Beach, BBQ and a day off. That is what most people think of, and appreciate Memorial Day for. While these are essential elements of American culture that help us mark the start of the summer season, we can’t afford to forget – or let the media forget – the real reason for the holiday.
(c) David Yu
Oftentimes, the truth behind the day gets lost in the firework displays and low-fat potato salad recipes that dominate the news in the days leading up to the holiday. Here are a few things that I’d like to see the media cover this weekend:
- The soldiers who are still on tours of duty and those who died in our most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (more than 6,600 lives lost to-date).
- The shockingly high rates of suicides among veterans, which has been on a sad upward trend.
- Returning veterans who face staggeringly high unemployment numbers.
- Health care and disability coverage issues that impact our nation’s veterans and their families.
While Memorial Day is intended to honor those that died in the line of duty, we can’t wait until Veteran’s Day to continue a national dialogue about veteran’s issues. Because military service is the reason for the Memorial Day holiday, I’d like to see the media dedicate ink space and air time to both honor the ultimate sacrifice that men and women have made in our country’s 225+ year history and talk about what can be done to help veterans now and into the future.
Another often missing piece of the pie is the struggle that military families face. When someone joins the military and gets deployed, it is not just them impacted – it is a journey and sacrifice that the entire family has to accept.
(C) US Embassy New Zealand
Honoring those that served, and wanting to help our nation’s veterans should not be a political issue and should not be tied to a person’s individual feelings about military spending, troop levels overseas and the like. It is about protecting and caring for those that take on this immense responsibility. (Also, it’s the #1 most stressful job in America!)
While you’re relaxing and enjoying your day off, take a moment to think about those who have died while serving, and those that are still serving, encourage local media to cover these issues and be sure to thank Veterans when you see them.
I sympathize with American Muslims about the misuse of the word “Jihad” by, well, virtually everyone, but I was flabbergasted by the ad campaign launched by the Council on American-Islamic relations in Chicago to redefine the word. The campaign uses real Muslims talking about “My Jihad.”
To quote from the New York Times story:
“’My Jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule,’” says a woman in a head scarf lifting weights…”
Long before September 11th happened, we had been treated to an endless drumbeat of frightening images and angry media reports about Jihadists, Jihadi’s and militants mounting a Jihad against the West. To place ads that use the word in connection with every day “struggles,” such as fitness and bullying just seems ludicrous. Making a dent in this deeply ingrained mis-definition of “jihad” seems like the longest reach imaginable. Of course, there is also an ad campaign to counter “My Jihad,” and it uses negative images and quotes to make all Muslims look dangerous.
So much for good intentions. Also, who came up with this “My Jihad” strategy? I can’t imagine that it can possibly work. Other techniques to promote dialogue and engagement or to help Americans better understand the growing Muslim community in the U.S. would have been a much better investment.
For our elected leaders, communicating a clear message is everything – especially for the Commander in Chief. The ability to effectively communicate affects if people vote for them, if their bill gets passed in Congress, and how foreign leaders view them, and the country. The importance of a President’s communications skills cannot be overstated.
As we head into President’s Day weekend, I thought it would be interesting to look back at some past Presidential communications style – particularly focusing on communication length. In today’s information age, leaders have embraced the “sound bite,” short, memorable statements, to grab an ever distracted audience.
But just how did Presidents get their message across to constituents before the advent of the internet, Instagram – or even the radio? And what are some of our most memorable Presidents most memorable bites?
- George Washington – When our nation’s first President was elected, most Americans had never seen him speak or even seen a picture of him. They simply had his speeches printed in the newspaper to rely on, if they could read. Conveying key messages in a way that would resonate with the public was not so important back then, as there was a large disconnect between the President and the people.
“The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.” – Washington’s Farewell Address, 1776 – This speech is a whopping 6,000+ words!
