We have reached a point where bad news has become a tool for people in power to distract us from the truly important things. We have seen this constantly in play with President Donald Trump, who seems to be living from the traction of bad news. In this episode, Bill Stierle and Tom dive deep into truth and the value of bad news. They discuss the issue involving the president and NASCAR and what it says about loyalty, truth, getting away with fake news, and marketing and advertising. Why does it seem like the president is aligning himself with the wrong side of history? Why is bad news amplified? How do we keep ourselves sane amidst all of this? Bill and Tom answer these questions and provide great insights that will help us rethink how truth is purchased through bad news.
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The Value Of Bad News In Purchasing Truth
It’s been shocking and surprising to me, but I think it shouldn’t be, that the president continues to align himself on what I’ve called the wrong side of history. He doesn’t seem to care. He thinks he’s getting some advantage from it. It opens up a whole host of things to discuss around this. That’s where we’ll start.
We’re going to feel exasperated. I hear the exasperation in your voice around how both the need for care and integrity isn’t met by this style of leadership exposure. It’s exposure by tweet, by what article can I capture? What did he tweet last? It comes back to the truth and value of bad news. It’s like, “At least I’ve got bad news. I become popular again because I was caught doing this junky thing.” There is a distraction that comes with this type of mindset. It’s how to use contrary to popular beliefs as a play to get exposure. You and I have talked about several different examples about how that has taken place.
There’s a new one every day is the thing. There was this whole thing that happened with Bubba Watson, who’s the single African-American driver of NASCAR. As a result of what happened, NASCAR dropped the Confederate flag as their official symbol. After that, a noose was discovered in Bubba Watson’s garage. He has an assigned garage within the NASCAR circuit and there was a noose hanging in there. There was a big investigation if this was intended to intimidate Bubba Watson and all that. The FBI investigating it found that it was pretty innocent and that there was no racial intent. It was there before the garage was assigned to him. They had evidence of that. Some interesting things happened before the FBI came out and said that.
All the other NASCAR drivers, pit crews and people involved came out rallying behind Bubba Watson saying, “We are NASCAR. We are better than this. We are not going to be racially divided.” They had a march on one of the tracks, which was a show of support saying, “Bubba Watson is one of us. Racial division, segregation and discrimination has no place in NASCAR.” That was a great sign of solidarity. It did good things for the sport and the nation as we’re all seeing this. President Donald Trump tweets that Bubba Watson owes NASCAR an apology because initially that march that shows solidarity was a reaction to the discovery of the noose before it was determined why it was there and was it attacking him?Loyalty is a powerful need for human beings. We do a lot of good things from a place of loyalty. Click To Tweet
Donald Trump says Bubba Watson owes an apology because they shouldn’t have marched in support of him because it wasn’t him being attacked. The FBI investigation said, “The reasons for why everybody marched and express support for him didn’t exist. Therefore, he didn’t deserve that.” That’s the implication, that he didn’t deserve that support so he should apologize. Interestingly enough, Bubba Watson had already acknowledged and thanked everyone for the support. He did not apologize per se but made a statement that acknowledges he agrees with the FBI report.
He’s glad that that noose was not intentionally directed at him to intimidate him or it hasn’t anything to do with him. He acknowledged it and he did thank all the people who still came out and supported that racism should have no place in NASCAR. Why is the president doing this? That’s one of the impetuses for this discussion. Why did the president come out and why is he still arguing, almost whining or lamenting that NASCAR has discarded this big symbol of the Confederate flag? He’s arguing on the wrong side of history.
Loyalty is a powerful need for human beings. We do a lot of good things from a place of loyalty. This is an example of being loyal to the South, to the flag, to the people that voted for me, the people that got me elected and I’m going to fight for their cause. Their cause is not to have their statues taken down. Their cause is not to have their beliefs and their values challenged or changed. It gives them evidence as support to rationalize this point of view or this belief that all these things are a part of history. Toughen up and live with it instead of going like, “These things are not a part of the current American identity where the North didn’t fight to separate but fought to keep the states together.” It was a unity thing where, “We’re fighting you, so you stay with us.” Does one of your kids act better than one of your other kids?
