On heels of outrageous outburst, local newspaper nails it: ‘Setting the bar higher’

Above two letters in today’s print edition of the Wednesday Journal of Oak Prk and River Forest was a most apt banner: “Setting the bar higher.”

One letter was written by Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, in which he apologized for Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla’s libelous public attack last week of a resident in the moments preceding his appointment to a volunteer citizen panel.

As the mayor wrote, she “would not apologize, so I will.”

“We reject… her labeling of any Village resident. Such labeling and name calling mimics the same behavior from the White House that many of us vehemently reject,” Abu-Taleb wrote, in part. “We must do better.”

The letter, in its entirety, serves as a sidebar to the online version of reporter Stacey Sheridan’s exhaustive, excellent story. You can also read it below, as it appears in print.

From page 19 of the Feb. 12, 2020 edition of the Wednesday Journal.

I wrote the other letter (above, right), offering my observations about this outrageous outburst. Headline writing is an art form, and having done it thousands of times in my career, I recognize how difficult it can be. Thankfully, via the headline they assigned my letter, the Wednesday Journal nailed a key point I made : “Labeling says more about the labeler.”

My letter appears online, and below in its entirety:

“Very well done, Stacey Sheridan, on your thorough and balanced reporting in the wake of the unfortunate episode at the February 3rd Oak Park Village Board meeting (Headline: Mayor apologizes for trustee’s name calling; Elected official calls appointee ‘racist’ and `misogynist’ at board meeting).

As with any institution, the Oak Park Police Department has room for improvement. The Citizen Police Oversight Committee would benefit from more racial diversity. Getting there won’t happen through petulant, irresponsible character assassination, but by respectful discourse and effective interpersonal communication.

I am grateful that we have a mayor who models the civil, reasoned leadership that any functional home, let alone community, should aspire to achieve. Over the course of my life, I have found that name-calling (or, as in this case, much worse) reveals far more about the individual flinging the labels than the person who is being labeled. This is especially true when it is not supported by facts.”

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Authentic advocates must fight ‘boy crying wolf’ damage caused by social justice warriors

Racism is all too prevalent. So is sexism, and any number of other isms that deny justice, perpetuate inequity and inflict severe harm on others. It is maddening to those who are passionate about righting wrongs and seeking to balance a decidedly imbalanced playing field.

However, a danger lurks beneath the surface of this desire to set the scales right. Because problems exist in so many places, there is temptation among over-zealots to claim it is virtually everywhere. In so doing, they are their own worst enemy. Seeing the world through this skewed hyper-lens is counterproductive and self-destructive because it creates “false positives”–instances where a sense of injustice is exaggerated or imagined outright. And false positives undermine legitimate instances where one or more isms is indeed at play.

We are treading on highly subjective ground, no doubt. We are told that we mustn’t deny another’s “lived experience.” True enough. And in my lived experience, there are times where most anyone can see what’s going on. Think of these instances as being akin to the Jussie Smollett Debacle.

As I wrote when that sham story unraveled a year ago, I was skeptical of the story from the outset. The most gullible, the easiest prey for the far-fetched wee-hours tale that was a veritable orgy of isms and phobias? Social Justice Warriors, of course.

The worst fallout from that shameful, still-alive chapter is the negative impact that the has-been actor’s false claims have had, and will continue to have, on authentic reports of hate crimes.

Certainly, Jussie wasn’t the first to misappropriate social justice issues for selfish gain, nor will he be the last. And for every hustler out there, there are many more legit victims whose pleas for justice, tragically, get compromised by the misdeeds of all the Jussies in the universe.

Jussie Smollett: lying shame, indeed.

Such is the case for earnest social justice advocates whose efforts are saddled by self-serving, self-righteous Social Justice Warriors.

These faux activists have a thirst for personal validation and acclaim that eclipses any ethical conviction they may possess. They hitch their wagon, political, professional, or otherwise, to a larger movement with an eye toward their own advancement or glory.

