Sunday, May 27, 2012

Momorial Day

This weekend the United States celebrates Memorial Day.  Sadly, for many Americans the holiday mostly marks the beginning of summer rather than a time to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country.

All across America people will flock to beaches and backyards.  They will barbeque, picnic and play baseball.  They will boat, fish, swim and bike.  Some will watch parades in small town America, sporting events on television, while others will shop at boutiques and huge malls.  Hopefully, some Americans will visit the graves of those who died for the freedoms they enjoy.   

Since the country's founding there have been more than one million U.S. war casualties.  The Civil War was this nation's bloodiest, as the death toll exceeded 623,000.  More than 116,000 Americans died in World War 1, 405,000 Americans died in World War 2, 36,516 thousand died in the Korean War, and 58,209 thousand perished in the Vietnam War. 

Over the past decade more than 2.2 million American service members have seen active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In that time more than 6,300 servicemen have died in those wars, and the conflict in Afghanistan continues.   But the tragedy of war extends well beyond death.  Tens of thousands of service men and women have suffered life-altering injuries, depression and other serious problems, and many struggle to reclaim a normal life. 

Very few Americans are directly impacted by today's military conflicts.  One reason is that an all-volunteer military is fighting America's wars.  The Afghanistan War, which has grown increasingly unpopular among Americans, has continued for more than a decade and the outcome remains uncertain.  News coverage of the Afghan War, especially by cable news channels and network newscasts, is sparse.  America, still struggling to regain its economic footing, is suffering from a collective war fatigue.  Yet heroic and courageous soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen fight on every day to preserve the country's freedoms.  

Memorial Day is a day for reconciliation, a day to come together.  From sea to shining sea the American flag will be raised to the top of the staff and then lowered to the half-staff position in memory of those who have died.  Then at noon the flag will be raised to full-staff to symbolize that those who are living will rise up to continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Let us all take a moment during our holiday weekend to pause and say thank you to the millions who have sacrificed their lives for America, and also to the brave soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who continue to defend this country.   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Rich: Job Creators?

TED describes itself as a "nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading."  The acronym stands for "Technology, Entertainment, Design," and it launched in 1984.  They now note on their website that their scope has become even broader.  

But when venture capitalist Nick Hanauer spoke at TED recently about job creation and taxes his speech was not posted on the TED website.   Hanauer complained.  Subsequently, TED head Chris Anderson posted the remarks on YouTube and accused Hanauer of making up a controversy.   

Anderson Blogged, "The talk tapped into a really important and timely issue. But it framed the issue in a way that was explicitly partisan. And it included a number of arguments that were unconvincing, even to those of us who supported his overall stance. The audience at TED who heard it live (and who are often accused of being overly enthusiastic about left-leaning ideas) gave it, on average, mediocre ratings."  

Anderson continued,"We discussed internally and ultimately told the speaker we did not plan to post. He did not react well. He had hired a PR firm to promote the talk to MoveOn and others, and the PR firm warned us that unless we posted he would go to the press and accuse us of censoring him. We again declined and this time I wrote him and tried gently to explain in detail why I thought his talk was flawed"

Here is Hanauer's speech, the link is taken from YouTube.  In essence, Hanauer claims that the idea that the rich are job creators is "upside down."  He says consumers are jobs creators because they buy products and services.  Hanauer, who has made a fortune backing such firms as Amazon, notes that, "I own three cars, not three thousand." He says it is not right to tax the rich at 15%, the capital gains rate, and the middle class at 30%.  He points out that the middle and poorer classes make up most of the consumers.  His remarks appeared to receive enthusiastic applause.  Listen to his talk and judge for yourself.

TED describes its mission on its home page: "We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each is an ever-evolving work in progress."   

A work in progress, indeed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Romney vs. Obama

"I'm for Mitt Romney," former President George W. Bush said to an ABC News reporter as the elevator doors closed.  It was the first time he had publicly said he endorsed the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.  