From time to time, one of them will give you a little bit tougher push back. In some families, there’s identifiable black sheep. Loyalty in the family doesn’t say, “You’ve made your 15th mistake. You’re on this issue. You’re doing this thing. You’re out.” It’s not the way it works. Family and loyalty have that traction. When a human being is fighting for and advocating for somebody as a part of loyalty family, “You voted for me. I’m going to support you. I got your back,” I’m thinking of times that my sister fought for me or there’s something I did that wasn’t great but she still fought for me.
Family loyalty is different. You have a family member who gets arrested for something. You’re going to support them because they’re family. You’re going to bail them out. You’re going to defend them. You’re going to try to help them. Whether they did the thing or not is somewhat irrelevant. You’re going to support them. That’s a little different though. Family loyalty is one thing.
I know that it’s different, but the dynamic is still the same. The dynamic of, “I’m sticking with you because you stuck with me.” I’m going to do a confirmation bias. I am going to stick into this. The whole point of this particular communication show is, how do you communicate out of this dynamic that you and I are in? How do you provide empathy and language that’s effective in regard to a tweet? How do you tweet to somebody that says, “He should owe an apology?” You turn it into a request. President Donald Trump is requesting truth that the initial motive that they rallied behind was not a reality of truth. He’s asking us to set the record straight. Isn’t that interesting?
“President Donald Trump, you’re on target on this. You would like us to set the record straight that this was there before then. We’re glad that we took the time to find out the truth. You’re just looking to point that out to all of us.” Notice how flat everything got all of a sudden. There was no outrage. He’s just pointing out that he would like some exposure on the truth that this wasn’t meant to be. This is why he gets away with saying fake news. It’s because he amplifies things to outrage the other side of it and says, “You’re not covering this thing as truth. You’ll cover the distortion, but you won’t cover the truth. You won’t make it equitable.”
What he doesn’t know and what the media doesn’t know is that if you do this to the stuff that he is doing, that he’s outraging on, then when he comes out with one of his things, you can do the same thing to him with one of his outrageous things. You could say, “Mr. President, you would like us to hear that the disease is all going away. You would like us to hear that we don’t need to test anymore.” Look at how I’m going to walk him down the plank. “You would like us to not test anymore because if we test more, that more people would hear it. You’d rather not know than to know what the reality is. Is that what you’d like?” “Yes.” There’s no outrage. You treat his stuff in a non-outrage empathetic way. It’s going like, “I can appreciate that version of truth. I’m not sure if it’s going to be helpful.” Everybody goes like, “It’s an interesting opinion, but it’s not helpful.”
What you did in both of those examples you gave is you took the wind out of Donald Trump’s sails and his ship is going nowhere.
The value of bad news or the value of these tweets is that we’re unaware about what to do about them. We’ve been living with them in an amped-up marketing branding world since a long time in a capitalist society, specifically from 1940 or 1950. If you think about how we’ve been amped up in this direction to wanting to buy things and furniture and buy this. “This is the best couch ever. This is the best sofa ever. This is the best pizza ever,” when it’s not the best pizza. It’s not the best ingredients. It’s not better pizza. The ingredients are not as good, but that doesn’t matter. The truth doesn’t matter. In marketing, advertising and branding, truth is not needed in that equation. It’s just, “Buyer, beware.”
It also explains why when there is a better product, where truth is real and that it is better, that product does not always win because it doesn’t matter. This maybe gets at a little bit of why is Donald Trump aligning himself on the wrong side of history. I don’t know if there’s any better example that we have now than slavery, which became oppression and discrimination against African-Americans in this country. You’re going back to the Civil War and post-Civil War. We fought a whole war over this. Every country in the world that had slavery back in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s no longer has it now. The United States of America was one of the last countries to end it. People that advocated for slavery are now seen as being on the wrong side of history. All those generals and everybody who seceded from the Union. Jefferson Davis, who was the President of the Confederacy, he’s remembered in history, but then you go forward.