What’s one sign to look out for? Consider when someone chronically, knee-jerk style, resorts to racializing situations or issues. Yes, some of those cases are bound to have a racial component, but all the time, and when there is a notable absence of a substantive, logical argument supporting the assertion? Often, they will resort to emotionalism and sweeping generalizations, but as for those pesky things known as “facts,” they are MIA.

Their strained efforts become so over-the-top that, over time, even casual observers will start to detect a “boy who cried wolf” element to these hysterics.

Having a “boy cried wolf” detector is essential. To common-sense observers, it helps unmask the SJWs for who they are.

Meanwhile, these bad SJW actors are watering down those times when they have a valid point–remember, there is no denying the all-too-common prevalence of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and myriad other social ills. More insidiously, the SJWs are also weakening the moral authority of the sincere, rightly motivated social justice advocates.

So it is urgent and vital that authentic advocates call out SJWs. At minimum, take steps to create distance from them. When a “boy crying wolf” moment emerges, say so. In the end, authentic advocates will grow credibility and trust. Those assets are instrumental in winning over the many individuals who are weary of the self-serving overreach of SJWs who detect an ism at every turn.

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In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, basketball game is refuge

Kobe Bryant’s shocking death yesterday hit me on an unexpected level.

When my son broke the news to me, my heart sank. Horrible, sad, tragic…what are the words? There are no words; there are too many words.

It was a moment that smacked me up-side my entire being, soul and body. I realize I am far from alone in this response, especially among zealous sports fans. One who fits that description is my brother and during a text exchange yesterday, he wrote, “A bit numb.”

What is it about this death that has rocked me more than any other public figure’s death in memory? The only comparison is when I found out Len Bias died—then, a short time later, the circumstances leading to his death. I had met Len the previous summer at a basketball camp, and felt some personal connection in that case.

But with Kobe, here’s a man I never knew. At the same time, I felt like I knew him, at least to some degree. He grew up before my eyes, from a 17-year-old kid who was drafted in the first round to a 41-year-old legend whose supreme talent was amplified by his unsurpassed work ethic and determination.

He was my Boston Celtics’ arch nemesis, he was everyone’s nemesis at various times, in fact. For a long time, I didn’t particularly like him. He didn’t much care to be liked, anyway. He developed a reputation as a crybaby, especially through his well-chronicled friction with fellow Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal. Off the court, he was far from perfect.

But over the last decade or so, Kobe had matured and transformed into a new phase of global icon and leader; his post-playing career was shaping up to be something potentially even more extraordinary than his NBA performance.

More than the Kobe who has been, I mourn the Kobe that never got to be. He was blossoming and the world would have been empowered by his future impact. Maybe, if enough of us tap into our inner Mamba, that kind of impact will yet occur as a way of honoring his life and legacy.

Therapy, for me, last night was having a church-league basketball game to play. During pre-game warm-ups, though this shocking development is all I can think about, I make a point of not voicing it. What can be said?

In the pre-game huddle with teammates and opposing team members, our captain offers standard remarks, then concludes it with: “A moment of silence for Kobe.”

There is respectful, reverential, sad silence for a moment. And then we move forward with what we came for. It’s the same thing that prompted Kobe and his daughter, Gianni, to get aboard that chopper with seven others earlier in the day: a basketball game.

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In media relations, throw ’em an occasional curve; “fastball” pitches go nowhere fast

If you are looking to promote your company or cause, product or service, then here’s one thing you most certainly won’t want to do: throw one fastball after another at the same list of media outlets.

The baseball metaphor is timeless because one of the indispensable ingredients in the success of any hard-throwing hurler is his ability to mix up hitters with “off-speed” stuff. A curve ball here, a slider there and then — bam! — the fastball suddenly seems to have that extra zip on it. The 90 mph pitch seems like 100 mph and becomes virtually untouchable.

Fail to develop those reliable alternatives, though, and soon batters will be able to time the fastball and start knocking the ball all over the park.

In newsroom terms, that’s the equivalent of decision makers (reporters, editors, producers of one sort or another) knocking your news releases out of consideration.