But don't look for the former president to campaign for Romney this year.  Why?  Two words: Bush recession.  Americans don't need to be reminded that when Bush entered office the U.S. government was operating at a surplus.  However, two costly wars, a series of unfunded tax cuts, and an unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit program turned a surplus into a burgeoning deficit.  Meanwhile, lax oversight of the mortgage and financial sectors resulted in increased personal debt.  And then the bubble burst in 2007.  This is not a record the Romney campaign wants to be associated with.

Instead, Romney wants to make November's election a referendum on President Barack Obama.  The U.S. economy has struggled to recover from the Great Recession, which was unprecedented in its severity.  Since the president was elected the economy has only added back about half of the jobs that were lost.  The problem has been compounded by the loss of nearly a half million government jobs at all levels due to budget cuts.     

The state of the U.S. economy will likely be the most important factor in the outcome of the presidential election.  And the American economy will continue to be affected by growing economic problems in Europe, and a slowdown in the growth of China's economy.  Uncertainty at home and abroad, and the unprecedented nature of the Great Recession have severely hampered recovery.

This has provided a huge opening for Romney, who has "Etch A Sketched" the Bush recession into the Obama failure.  “The people of Iowa and America have watched President Obama for nearly four years, much of that time with Congress controlled by his own party," Romney said to a couple hundred supporters in Iowa Tuesday.  "And rather than put out the spending fire, he has fed the fire. He has spent more and borrowed more.”  He concluded, “This is not just bad economics, this is morally wrong and we must stop it.” 

It remains unclear exactly what Romney will do to significantly reduce unemployment and the deficit.  Some of the proposals he has mentioned or embraced will in fact only add to the long-term deficit--for instance, more tax cuts.  He also wants less government regulation.  Sounds a lot like George W. Bush.

But Romney believes he does not have to be specific, he only has to attack his opponent--a tactic that worked time and again during the brutal Republican primary.  He managed to overcome his many flip-flops (i.e. abortion), his many distortions, his many flubs ("I like being able to fire people"), his inability to personally connect with voters, and his failure to win over many conservatives ("I'm severely conservative!").   The Obama campaign has begun to forcefully respond, first with an attack ad that painted Romney as "job destroyer" at Bain Capital.   They will also remind voters that Romney equals Bush. 

For the next six months Americans will experience the most expensive, thanks to Citizens United, and most negative presidential campaign ever waged in this country.  No doubt, many will think, to paraphrase Romney, this is not just bad politics, this is morally wrong.  But nothing will stop it. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Keynote Speech for Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society

Thank you members of Lambda Pi Eta for bestowing upon me this honor; I am delighted to be here tonight among such outstanding students.  I am especially proud to be teaching at Hofstra, one of the top communications programs in the country.  

While this event is cause for celebration, I wish to reflect briefly on the memory of my dear friend and former colleague, the great Mike Wallace, who died earlier this month.  He was 93 years old.  Earlier today hundreds of people gathered in Rose Hall at the Lincoln Center to pay tribute to this legendary journalist. 

Mike’s take-no-prisoners interviewing style and fearless investigative reporting made 60 Minutes the greatest news magazine ever created.  He spent 38 years as a 60 Minutes correspondent, but his career spanned 68 years.  In that time he won 21 Emmys, five DuPont-Columbia Awards and five Peabody Awards. He also won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1996. And in 1991, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.  In 1960 he earned a star on the famous Hollywood Boulevard.

Yet, Mike did not become a journalist until later in his life.  In 1962, his eldest son, Peter, was killed in an accident in Greece.  When Mike went to retrieve his son’s body he vowed to do something meaningful with his life, to make a positive difference.  He decided, at the age of forty-two, to give up a successful career as an entertainment show host and instead embarked on a career in journalism.   He was called.  He became driven by his desire to get to the truth.  And he did so with passion and purpose.

There is a message here for all of you, whether you are in journalism, television, radio or public relations.   Success begins with passion and purpose, no matter what career you may pursue.

