Consider this a strident, blunt, and perhaps painful call to action to the people who can help save this country: The Communicators.
It’s not policy, photogenic faces, or experience that will inspire voters to do what it takes to turn this country around. It’s hard-hitting, visual, well-timed and continually hammered and repeated, communication.
For too long, we’ve believed that somehow, “Truth Will Win Out”.
Well, eventually it will. However, disinformation and falsehoods have a huge head start in influencing Americans; much damage has been done, and will be done, unless communicators and leaders act now to start winning the Disinformation Wars.
Here’s cause for alarm: after a baseless accusation was leveled at a presidential candidate, his team decided not to respond. NO NO NO! If we’ve learned anything, it’s that falsehoods repeated often enough, gain credibility. A simple “no proof, no truth” to that accusation would be enough. But to say nothing, just doesn’t work in today’s climate.
Here’s the three false beliefs purveyors of facts and idealists dedicated to healing America must let go of.
- Truth is obvious. People will hear/see it and believe. Well, no they won’t. The fact is that logic is overcome by fears and emotions. Facts don’t persuade people. They may move the needle further toward acquiescence, but only AFTER hearts have been won. And that first step towards acceptance means appealing to emotions and beliefs, not necessarily brains. And do people care about the details? Will they investigate and then form an opinion? Probably not. They will buy into a big picture view. They will trust someone who convinces them of their vision and that they can follow through on that vision. But logical, fact-finding to form well-balanced conclusions? Not in this era. Not for most people.
- Being dignified, polite and following the rules will be recognized with success. Well, generations of women in the workforce know THAT isn’t true. It’s not enough to be the good guys and wait and expect that your worth will be recognized. Today, we need to go on the attack. Those currently in power have mastered that practice. Fighting doesn’t mean fighting “dirty.” It doesn’t mean abandoning ethics. It does mean stating the truth, forcefully and bluntly, over and over and over again. It means powerful slogans (based on truth), quotes, sound bites, memes and tweets. Blunt, to the point, memorable – and truthful.
- The more often lies are repeated and or exposed, the more they will be recognized as lies. Wake up – the opposite is true. When a lie is first heard, it may sound outrageous. Then it gets repeated. And maybe, refuted. Then it’s repeated and repeated and repeated. And as the outrageous falsehood becomes more familiar, it sounds more and more believable. Finally, the laughably unbelievable, unfounded accusation, becomes accepted as fact. Remember the child porn ring a former political candidate was allegedly running out of a pizza parlor in Washington D.C.? Millions still believe that’s true, including the man who went there with a gun to free those poor child sex slaves.
So do we resort to the same sordid tactics as the disinformation warriors? Sell out our ethics and values? Of course not. Instead, we learn from our defeats and change our tactics. If you are losing the battle, change the playing field. We need to (wo)man up and take charge of the message, become warriors for truth instead of apologists, running after the debate and sputtering “but but but…”
Here’s what communicators and leaders need to do.
- Big lies can only be fought by big truths, as one Presidential candidate said. Tell the facts, tell them loud, tell them over and over again. And make a video about them – short, pithy, go for the gut. For example, there’s plenty of criticism around the government’s slow response to and denial of the threat of the coronavirus epidemic. Do a study that will measure what the difference would be if the government had acted promptly and taken immediate and smart actions. How many deaths may have been avoided? How much damage to our economy could have been avoided? Of those preventable deaths, what does that represent – the size of Peoria, Illinois? Littleton, Colorado? Carmel, Indiana?
- Condemn liars from their own mouths. For example, create a visual in which we see someone telling a big lie or making a promise, and then we see the truth. Example: “You’ll see my tax reports as soon as this audit is over,” followed by the headlines of multiple lawsuits files to hide the tax reports and the business documents. Example: “Whoever is in charge is responsible for everything that happens,” then show the people now in charge and what they are responsible for. Call people on their double standards – hard.
