Like it or not, Fox News has reignited yellow journalism which, in turn, has awakened the attitude beast in many of our business, cultural and political leaders. And this trend has spawned some troubling excesses. It goes like this. Our nation's bookstores are filled with Drucker-style management tomes packed with leadership strategies touting vision and innovation. What Fox News has contributed to the success equation is attitude. Fox News chief Roger Ailes calls his new business channel approach "personality" driven. But in journalism circles they called it "attitude journalism." And it works. Bill O'Reilly's character-driven show swamped ratings leader CNN, which meant bye-bye anchor-bland Aaron Brown, hello empathy-man Anderson Cooper. And hello MSNBC's Keith Olberman whose own ubber 'tude has significantly jacked up his numbers. "It's the 'tude, Dude," is what news managers are telling their people. A memo from a CNN News president called for his anchors to show more of their personalities which is code for: characters welcomed.
This trend isn't new to the media. Yellow journalism in the early 20th century was basically battles between the brash newspaper characters of the day like Pulitzer and Hearst. What is new is the sheer volume and current success of today's 'tuders and how it's affecting the people being covered. In other words, 'tude begets 'tude. Look at it from the interviewee's POV. CEOs, politicians and others have to share the TV frame with a moving news crawl at the bottom of the screen, raw data points on the left side, the show logo somewhere else and animated people popping up to remind us about the show that follows. On top of that, the interviewee gets to be grilled by an in-your-face attitude-based news hawk. A bland delivery just isn't going to create any Velcro with the audience. Thus, attitude. It pops the interviewee out of the frame. They get invited back time and again and become regular characters -- not only on news shows but on reality programming as well. And therein lies the problem.
It's when attitude becomes the end, not the means, that the public loses. Look at The Apprentice. The series encourages young entrepreneur's to pursue a Trump-ited brash, aggressive attitude. Good TV but not necessarily the gold standard for tomorrow's executives. The extreme result of this 'tude trend is the tendency to bring us people like Ann Coulter. Sure, she gets lots of attention with her outrageous mode but where does it, or she go, after that? Sell more books? Maybe. But people with attitude-only as their end-game have shortened shelf lives. They tend to degrade our public discourse and eventually themselves. And when their sell-by date has past, we get to endure their heart-felt apologies for all the people they offended and learn that the devil made them do it. There is a primary principle this ' tude trend misses. Attitude without compassion and responsibility is like beauty without grace. Very limited. Empty. And troubling.