Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

A young fruit vendor, overcome by desperation, sets himself on fire in a public square in Tunisia. His suicide sparks protests around the globe. Millions take to the streets. Untold thousands die. Entrenched dictatorial regimes crumble seemingly overnight.

You gotta give Sarah Mason
credit. Then again, maybe not.
To commemorate this worldwide struggle for freedom, TIME magazine honors “The Protester” as Person of the Year, featuring a stylized photo of … Sarah Mason, an Occupy L.A. activist who is fighting the man by refusing to pay her credit card bills.

Take that Wall Street.

“I still have debt and I’m not paying it back because I feel like at this point, I have an obligation to try and disrupt and upset the financial industry, the credit industry,” Sarah told 360 Magazine. “Why would I miss this beautiful opportunity to say, ‘no, you don’t get your money back’?”

Despite a valiant effort to lionize her, 360 Magazine acknowledges, “Her unabashed attitude falters slightly, however, when asked about how she incurred significant personal debt.”

“Each paycheck that I would get, I would overspend,” she said “I had already spent all this money on clothes, make-up, accessories, and I got the credit card because I needed to [pay] my electric bill. … And then of course, it turned into I just started using it recklessly.”

That TIME selected a dead-beat American credit-junkie to symbolize the brave souls who risked everything in their fight for freedom tells us a lot about why the dinosaur media is dying out—and quite a bit about the Occupy Wall Street movement itself.

Before Sarah was inevitably identified as the poster girl of the protest movement (you have heard of the Internet, haven’t you, TIME?) the type-setters at last century’s number-one magazine concocted a flimsy cover-story for their cover story.

“As the artist behind our Person of the Year 2011 cover commemorating this year’s pick, The Protester, Shepard Fairey says his cover image is based on a composite of 26 different photographs of real protests from around the world.” Well, Fairey also said he didn’t steal an AP photo of Obama for his iconic HOPE poster before he fessed up to lying about that and destroying evidence.

Fairey “used a collage of scenes from the Arab Spring to Moscow to Occupy Wall Street as a backdrop, images he said shows the dramatic accumulation of these global protests,” TIME wrote.

It was only a matter of TIME.
 But the protester on the cover was, in fact, derived from a single photo of Sarah Mason, who—despite her own dramatic accumulation of accessories—now represents the struggle of the world’s genuinely oppressed people.
While not the best person to symbolize the Arab Spring uprising, Sarah is the perfect person to represent the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, victimized as she was by “the capitalistic system in American society.”

"The reality is that, of course, is what compelled me to buy clothes and make-up and all of these things was insecurity and a feeling of being inadequate … What I also think it was that you’re just surrounded by these messages telling you to buy, buy, buy, consume, consume, consume.”

Most people facing that kind of pressure while deeply in debt would have cut up their credit cards and worked out a payment plan. But Sarah Mason is no quitter. “It’s easy not to pay your debt!” she said. “Nothing can happen … if you have assets, people can seize them, but if you don’t have assets, what are they going to take?”

Well, they could start with her tent.

According to 360 Magazine, “The tent that Sarah leaves looks like any other gray nylon camping tent from the outside, of a nondescript size and description; however a quick peek inside reveals a bohemian paradise, complete with tapestries, blankets and pillows in rich earthy tones, candles and picture frames. It’s a cozy haven where one can hide from the chaos of a bustling day in downtown Los Angeles.”

And that, my friends, is the iconic summation of the Occupy Wall Street movement—a falsely humble exterior stuffed with "accessories" that were purchased on credit which won’t be repaid.

A footnote. Exactly three days after TIME announced their Person of the Year, thousands of Tunisians gathered in Mohamed Bouazizi Square—named after the young fruit vendor whose suicide “restored Tunisia’s dignity” and triggered a global struggle for freedom—to honor him and to celebrate their new freedom.

Half a world away, Sarah Mason may well have been snuggling under the earth-toned blankets in her “bohemian paradise” on Bank of America Square pondering the riches her new-found fame would bestow upon her.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The revolution will not be televised ... in Russia.

RT's coverage of the
Libyan Revolution:
"Muammar, Muammar, he's our
man! If he can't do it ...
uhh, Mutassim can ...
umm ... Well, how about Saif?
Anybody seen Saif?"
If you thought Perestroika had put an end to Soviet-style disinformation campaigns, take a gander at this propaganda.

You may have already seen this clip in which FOX News gets schooled for using the wrong video in their coverage of the rigged-election protests in Russia. RT (formerly Russia Today) has been tweeting the hell out of it since they first aired the segment last Thursday.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself the favor. The “reporter” and "expert commentators" display a level of chutzpah not seen since Rosie Ruiz asked the Boston Athletic Association to reimburse her for the subway fare.

Ostensibly, RT was breaking the story that FOX News deliberately misled viewers by using the wrong videotape in their coverage of the riots that spouted after Vladimir Putin's boys mugged Mother Russia and stole her elections. But what really got their трусы in a twist was the audacity of the U.S. of A. for reporting on Russia's protests, and exposing the Kremlin's old-school tactics.   
For the record, we can neither
confirm nor deny that
Mr. Olbermann even
owns a Che bobblehead.
But I'll bet he does.

