private contractors, the Afghan security forces learn to read.  This creates lasting benefits and stability for Afghanistan, and helps fulfill the national security interests of the United States, NATO, and our coalition allies.  But it requires resources of the fifty nations in the mission, plus public-private collaboration.

 

Hard-soft power reastat

He argues,

“Life is not an on-and-off switch. You do not need to have a military that is either in hard combat or is in the barracks. I would argue life is a rheostat. You have to dial it in. And as I think about how we create security in the twenty-first century, there will be times when we will apply hard power in true war and crisis. But there will be many instances… where our militaries can be part of creating twenty-first century security: international, inter-agency, private-public, connected with competent communication.”

 

His TED Talk is worth watching to the end.  It’s just under 17 minutes long.

His conclusion:

“No one of us is as smart as all of us thinking together. No one person, no one alliance, no one of us… My thesis for you is that by combining international, inter-agency, private-public, and strategic communication together in this twenty-first century, we can create the sum of all security.”

I believe that open-source security will be a key organizing principle of much security discussion in the years ahead.  Reading The Accidental Admiral to see the practice in action, and watching the Ted Talk to see the current conceptual framework, will give you a pretty good head start.

Your thoughts welcomed…

Fred

 

 

Meet the Brit Who Could Save Our Sunday Shows

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
15 Aug 2014 | 10:04AM

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Britain’s central bank sought a new leader to face new challenges. But Governor Mervyn King’s successor as master of the Pound wouldn’t be a Brit: The UK chose a Canadian, Mark Carney, to lead the Bank of England. Analysts crowed that the “huge surprise” was a “very smart move”. And that unorthodox appointment gets me thinking about another major personnel change, closer to home.

A transatlantic infusion is just what America needs to revive an important political institution of its own: Meet the Press.

NBC’s public affairs flagship has hit rough seas. In the Sunday ratings, ABC’s This Week and CBS’s Face the Nation have sunk the once-dominant Meet the Press. Outgoing moderator David Gregory inspires a phrase I learned in Tennessee for someone who seems fine enough but just hasn’t quite cut it: Bless his heart. (Or his brain, which NBC was colorfully rumored to have psychoanalyzed back in April — a measure the network denies taking.)

As the anti-Gregory drumbeat turned deafening, NBC confirmed late yesterday that the host would be replaced by NBC News political director Chuck Todd — an exciting enough choice for a political nerd like me.

But while Meet the Press chatter rages in America, a placid retirement begins across the pond.

On June 18, 2014, ended the reign of British television’s aggressive, abrasive, brilliant, bearded (sometimes), sneering grand inquisitor, Jeremy Paxman.

For my uninitiated fellow Americans: “Paxo” (the British word for Paxman) joined The Beebs (the British word for the BBC) in 1972 and became presenter (the British word for host) of Newsnight (the British word for the BBC’s nightly newscast) in 1989. His famously forthright interviews have changed the trajectory of public debates, policy plans, and even entire political careers — a journalistic force long, perhaps always, missing from stateside TV.

June 27, 2012: Paxman interviews Chloe Smith, a Conservative MP and Treasury Minister, about the surprise cancellation of a planned rise in fuel duty (gas tax). Smith, at age 30 with just three years of Parliament service, would be justified to complain that she was thrown to Newsnight‘s shark too early. She was out of her Treasury post within months.
May 13, 1997: Paxman, in his most notorious interview, repeats the same question 12 times to senior government minister Michael Howard. May 16, 2002: Paxman confronts Prime Minister Tony Blair with a series of sensitive issues from Blair’s first five years in office. September 25, 2008: Paxman speaks with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a sample of the rare intensity he would bring to Washington.

And now, retired from the BBC, Paxman is available.

Paxman’s openly adversarial style isn’t just foreign to the United States; its closest American cousins are actually derided as gotcha journalism. But if a politician truly believes that farmers shouldn’t serve in the Senate or that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”, then he or she should certainly be gotten.

