Griffin Strategies Blog

Punditry, Political Correctness and Public Radio

Allison Griffin - Friday, October 22, 2010
This week, National Public Radio fired one of its longtime pundits, News Analyst Juan Williams, proportedly because he uttered a personal opinion while appearing on another network.  Was it justified?  Or was it just that polarizing political undercurrents in the media finally bubbled to the surface?

When I was in journalism school, my professors certainly hammered us on the need for journalists to play the role of neutral observers and mere reporters of the facts.  Journalists, we were taught, are held to a higher standard. 

The public, by and large, shared that idealistic sentiment of the profession.  Of course, it was back when David Brinkley still graced ABC, Paul Harvey's distinctive quips were eagerly awaited by millions of radio listeners each day, and Walter Cronkite's legacy as "the most trusted man in America" still loomed large over the field of journalism.

There is no question that the landscape has changed since that time.  Dramatically.  With the rise of 24-hour cable news programming, news magazine shows, talk radio, and of course, the internet and blogosphere, the definition of "journalist" has become blurry.

Today, even as many journalists strive to uphold the traditional standards of their profession, their reliable reporting is drowned out by the plethora of "news" shows hosted by stand-up-comedians-turned-sardonic-commentators, former politicians/philanderers-turned-pundits, and paparazzi gossip reporters. Add to that the thousands of bloggers whose opinionated diatribes are being cross-polinated with straight journalism, and the media world is increasingly confusing.

Which brings me back to the firing of Juan Williams.  As a news analyst, Williams -- like other analysts and commentators -- for years has offered his opinions about politics, policy and public discourse.  That is in the job description of pundits. 

So what was the real motivation?  Was it because of what Williams opined -- the very politically-incorrect admission that he sometimes feels nervous on an airplane when he sees a Muslim in full traditional garb?  Or was it because of where he opined -- on the Fox News Channel?

Regardless of the motivation, the decision by the taxpayer-supported NPR to suddenly hold one journalist to some "higher standard" may achieve the opposite effect, instead serving to further polarize the public and add to their growing distrust of the media. 

Prospects for 2010

Allison Griffin - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

As a public relations consultant, I sometimes face an internal struggle between my professional need to scour all types of media coverage and my personal need to shield myself from what can seem like a never-ending stream of bad news.

 

With 2010 rapidly approaching, it has been interesting to read the myriad predictions about business, the economy and public policy (not to mention public health, public education, and public menaces). Though reporters relay glum predictions about prospects for the coming year, I choose not to participate in the pessimism.

 

Nope.  For me, at least, the new year is going to be better.  Here’s why:

1)     
Lessons learned.  After several years of smooth sailing, I – like many people – admittedly got a little too comfortable.  While comfort is nice, it can trick us into growing complacent and taking good times for granted.  If nothing else, I know 2009 has provided an injection of reality and a dose of humility that surely will benefit my long-term health and well being.

2)     
Priorities intact.  Another risk of comfort and complacency is to lose sight of what’s important.  While other sources of “security” may fall short, my real priorities – family, friends and faith – remain intact.

3)     
Ambition restored.  Success can make us soft, while tough times can restore the grit that made us successful in the first place.  I am starting 2010 with a renewed sense of ambition about the prospects that lie ahead.  I’m prepared, focused and energized to make it a great year, for my clients, my business, my family and friends.

 

Pessimism for 2010?  Bah humbug.  Choose not to participate.

Credibility Gap

Allison Griffin - Thursday, August 20, 2009
This week, Brett Favre shocked and amazed the sports world by announcing his un-retirement from football. Again.

Obviously, I’m being facetious. He did shock and amaze the sports world the first time he un-retired. This time, it fanned a series of searing stories focused on his credibility gap.

Favre, best known as the longtime quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, has enjoyed an immensely successful career in professional football, building a reputation both on and off the field as a man of character.
Unfortunately, his retirement-related flip-flops from the past few years put all that at risk.

It should come as no surprise that the media is gleefully covering the fact that Favre has contradicted himself. Reporters always cover contradictions or untruths. And they rarely cover it the way the person in question would have liked.

It offers every one of us a valuable lesson. Not matter what role you play in life, it’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say. And only talk about what you actually know.

Clearly, life’s situations change and none of us can predict the future with any certainty. But we can control how we portray our plans and our decisions.

In Brett Favre’s case, when he unequivocally told reporters in February that his retirement was for good this time, he boxed himself in. He could have said, “At this moment, I do not see myself returning to football” to reduce the future credibility gap should he change his mind. Unfortunately, he left himself open to charges of flip-flopping. Again.

In my PR 101 course, I recommend avoiding words like “Never” or “Always.” Do not fall into the trap of predicting the future or speculating about what lies ahead, a favorite tactic of reporters. Instead, talk about the current situation as you know it. Period. Smart decisions now will help you avoid falling into the credibility gap in the future.