RT—for those who don't channel surf in the foreign end of the cable pool—is a “news” station run by the Kremlin-owned-and-operated Russian International News Agency. Their concept of "fair and balanced reporting" would make Keith Olbermann chunk his Che Guevara bobble-head doll through his flat screen.

"America has its fair share of protests and political dissention to be dealing with. Instead of keeping its eye on the ball, the country's mass media machine has turned to protests in Russia and dropped the ball in reporting the facts." This from reporter Marin Portnaya, who boasts in the third sentence of her Kremlin-approved RT profile that, "During America's 2008 Presidential Election campaign, [she] filed reports from the riots surrounding the Republican National Convention."
But Portnaya was just the appetizer. The entrée was Eva "Call me Evita" Golinger, who is literally a professional propagandist for Hugo Chávez and the Venezuelan government. (It's interesting to note that this little news nugget, and the fact that she is on RT's payroll, never made it into the story.)

Here's the exchange. I couldn't even edit for space; it was all just too good:

GOLINGER: It's not surprising whatsoever that at the moment that there would be any kind of protest--no matter how small it be in Russia against the Russian government--that it would be greatly exaggerated in media and used by the U.S. government as well as a way to try to somehow push for change in Russia that would be more favorable to U.S. interests.
Eva, posing by her BFF Hugo.
PORTNAYA: Journalist and author Eva Golinger believes mass media is Washington's most valuable weapon in encouraging revolt elsewhere under the mantle of "spreading democracy," such as the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine or Rose Revolution in Georgia.
GOLINGER: A perception is created that something is happening in that country that's not right and that the government is somehow responsible, and so therefore, if that government ends up being removed, it somehow is justified. You know, the media has played a key role in creating a justification for regime change.

But the real treat, the proverbial snifter of 40-year-old Tawny Port after this smorgasbord of deception, is watching American gadfly Danny Schechter lament that our media takes its lead from the U.S. government ... on a "news" program that is run by a state-owned and state-controlled "media" company.

Here's the transcript:

PORTNAYA: U.S. leaders have leveled harsh criticism against Russia in the aftermath of Sunday's parliamentary election, and critics say its free press has worked to reinforce the narrative.

SCHECHTER: The media tends to march in lock step with the government. It tends to take its cues from the government. It tends to, you know, mobilize its resources to showcase what the government says is true even when later it turns out not to be true.

That danged free press.
What's most interesting about this episode of modern propaganda is how many unwitting Americans participated in the campaign. In their haste to attack FOX News, 686 people retweeted the original RT tweet, metaphorically carrying Putin's anti-American baggage right to the rear gate of his Niva 4x4.

Here's the communications lesson, folks: The enemy of your enemy may be your friend. But she might also be an anti-American tool of an authoritative, democracy-crushing regime. So if you plan to retweet someone else's point of view, do a little research before hitting send.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lessons from a dying squirrel

New research proves that rats behave empathetically for no apparent self-gain. I could have saved those researchers some time and money with this video of a squirrel trying to save his injured pal. Two other squirrels even serve as sentries. Nature is a kick.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

White House says unemployment data may signal a decline in cancer diagnoses, highway deaths

"Here's to a statistically
awesome 2012!"
WASHINGTON, DC – The White House said today that the recent significant drop in unemployment may actually trigger reductions in the number of people being diagnosed with cancer and may even reduce highway fatalities. 

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent last month, the lowest level in more than two years. Much of the drop is attributed to the fact that 315,000 people simply gave up looking for work, which means that in addition to being out of work, these newly un-unemployed have no healthcare coverage or unemployment benefits. 
"We're pretty pleased with both the results and the timing of this report, coming as it does just weeks before the first Republican caucus," said one administration official who spoke on  condition of anonymity because he was breaking a lot of rules by gabbing to the press. "Based on our calculations, we expect to see a big reduction next year in the number of people being diagnosed with cancer and even the number of people killed in car crashes."
According to the soon-to-be-fired administration official, people who have dropped out of the workforce and no longer qualify for unemployment benefits simply cannot afford medical treatment. As a result, their cancers won't be diagnosed.
In addition, the official said, a large percentage of those who have lost their jobs will also lose their cars. Over time, this will lead to a reduction in the number of people on the highways and, subsequently, to a reduction in highway fatalities. High gas prices are also expected to reduce the number of miles driven by people who still have their cars, which should cut the highway fatality rate even more in 2012.
"Our re-election chances are looking better with each report," the administration official said. "Which is a damn good thing because, really, it's almost impossible to find a job these days."
The White House voiced some concern about a projected increase in shoplifting, domestic violence, and suicides, but determined that those issues will not reach a critical stage until well after the 2012 election.


"Watch it, fella!!
You're about to run
right into a faith-
shaking agonizing
History’s highway is littered with the wreckage of blue chippers who ignored the "paradigm shift ahead" signs posted whenever a game-changing technology alters the landscape.