Even though they were “free” or the slaves were freed, then you had the Jim Crow laws and you had all kinds of other segregation issues. You had then George Wallace who ran on a platform of segregation. Every one of these people in the course of history is now viewed to have been on the wrong side of history. Donald Trump again is making arguments over this Confederate flag and NASCAR shouldn’t have abandoned their symbol appealing to the most extreme right-wing of his base. It’s an argument that is an effort that is on the wrong side of history. That’s obvious but why is he doing it? He’s doing it because he gets attention. He dominates the news cycle and he views that as a win. The truth behind it is less important to him. The truth doesn’t matter. He cares about the attention and maybe being loyal to his base and his base being loyal to him and his need for acknowledgement and dominating the news cycle.The value of bad news is that we're unaware of what to do about them. Click To Tweet
It gets back to our episode last time, which was the truth in time that the readers get exhausted and it’s a lot to empathize with. Just to slow it down a little bit, if we stare at the projection of truth and the version of the truth, we can out-argue the counter version of the truth. His advocacy for, “I am going to have direct access to my opinions. They get to be seen and picked up and I get to see which one gets retweeted the most and then I’m going to do more of those things.” He is testing marketing and branding messages and using the nation to do it. When he’s on stage in Oklahoma, all he’s doing is testing new marketing messages, “Is the crowd going wild on draining the swamp? Is the crowd going wild on lock her up? It’s testing the soundbites and these headlines.
It’s all about testing and shifting and looking at himself to see how is that being received through the bias of the media and the voters. If you think about yourself as somebody that’s spent time in product development, he’s churning his product and testing improvements not based on quality. It’s based on bells and whistles. “What bells and whistles can I put on this thing for it to be seen as valuable?” It’s like if you took a Mercedes and put a rocket ship wings on the back of it, would that sell or not? If it does, people say, “Who cares? It’s sold.” You put this Batman fin in the background. It’s like, “That’s a cool fin.” That caused that car to be bought more. It’s fascinating but that’s a little bit of what Donald Trump does. He’s testing that piece in order to meet the need for truth with his loyal voter and he’s going to pick that side.
I believe that Donald Trump may very well be right that he could shoot someone in Fifth Avenue and his base would still vote for him. He’d be prosecuted and there’s a whole truth in reality around that. No matter what he does, no matter how bad a thing he does or what outrageous a statement he makes, even if it hurts him ultimately in the November election, Donald Trump at the end of the day would say, “That doesn’t matter because I dominated the news cycle. That was a win. I won today.” He views it from that perspective of the short-term win. He thinks that if he puts up together enough of these short-term wins, he’ll win in November. We’ll see.
If you want to notice the exhaustion, the tiredness, and the exasperation that sits on it because we’re not focusing on what the truth is. We’re focusing on the message and the message that is being delivered that is draining. Apology as a truth construct is not an as strong apology as an empathetic apology. I feel disappointment and disheartened that we rallied about something that wasn’t true, the noose, as a symbol of all the violence that has happened to the African-Americans over the last 400 years. We all know that symbol is not just a one-time event. We know that it’s in the hearts and minds of people that still have a belief that one race is more powerful than the next.
Notice how I dropped into an empathy statement to say, “That’s how I’m going to apologize. I’ll apologize to put the symbol in its place. Not this one-time thing as a way that the media amplified it.” We’re not just for that one thing. We’re for that symbol of something that has been around for a long time. I feel good that our march took place because the symbol is still there and our nation needs to do something about it. I’d like to thank President Donald Trump for reminding us to point out when the truth doesn’t take place because it gives us the opportunity to point out when the need for truth isn’t met with him. I’ll admit that the truth wasn’t met through the FBI investigations. I’m also going to admit that the FBI is getting it right most of the time and some of the truths that they found out about him seemed like they need to be amplified too.