- Combat each lie or accusation with what really needs to happen. “what we really need not is leadership, not ……” “We must always protect the right of Americans to report misdeed or illegal acts, especially in government.” “Everyone must be accountable, no matter what office they hold.”
- Get some attitude and some sass. Use humor. It’s ok to be snarky and sarcastic, just don’t be mean. People today expect to be entertained. That’s the kind of communication that goes viral.
- Be a little bored with these attacks and lies. “Here we go again . . . . another outrageous claim with no facts to back it up.” “It’s getting tiresome to hear these nonsensical exaggerations and no real leadership or solutions. Here’s what we need . . . .” “With all the disinformation out there, both in our country and what other nations are putting out to destabilize us, why don’t we make a new rule: No statements without supporting facts. Remember the days when people were accountable for what they said? When lying was wrong? Let’s bring those values back. That’s the way to make America great.”
- Don’t stay in your corner. Conduct strategic skirmishes into enemy territory. That means appearances and buying ads in media only frequented or “owned” by the other side. With well-chosen arguments, points will be scored and doubts, sown.
- Tell stories. Yes, we know storytelling has been a communications mantra for some time. Tell the stories of those who’ve been hurt. Was the coal industry rescued and were coal miners helped in the last four years? No. So how can they be helped? Maybe education and jobs that are more lucrative, safer and rewarding than living underground chipping away at rocks. Were Americans helped by the sabotage of the ACA? Who got hurt? The week that 27 million Americans lost their health insurance, how many lost their coverage in other countries? No one. What really needs to happen to ensure that all Americans get good health care? And how did our fragmented health care system put us at a disadvantage for the pandemic? What was the fate of those without insurance, and without jobs, if they got sick? Take photos. Put people on camera. Disseminate these real stories in the same channels that have been so friendly to disinformation. Enlist influencers, celebrities, and individuals to share.
- Enlist allies. Let others carry the message. These communication battles don’t have to be won by political candidates, who may be somewhat constrained as to what they can do. Let their allies carry the banners. Multiple billionaires have dedicated their funds and support to turning the country around. They can lead the paid advertising campaigns.
Celebrities, media personalities and entertainers have influence over billions. Now is not the time to worry about your image – speak the truth. Forget about protecting your brand, protect your country. Tell your fans and followings what you are doing and what you believe needs to happen to heal America. Your voice counts! Even if you endorse no one, talk about what is important to secure our future and encourage people to get involved and do their part – VOTE.
Individuals and groups can and must do their part. Adopt the mode of dress – whether it’s a t-shirt, a hat, a sign, a meme, a video, a song – and make it omnipresent. The more others see and hear the message, the more acceptable it will become to them. It’s education from “people like me” via what you wear, what you share on social media, what you talk about.
- Be visual. Imagine a drawing of an individual who repeatedly lies, with the Pinocchio nose, and the lie underneath this picture. Imagine that picture replicated a hundred times, each with a different lie.
- Create amazing communications, tell, repeat, repeat, repeat and REPEAT. Have several ways to repeat so you’re not boring, but don’t get off message. Remember that what we are doing is not criticizing the opposition – we are comparing and contrasting what is, with what should be that people can support.
- Stop apologizing! It makes leaders sound like wimps. A promising politician has to resign because 30 years ago, his arm dropped too low on a woman’s waist while posing for a photograph? Please. Meanwhile leaders who buy off porn stars, brag on camera about groping women, attack and violate women repeatedly, have no accountability at all. Instead, they just rise higher and become more powerful. How about this for a guideline: “The MeToo movement is incredibly important and is changing the way in which women have been taken advantage of and degraded in our society. That awareness needs to continue. If in the course of my life and career, I’ve made any woman feel uncomfortable, it was absolutely unintentional. I am fully on board with the goals of this movement and fully support it.”
Consider this the blueprint to “The Art of War,” Communication-style, for 2020.
One more thought – what about healing America? Won’t this create more divisiveness?
Healing can only occur when the people in charge WANT to heal America. Until then, we are at war. Speaking truth, powerfully, is paradoxically the way to start the healing.
Let it begin.