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt – While our nation’s 32nd President is known for many things, he really heralded the use of radio as a form of mass communication with the public through his “Fireside Chats”. By establishing a dedicated program to connect with millions of Americans on a regular basis, he was able to deliver messages into American homes, exactly as he wanted them. And because radio was one of the only major forms of national media, FDR had the luxury of being able to speech at length about topics of interest to him, aided by the fact that he was a confident and effective public speaker.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – FDR’s First Inaugural Address, 1933 – Just under 2,000 words
- John F. Kennedy Jr. – While Eisenhower was the first President to let cameras into the White House in 1955, Kennedy, the son of a former movie producer, was the President to know how to effectively control the medium, and how to communicate with it. Setting a precedent for all future communication styles to follow, Kennedy showed the importance of being concise, but also effortless. He showed that substance will have no impact without style. He was the first one to really show that sound bites matter – with newspaper, radio and TV listening in.
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” – JFK’s Inaugural Address, 1961 – Roughly 1,300 words
- Ronald Reagan – Before he moved into the Oval Office, “The Great Communicator” was a radio personality and film star, so it is not surprising that he was flawlessly comfortable communicating with the American public. Reagan knew what needed to be said, and how to say it in a comfortable, human way – while evoking the exact tone he wanted, while always including a morale element. He tended towards longer speeches, filled with many sound bites.
“Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall!” – Regan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987 – This is one of Reagan’s longer speeches, at 2,700 words
- Barack Obama – In today’s never ending news cycle, managing communications and messaging is an essential priority. As both a pro and con, there are more channels for communication than ever before. The President posts short videos on YouTube, pictures on Instagram and Twitter layered with key sound bites, and posts to Facebook. Good sound bites are shorter than ever – around 7 seconds or so, making the need for impactful, effective communications stronger than ever before.
“Yes we can!” – Obama’s Speech on Primary night in New Hampshire, 2008 – 1,240 words
As public consciousness around technology and communications has grown, so has the need for Presidents to communicate well and communicate quickly using powerful emotive statements that summarize pages of text and policy information. This is also true for organizations as well. With so much distraction and so many demands for attention, choosing the messages you communicate is critically important, as is communicating them in a stylish, impactful way.
For more information:
Image via www.twitter.com/barackobama
We’ve finally kicked off the urgently needed debate and response to our broken immigration policy, but be wary of the words flying around like so many pointed accusations. Even, or perhaps especially, in our digital age, words matter. To achieve or deny something, one must name it with words that have sway over others.
We find ourselves once again facing “Amnesty” as a dirty word that is being employed to imply the breakdown of law and the approval of law breaking. Political purposes aside, amnesty can be defined as an act of forgiveness for past offenses, especially to a class of persons as a whole.
In posts from conservative groups and many news stories, both the new immigration reform proposal and the President’s platform from 2012, have been slammed as an “Amnesty blueprint,” “Amnesty juggernaut” and “Amnesty 2.0.” A group called NumbersUSA, which tells you a lot about what they value, has even issued an “Amnesty Alert.”
Now bipartisan Senators, which the media call a “gang of eight,” have proposed reform that lays out a long, expensive and arduous “path to citizenship” for only those who are seriously committed to make legal their status. It tacks serious penalties for those in the U.S. without legal documentation. The path includes long waits at the end of queue, fines, back taxes and the requirement to learn English. Not exactly a blanket pardon.
Note that supportive Republicans are using words like “reasonable” and “realistic” to describe this proposed policy, indicating exactly what kind of reaction they are expecting from their hard-line colleagues.
I guess this concept, whether one calls it amnesty or not, doesn’t go far enough to exact the “pound of flesh” for which its critics hunger. Maybe it is because amnesty also implies forgiveness, a virtue in short supply these days.
I would make a case for “inclusion” because it is consistent with American values and allows for an approach that doesn’t invalidate those who are playing by the rules. It sets up a more constructive frame and forces opponents to be, for what, exclusion?
I’m not pro- or anti-Amnesty. I’m for inclusion. I’d like to include new Americans who are willing to work hard and sacrifice to be my fellow citizen.