In other words, truth and non-truth are being amplified as being equal. It’s like, “No, they’re not. They are just not.” If I’m winning the media cycle again, I’ve got to look at the value of exposure. I’m going to speak up my controversial thing. I’m going to look for a headline. I’m going to try to get on the front of the newspaper somewhere. I’m going to try to get a soundbite. I’m going to stand at Mount Rushmore. I’m going to put people together in an unsafe way for the Coronavirus because that is going to get me a media cycle turn and I could distract from other things.
Maybe that’s the point. What’s the value of bad news, of aligning yourself with a symbol of hate, racism, segregation, and division? The Confederate flag for NASCAR, what’s the value of amplifying that? Is it to distract America from the fact that Coronavirus cases are rising more than ever? We’ve got the highest daily averages. Is it just to steal the news cycle from that?
I need three other outrageous items. Remember we talked a couple of episodes ago about the Overton window where we’re trying to move things towards the outrageous just so an acceptable point of view is tolerable. I’d rather have this big distraction going on so that I can give a tax cut for billionaires. I’d rather do these mouth off of Kim Jung-on and give distraction for the Mueller Report and the Russians. I’d rather pick a fight with Sweden. What happened in Sweden or Norway? Everybody went over there and said, “Nothing happened here. What happened in our country?” It had the media like lemmings looking and covering a non-story to cover some junky things.
I’m being generous because some people don’t think of it as junky to allow a jet plane to be depreciated over four years completely and get a complete tax write-off for that. Some people like that thing. That’s what a lot of rich people like because now they can afford more of their jet planes. Now they have a lot of those jet planes around in the environment. They feel better about that because all was paid for by the taxpayers that are paying a higher percentage than the rich people are paying. It’s unsettling. We do need to face some of those larger social issues. Economic disparity and inequality are one of those. There are a lot of things that are being done to distract from the movement of that. It’s very difficult.
I don’t know why it’s still shocking to me that it’s working so well. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked.
You’re starting to come off of the shock because the feeling of shock is one of the most difficult emotions for the body to get off of them. The problem with PTSD is that the body is all shocked and almost locked up about it. It’s like, “What? That is against many of my needs and values. I am shocked and I am stunned by that.” When the need for integrity or justice isn’t met, all of a sudden, we can’t do anything about it. The feeling of helpless hopeless shows up. There’s only so much that you can put into helpless hopeless.
When these states first shut down and said, “Sorry, you can’t go out,” it’s not all that long before the militia and different folks in the State of Michigan showed up on the State House. They’re all on the State House going, “We want our freedoms and we want our choices because this is America.” Meanwhile, for the impoverished areas, they’re living with that same lack of choice and containment too in different pockets of the country. If somebody from South Central LA, an African-American drives into Beverly Hills, it’s like they’ve moved from one zone to the next zone. It’s like, “What are you doing over here?” It’s not that dramatic but it is actually that dramatic.
I’m not even that person that I know that it’s dramatic. It’s difficult because we’ve got to watch how truth is being dispensed and stare it down and not get exhausted by its advocacy. We’ve got to keep advocating for, “It looks like the truth is more like this than the truth that they’re trying to sell over there.” That’s the thing that’s very unsettling and disheartening. It creates a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness inside people. As soon as it gets to that thing, then the marches take place and the rallies take place. It’s not going to go away.
Even when Joe Biden gets elected, I sure hope that their rallies and the protests continue until the fundamental changes take place in order to make it stick. The first four years of Joe Biden’s presidency is going to be about restoration. How do I restore respect in America as a world leader? Not as the Divided States of America. That needs to be his acceptance speech. We are not the Divided States of America. We are not going to play that. We’re playing the United States of America. We’re doing that. We’re not doing that other thing that you were trying to get us to do.Apology as a truth construct is not as strong an apology as an empathetic apology. Click To Tweet
What you mentioned made me realize it’s the protests in the wake of George Floyd among others, there’s the African-American that was shot at the Wendy’s in Atlanta. All these protests in the wake of these racial injustices with policing. I want to be careful not to paint all police with the same broad brush. That’s not the point, but these protests have dominated the news cycles for many days and even weeks to the point where what Donald Trump do to try and dominate the news cycle and purchase that truth away is he had Lafayette Square cleared using tear gas and other things so he could stand for a photo op with the Bible in front of the famous church.
