At a time when American citizens crucially need to be better informed and educated about numerous institutional crises, I was only mildly entertained the other night when Donald Trump was being interviewed by Piers Morgan on CNN.
As many know, Piers Morgan got his start toward fame in the United States on Trump's show The Apprentice, but that admirable loyalty aside, I have yet to speak with any serious media leader or journalist who thinks we should be listening to Donald Trump. And, yet, there he was with the CNN banner underneath reading: "Trump: Candidates Want My Ideas."
Okay. Let's make one very important point immediately: Donald Trump, I learned only recently, inherited several hundred million dollars from his father, Fred Trump. According to the New York Times, the elder Trump amassed a fortune of $250 to $300 million as a real estate developer, which he left primarily to his kids. What's more, I have yet to find an informed person or source who actually knows whether Donald is up or down in personal wealth based on actually creating long-term value.
To have a historically credible media outlet like CNN help perpetuate the notion that Donald Trump is a serious ideas person or policy mind ultimately reflects very poorly not just on CNN, but on the country. It's crony capitalism at its worst.
Donald Trump is entertaining and funny, I will give him that. And, he's a brilliant self-promoter and marketer within this celebrity-obsessed culture. We love laughing with (and at) "The Donald," as much as he loves being a marketed brand and caricature of himself. But, the Emperor clearly has no clothes. Trump was such an easy target for President Obama at this year's White House Correspondents dinner, it was like shooting fish in a barrel for the president, much to Trump's chagrin.
If it's so obvious to so many people that Donald Trump is merely a caricature of the media, why is it that more media leaders and serious journalists don't stand up and say: "Enough! This is not serious journalism. Where are our standards? Where's the quality bar?"
I was fortunate to know Tim Russert as a kid, and I know from conversations with him before his passing that he was deeply concerned by this lack of leadership. People all around the country trusted Tim to provide them with the diligent insight, analysis, and commentary they thirst for to be informed citizens. Tim would work 13-15 hour days, combing through newspapers and asking everyone reams of questions, including us kids when he saw us. He really did his homework, and spent a lot of time traveling around the country and listening to people, rather than rely on convenient narratives floating around.
This decline of industry leadership -- when certain hierarchies of respect helped to govern the ethics of industries -- is largely missing from the media today. Who has the platform, credibility, and courage to do so? You'll be hard pressed to find names. People in my generation look to Jon Stewart to sift through the media falsehoods, lazy reporting, and worse -- routine hypocrisy. As singer and social activist John Legend has said, Stewart's The Daily Show provides information that is the closest to the truth of any media outlet that he watches. I agree.
Where have our industry ethics gone?
A lack of leadership is the problem, just as unleashing latent leadership is the answer.
As my friend and colleague Bill George, the esteemed former CEO of Medtronic and now Harvard Business School Professor recently acknowledged, "My generation messed up," when referring to the repeated economic crises and problems. Bill is the first prominent leader from his generation I've heard acknowledge the problem in this way.
Being honest about the enormous problems we face takes courage and a willingness to stare the problems honestly in the eye. Denial, and blame, and projection are the tools of the weak.
What we need now desperately -- more so than any time in recent history -- is for all of the great people and leaders who already exist to step up and use their platforms and voices to reverse these trends. I know so many great people and leaders in the media, the only thing that confounds me is why it has taken so long for people to speak up? Sure, you will bother and anger some people, and always will if you're voicing publicly. But, if we don't see more leadership from within the established institutions, any student of human nature and history knows it's only a matter of time before demagogues will do it for you.
To CNN executives and producers, I would ask, when are you going to stop giving people like Donald Trump a soapbox and use your lucky platform to focus on serious and, more importantly, relevant national discussions, such as the one that Howard Schultz is leading to encourage business leaders to get more involved in solving social problems. After growing Starbucks from zero to a market capitalization of over $30 billion, I'd say Schultz is worth listening to, yet the only recent appearance I've seen him make on CNN was Fareed Zakaria's Global Public Square, a very fine show.
Despite his message's timeliness and importance, Schultz has been nowhere to be seen on Meet the Press, something that I doubt would have happened under Russerts' watch.
It's time to get it all out in the open. We cannot kick the can down the road any more. Our kids and grandkids lives are in grave danger right now, thanks to that.
We are all a part of the problem and also the solution. The most important question we can ask is what will we actually do, starting now.
So, are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution? History will judge all of us for what we do now. Let's do this.
Peter Sims is the author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, coauthor (with Bill George) of True North Discover Your Authentic Leadership, and cofounder and Director of Fuse Corps, which pairs top American entrepreneurial talent with mayors and governors to help solve big social problems in creative an innovative ways.
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