I too can personally attest to the importance of passion and purpose.  My interest in journalism began during the Cuban Missile crisis in the early 60’s.  I was a grade school student captivated by the black and white television images of the tense and dramatic standoff between the US and the Soviet Union.  Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads were stationed in Cuba—just 90 miles from Florida.

In 1963, the nation came to a standstill as President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  For several days television news organizations guided Americans, gathered in living rooms around the country, through these difficult and shocking events.  The Civil Rights movement and the Viet Nam war dominated television news throughout the 60’s, as did Apollo’s landing on the moon.  Because of the sheer magnitude of the events, and the role journalists played in reporting them, I felt a calling too.

I was fortunate to get a job as a news copy boy at CBS in 1970—at $200 a week—but I would have paid them for the opportunity.
Since then, my journey has been filled with many twists and turns, but I would not trade it for all the gold in Fort Knox.  I have had many mentors—including Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather.  Yet, in the end, I had to work hard, round the clock, and prove myself everyday.  My reward was getting the story first, but first getting the story right, no matter where in the world I had to travel.

As an assignment editor at Channel 2 news in Chicago, I led our Emmy awarding winning coverage of an elevated train disaster in the early 70’s.  As a Chicago bureau producer for CBS News, I covered tornadoes, floods, blizzards and auto strikes.  As a White House producer, in the CBS News Washington bureau, I travelled overseas with Presidents Carter and Reagan, to economic summits and state visits.  I was the lead network producer for President Reagan’s historic trip to China in 1984—which included stops in Beijing, Xian (home of the amazing terra cotta statues), and Shanghai.  I would make several other visits to China for CBS News—and later one very special trip with my wife to adopt our daughter.

Many people ask me who my favorite president was—I have spent time with Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes.    I would have to say Ronald Reagan—because of his humor and his wit.  While our nightly coverage of his presidency was often very critical—I enjoyed talking with him.  The first time I met him was in Santa Barbara, where he spent much of the summer during his time in office.  He walked over to me at a picnic the White House had for the press.   I introduced myself and explained I was responsible for the huge camera and lens overlooking his ranch that recorded images of him clearing brush.  He said, “Well I told the secret service that one day I will walk out on the porch and do this.”  With that he placed his hands on his heart, faked a stumble or two, as if he was having a heart attack.  He then said, “They didn’t think that was very funny!”  I said, “I don’t think that is very funny either, Mr. President.”  He then laughed and introduced me to Nancy Reagan.

On the other hand, there were many scary moments as a Washington producer.  In 1982 CBS News sent me to Beirut to oversee the CBS News coverage of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.  Upon arriving on the outskirts of the city—just beyond the burned out hulks of Syrian tanks and PLO personnel carriers--we stopped for lunch at a beautiful French restaurant in the Shoof mountains—it was peaceful--serene.  As my driver and I drove into the city we were shelled—bah boom, bah boom—the ground shook, the car bounced violently and my driver raced away from danger.  Some welcome ceremony!  I would spend a month there—watching up close the horrors of war, the din of destruction.  Sniper fire, mortars and wildly inaccurate katyusha rockets kept me on edge every moment of my stay.
Assignments like these earned me a promotion to CBS News Washington Bureau Chief.  It was the network’s most prestigious bureau, frequently providing more than 50% of the CBS Evening News content. 

Two years later, in January 1989, I was promoted to New York as vice president and assistant to the president—CBS News’ number two executive—overseeing worldwide newsgathering and all news programming, including 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, CBS This Morning and The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.    In this role I had to blend my news producing experience with management, personnel and budgets.  We hired Scott Pelley.  When Diane Sawyer decided to leave 60 Minutes and CBS News, I replaced her with Steve Kroft and Meredith Vierra.  Later we added Lesley Stahl to 60 Minutes.  It was an amazing challenge.