It was harder for him to purchase truth away from those protests because they became such a huge story. That’s one point I wanted to make, which is interesting. If the people come together enough, they can prevent him from dominating the news cycle and having that daily win. The other thing that I realized and part of what you’re saying also is that the news media is an all too willing participant with Donald Trump dominating the news cycle. They don’t speak the way you do to the people they’re interviewing. They don’t talk about it to eliminate truth the same way.
They like the outrageous story that Donald Trump talks about, tweeting about Bubba Watson and lamenting over the fact that NASCAR shouldn’t have caved so easily and given up their symbol of the Confederate flag. That gives them something to amplify and talk about. They’re in the business of amplifying news and getting ratings for it. They probably like that. For you to come in and if you were a correspondent in the news to try to talk about that apology and take the wind out of Donald Trump’s sails, it also takes the wind out of the news cycle and the 24-hour news machine that has been built in this country.
It’s difficult if we want to pursue truth instead of pursuing hype. The hype is essential to sell things. It’s why the word best does not mean the word best. It just means loudest or the most seen. We’re not interested in the best. We’re interested in what is going to get us the most traction or profit. If I make one machine and it’s better than the other machine, you figure, “This is better than this other thing, then why does the other thing get all the traction?” It’s cheaper, more accessible and more replicable. There are different people that want to make the same crappy thing over and over again instead of the better thing. “I don’t want to buy the better thing. I want to buy the terrible thing because it’s more available.” It’s unsettling.
If you take a look at the truth and if we take a look at this very difficult subject, which is the value of bad news, notice that there’s a flatness in our discussion because the flatness is generated by us applying an adult marathon mindset to the truth. It’s a part of a race that we’re running that’s not the sprint. It’s like we’re pacing ourselves because we’re going to advocate for truth and hoping to steer the ship away from that storm over there called the re-election. Let’s get us into some clean water here with no storms and some smooth sailing with a nice consistent wind with not many waves. At this point in the journey, I’m going to take that rather than being on the stormy seas and being triggered all the time. Being locked down at the same time is not a strong mental health strategy for us because we’re struggling, especially those who have lost their jobs, their businesses or their businesses are on hold. That’s the difficult part of it.Pursue truth instead of pursuing hype. Click To Tweet
One of my clients had to shut down his businesses in nine different cities and let go of all those people. There’s no way that his business is going to get there. He’s got to start it all back up again, which is the significant downturn that he went through. This is a toughie. There are landing places if we take a look at a gem to pull out of this. If we’re going to flatten the narrative of the rollercoaster which we’re on, being able to be a persistent advocate, and for the protesters as well as the different systems to know that we’ve got to start making the changes that are needed and work on the reactionary quality that’s in us. Look at the value of the reaction is not the truth. The reaction is just a person’s physiology being enrolled, but be ready to be enrolled and go like, “That’s not the truth,” or, “I’m going to wait for the truth. I’m not going to be outraged right now. I’m going to stare this down a little bit differently,” then things will go better. We can talk about the media next time and how it doesn’t do that.
The worst part is the media. I don’t know if they believe they do but they at least try to sell that they are the arbiter of truth. They are there to illuminate truth and very often, that’s not what they do.
They’re going to look for eyeballs and clicks just like the rest of selling capitalist. We’ve talked about cannibal capitalism before, “I’m going to eat up a person’s revenue, income, trigger as quickly as possible.” More to come on this.
I like the idea of media discussion. That may be a good place to go next time.
Have a good one, Tom. I’ll talk to you soon.
Thank you. You too.
- Overton Window – previous episode
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