Deliberate Mean-spirited Distortions
‘Tis the season. In the last month I’ve attended lots of political speeches – Chris Cristie, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Daryl Issa, Condi Rice, Sean Duffy, Michael Grimm, Kevin McCarthy, Meg Whitman -receiving much entertainment and a bit of education. The insight with the most resonance was Meg Whitman’s observation in comparing the business and political worlds that the latter is replete with “deliberate, mean-spirited distortions.” Whatever one thinks of Meg, this is an interesting observation.
For anyone needing an explanation of what she is talking about, take the George Zimmerman case in which NBC edited the tapes of the Trayvon Martin shooting to make it look as if the shooter was racially motivated. Deliberate. Mean-spirited. Distortion. With an agenda. The surprise is not that the main stream media did this, it is that the Washington Post called them on it.
The first skeptical reaction to Meg is to say that business is really the same. Not so. Exaggerations in advertising claims, sure. Excessive optimism in internal department or project advocacy, sure. Puffery in personnel performance evaluations, sure. But, particularly internally, leaders are looking for objective, fact based answers and there is not much tolerance for deliberate distortion. And “mean-spirited”? In 26 years of corporate life I can only think of a handful of cases where facts were deliberately distorted to harm individuals.
The second skeptical reaction is to say that it is equally true of both parties. As for the pundits, probably so – Rush Limbaugh and some of the Fox commentators are not much different from Randy Rhodes and the MSNBC crowd. But a quick You Tube search of the party leaders, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz for the Democrats and Reince Priebus for the Republicans, shows one with lots of vitriol and personal attacks while the other much more focused on political processes and positives of their own party. A comparison of the prior leaders, Howard Dean and Michael Steele, would show the same. If there is a Republican equivalent of the Democratic ad showing Paul Ryan pushing a grandmother in a wheelchair off of a cliff, I have not seen it.
The personal nature of the attacks is also different. The Republican story line is “Barack Obama may be a nice follow, but he was not equipped to be president and he has the wrong policies.” Concede the “who’d you prefer to have a beer with?” factor. The Democratic story line is “Mitt Romney may be a good manager, but he doesn’t care about anybody but the rich.” Maybe “political correctness” protects Obama from the personal attacks (except in the fringe blogosphere), but Romney is not so lucky. And did you hear that he is a Mormon?
With Carter-like economic malaise and a presidential vision of America which does not fit the center-right country, the central Democratic strategy has to be a broad ranging personal attack on Mitt Romney. And any vice-presidential candidate – particularly Marco Rubio of Florida or Susanna Martinez of New Mexico – needs to understand that the Sarah Palin treatment awaits. What Meg experienced was minor league in comparison to the upcoming billion dollars of deliberate, mean-spirited distortions.
And here’s a brief introduction to those who do not know the new Masters champion, Bubba Watson.