Talkies killed the silent screen. Video killed the radio star. (Then Napster bankrupted the entire music industry and was soon after cannibalized by Rhapsody.) Netflix killed Blockbuster before attempting to kill itself
And that was just the start of the Internet killing spree. The dead and dying include record stores, travel agents, newspapers, the Yellow Pages, the White Pages, books with pages, and very soon ... the PR industry.

"Lil snookims! You're
so cute I could
just eat you up!!"

"Back atcha, sister."
While demonstrably false, legend has it that silent-screen star Marie Provost was so despondent about flopping in the talkies that she drank herself to death, dying alone and penniless in a rundown apartment. According to the legend, her pet dachshund survived for weeks on her corpse until the cops discovered her remaining remains.
Clark, Lytle, Geduldig & Cranford should be so lucky.
 Ignoring every warning that we are actually in the Internet Age, "issue advocacy" firm CLG&C proposed "construct[ing] fact-based negative narratives" of the Occupy Wall Street participants and their funders by digging up "civil and criminal information, litigation history, tax liens, bankruptcies, judgments, and other associations." The unsolicited proposal was leaked. Hilarity ensued.

 While CLG&C knew that the Internet makes it more difficult to conceal stupidity--"The transparency of social media platforms offers an excellent opportunity to ... identify extreme language and ideas that put [OWS'] most ardent supporters at odds with mainstream Americans"--they apparently didn't realize that the Internet doesn't choose sides. It works for, and against, everyone.
When worlds collide.
(You can find anything
on the Internet.)
And they didn't seem to get that the Internet had already dramatically shifted the power of persuasion from Mad Men to grumpy bloggers, suggesting that "the cost and reach [of paid advertising] makes it a potential strategic advantage for you in a message war against the grassroots movement like OWS." Guess they hadn't seen all the UC Davis Sgt. Pepper memes.  
Perhaps the most fascinating element of the memo was the price tag. At $850,000 for two months work, these Masters of the 20th Century Universe were going to bill their prospective client $14,166 per day (assuming they'd be working seven days a week ... which ain't gonna happen). Pretty ballsy stuff.
It's interesting to note that their daily rate is just $334 shy of the gross annual income of a full-time minimum-wage worker.  
Of course, CLG&C was not the first advocacy firm to lose an eye rough-housing with the Internet. The PR industry is lighting up more exploding cigars than an arsonist in a novelty-store warehouse. Here are a few doozies:

Killed by a buildup of toxic
gasses in K Cole's mind?.
Twitter Twaddle: Even before Rep. Anthony Weiner got booted from Congress for inappropriate twitillation, designer Kenneth Cole tested Twitter's boundaries with an astoundingly tone-deaf tweet linking the Cairo uprising and his new Spring line. He failed the test.

Duick T-Bones Toyota: Hoping to generate buzz for Toyota's Matrix, Saatchi & Saatchi LA created an online "stalking" promotion that frightened unwitting "participant" Amanda Duick so thoroughly that she sued Toyota for $10 million.

RedFacebook: Threatened by Google's growth, Facebook hired Burson-Marsteller to gin up negative stories about their rival. Being hip, Burson asked an influential blogger to write a Google-bashing op-ed which they would be "happy to place." Being clueless, they refused to tell him whom they represented. Imagine Burson's surprise when the blogger posted their entire email exchange.

NetFlakes: Moments before crying "uncle," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made a last-ditch effort to convince Wall Street and his customers that destroying Netflix was a savvy business move. He went all-out, employing the failsafe Youtube-ready CEO mea culpa. Open-collared pastel shirt? Check. Casual outdoor setting? Check. Occasional empathetic gaze? Check. Actual empathy? Not a whiff. 

Bad news: Netflix' stock tanked. Good news: "Hastings on the Hustings" was the most popular Netflix video that month.

The Internet has so vexed old-school PR flacks that the Public Relations Society of America just launched their "Public Relations Defined" campaign. Modeled on RCA's unsuccessful "Rewinding the Victrola" campaign, "PR Defined" is an "international effort in collaboration with multiple industry partners, to modernize the definition of public relations. In a small way, we seek to rebrand the profession."

And in a very small way they did.

Despite an aggressive online promotion with their "multiple industry partners," PRSA received a paltry 900 submissions from the field. Compare that to the 200,000 people who signed a petition to "Save Thanksgiving" that was kickstarted by a part-time cart jockey working at an Omaha Target.

The PRSA's miniscule turnout "rebranded" the profession as out of touch and fading fast.

Here's the lesson: Traditional PR is as useless as the "check engine" light on a rental car. Exorbitantly priced campaigns do not create buzz on the Internet. Compelling stories do. If there is a role for PR practitioners in the future, it will be as communication artists who can divine gripping narratives from the many elements that comprise their client's story and their client's challenge.

Good PR is about finding the most compelling story. Teaching your clients how to tell it. And connecting them with the audiences they need to share their story with. It's easy ... if you're an artist.