Then in 1995 Rupert Murdoch recruited me to become president of Fox News.  There I began to build a news organization.  But one year later Rupert hired Roger Ailes as chairmen of news—a breach of my contract.  I knew Roger from Washington—a successful television executive and a hard-nosed politician.  He asked me to stay on, ”You know the news business,” he said, "I don’t!”  But he then said some things that troubled me.  He wanted to create an “alternative” to CNN and network news.  Then he asked me why I was a “liberal”.  He noted I worked for the “Communist Broadcasting System.” (meaning CBS News).   He later asked the same question to many on my staff.   I am a journalist.  I don’t do alternative journalism.  I resigned.

In 1998, Sony asked me to take a look at Telemundo, a US based Spanish language network that they had just purchased.  Telemundo had no national news organization and their local news operations were not very good.  I came up with a comprehensive news plan, and they asked me to come on board as head of news.  “I don’t speak Spanish,” I protested.  Their reply: “But you do speak news!”

For more than seven years I built a competitive network news organization, a weekend news, a morning news, a newsmagazine, and, my favorite, A Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste.  In English, “Red Hot, with Maria Celeste.”  Ahh, journalism at its best.!  The job was based in Miami—where I was given an apartment—and I commuted home to New York on weekends.  I was able to do at Telemundo what I had set out to do at Fox.  And I was proud to accept Telemundo’s first Emmy award for our 133 hour—non-stop coverage of the September 11 terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center.

For me, all of this was a remarkable journey.  And now the joy has continued for me, here at Hofstra, because of you students.   
Earlier this month, my best bud Roger Ailes warned journalism students at another university, “Change Majors.”  He continued, “If you’re going into journalism if you care, then you’re going into the wrong profession”.  What a bunch of poppycock.  Of course, Ailes is not really a journalist—he’s a businessman driven by political power and profit margins—and he is very successful.  But he doesn’t understand the special calling that aspiring and practicing journalists have—the pursuit of truth.  When journalists are successful it is of immeasurable value to society.  The barriers to entry are low, anyone can be a publisher and the globe is becoming more interconnected.

Therefore, I say this is a most exciting time to be a journalist.  The challenge today is NOT only to learn how to be outstanding reporters and writers, it is to harness the Internet, social media and multimedia tools, along with the traditional broadcast and cable news platforms, to truly engage to audience in a meaningful conversation.  Yes, business models for news are rapidly evolving, but the mission is the same.
This applies not only to journalists, but to broadcast and public relations professionals as well.  Today every company is a media organization.   Communications are internal, external, crisis, strategic, government affairs---and they all should connect.
So as you enter your chosen career field, here are some keys to success:

Performance—give whatever job you have 110%.  Be focused, determined and unrelenting in your role.  Top performers are rewarded.
Be productive—the more quality work you produce the more valued you will be by the organization. 
Be prepared.  Be an expert in your field, continue to be a student, and be well informed.
Be patient—make the most of every opportunity you have.
Be professional—and not petty, not jealous, not unpredictable or unreliable.  Work with integrity and by the rules.
Practice—refine your writing and reporting skills, add value for your audience. 
Be proud—be proud of yourself, of your colleagues and of your profession.
Yes there will be setbacks; you will make mistakes, but turn each one into a learning experience.  It’s all good.  Yes you may be anxious, unsure, even fearful of what lies ahead.  You don’t think I was anxious in Beirut, or Mike Wallace was a bit anxious when he asked the Ayatollah Khomeni if he was a lunatic?  But rather than letting fear paralyze you, let it impel you forward to meet the challenge.   After all, you will be Hofstra graduates, have Pride and Purpose.
I often have said I have never worked a day in my life—because I love what I do.  And Mike Wallace always loved what he did—even though there were plenty of bumps on his journey.   One of his producers, who had travelled through hundreds of airports while on assignment with Mike, said nearly everyone recognized him. And most of them said just two words to Mike—“Thank you.”

Journalism was Mike’s chosen field, it was his life—and what a great life it was.  Journalism is my life—and I love it. My story, Mike’s story, can be your story.  So, as you embark on your careers, remember, it is all up to you.  And have fun!