More specifically, your predictable self-serving pitch gets relegated, often in the blink of an eye, to the trash bin. And believe me, based on my 20 years as a reporter, it doesn’t take long to cement a reputation as a strictly “fastball pitcher.” That’s when the media develops an especially itchy “DELETE” finger.

So mix things up — become less predictable and thereby more effective for your organization:

If you promote, say, dog food manufactured in one city, that doesn’t prevent you from submitting a colorful photo of a father-and-son flying a kite in a community in the next county to publications in and around that spot.

If you want a television station to pursue a profile on your environmental non-profit group’s 25th anniversary, you can still offer up a suggestion on the inspirational military veteran who lives two doors down from you.

Starting a unique high-tech business in January? That doesn’t preclude you from thinking about a great romantic story about the couple who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary right before Valentine’s Day.

For unimaginative, and unrealistic, PR types, each of these scenarios represents a “curveball.” In the past, when I have championed this approach in workshops and one-on-one interactions, a certain uncomprehending glaze washes over their faces. Even though some might murmur half-hearted agreement with this tack, they remain blind to the connection between selfless suggestions and lasting public relations and media relations success.

What this approach requires, of course, is the investment of time in activities that don’t hold the guarantee of immediate return on investment. It’s about doing the little things that, when added up, amount to much: figuring out the contact information for an editor you have never contacted before, navigating a website so you can upload a photo or two without any PR strings attached.

One piece of good news here is that we’re not talking about neglecting your usual PR and marketing efforts. But then there’s this bit of really great news: this approach is just time-consuming and seemingly unrewarding enough to be practiced by precious few.

As a result, you will face little competition. And over time, as you build deeper and stronger relationships with decision-makers whom you want to influence, you will reap even better results for your clients.

This column first appeared in a December 2013 edition of Bulldog Reporter.

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Be a person, not a bot: don’t cheapen your social media network with garbage-like invites

“Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land

I feel like a number
I’m not a number
I’m not a number

Dammit I’m a man
I said I’m a man.”
-Bob Seger

Those lyrics come at the end of “Feel Like A Number,” from the 1978 album, Stranger in Town. It chronicles the alienation that comes from being just another “spoke in the wheel” of some monolithic entity.

Don’t add garbage to someone’s in-box — it’s already overflowing with unwanted stuff

However, with disturbing frequency, it is the feeling that arises at least once a week when I receive a LinkedIn invitation from someone. The pattern isn’t slowing down, either, even though a growing number of people have had more time to adjust to this social media space and come to their senses.

It’s time, then, to issue another plea for common interpersonal sense. If you are prone to inviting people to link-in with you, based solely on words on a screen and not any real-life flesh-and-blood interaction, then this is especially intended for you: stop cheapening your social network by inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry who has some remote tie-in to you (such as the fact that you both reside on planet Earth.)

Each time you issue an impersonal, shot-in-the-dark LinkedIn invitation, you are contributing to the overflow of garbage in the world. You are also revealing some damaging details about yourself. It’s lazy, it’s presumptuous and it positions you as a LinkedIn lemming–a follower (of all the others committing this sloppiness) and not a leader.

When you meet someone, preferably in person but possibly otherwise, that’s the time when you should consider connecting on LinkedIn. As you do so, give context and briefly state how you see such a connection serving both parties. Consider writing a recommendation shortly later, to cement the relationship and add value.

If you find yourself with hundreds of connections, but hardly anyone for whom you could write a recommendation, then that’s a red flag.

Conversely, being able–and willing–to craft recommendations results in value that flows not only to the people you recommend, but yourself. After all, your connections’ networks are more apt to read the relatively tiny number of recommendations your common connections have received than wading through the long list of connections they have amassed.

So, a parting public relations and marketing tip for you as you consider your own version of You, Inc.: when you remember to treat people like individuals, not another spoke in some expanding wheel of superficial contacts, you build up the quality of your relationships.

And in a world where it doesn’t take much to have quantity on the surface, it’s the depth of your quality relationships that will serve you much more in the long run.

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