Instead of doing the getting, many of our television reporters give us unmoderated shouting matches and gently lobbed softballs and — I could go further but, in the words of America’s newscasters, we’re gonna have to leave it there.

We need less access journalism, and more gotcha journalism.

Piers Morgan’s ill-fated CNN run gave us a taste of British grilling (Morgan, for his part, is not a Paxman fan.) and legendary Meet the Press host Tim Russert offered an American flavor at times. But on Newsnight, Paxo did it consistently for a quarter-century.

With the rumors of David getting Chucked finally realized, we’re left to dream sweetly of the Meet the Press that could’ve been. Paxman’s next move is unclear. He’s displayed Hillary-esque coyness when pressed about joining BBC rival Channel 4. But NBC News President Deborah Turness, as a veteran herself of Britain’s ITV, would be the right leader to lure Paxman, 64, to Washington.

Recent polls show that Americans disapprove, more firmly than in decades, of not just Congress as a whole but also their own local representatives. Far from alienating viewers, Paxman’s unflagging skepticism might have captured the zeitgeist and catapulted Meet the Press back to its top Sunday spot.

One transatlantic transplant is already the head of Britain’s 300-year-old central bank. Sundays could’ve been even better with Jeremy Paxman as the face of America’s longest-running TV program.

Share your thoughts in the comments here, or tweet them to @Tiouririne. (Paxman himself, by the way, hates Twitter.)

 

To Change Gun Laws, Control the Debate

On the Wednesday after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, President Barack Obama called for changes in gun laws to prevent similar tragedies in the future. He said:

“We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since more Americans have died of gun violence. We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society. And if there is only one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events we have a deep obligation – all of us – to try. Over these past five days a discussion has re-emerged as to what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day.”

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Now Available: The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively

Now in Circulation

 

Friends,

I am pleased to announce that The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively is now in circulation!

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Worth Reading, February 13, 2012: Other People’s Reflections on China

This is my first post since the Logos Institute Blog began its weekly “what we’re reading” series.

I haven’t been reading as much lately as I usually do, because I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my next book, about which you’ll hear much more in the coming months.

But when I’ve read it has mostly been building upon my reflections on China by paying attention to what others with far more experience there are saying.

An excellent starting point for anyone interested in understanding China from the perspective of the United States is Henry Kissinger’s On China.  This first-hand account from the nation’s architect of the 1972 Opening to China is both a fascinating read and a good guidebook to the seminal moments in China’s and the United States’ increasingly important relationship.

But to really understand how China got from 1972 to the present, from a Chinese perspective, the indispensable read is Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel.  The author is Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard.  He took a break from teaching to spend time in the CIA in the 1990s as the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia. His voluminous and deeply-researched book includes private and Party papers, interviews with family members and participants at major events, and a deep understanding of the day-to-day workings of the key players.

It’s particularly interesting (and both fun and scary) to read Deng’s accounts of his meetings with Henry Kissinger side-by-side with Kissinger’s.  The book also places those meetings into a Chinese context and shows how the U.S. mis-calculated significantly again and again in its relationships with China — from the risk of Chinese intervention in the Korean war to China’s relationship with Vietnam.  China invaded Vietnam soon after we left, worried about Vietnam’s likely invasion of Cambodia and fearing Soviet encirclement.  So much for our fear of global communist domination.

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The Most Trusted Name in News is a Fake

Several weeks ago I posted on the life and passing of Walter Cronkite and noted that in the early 70s Mr. Cronkite was identified as the most trusted person in America.  I wondered aloud whether we could find any contemporary figure so trusted, much less among members of the news media.

That was intended as a rhetorical question.  But in the wake of Mr. Cronkite’s passing, Time magazine conducted a survey to see who fills Mr. Cronkite’s role today: the most trusted network broadcaster.

And the winner is…..


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