Media as Leader

January 13, 2017 By Katherine Tyler Scott

In my previous blog I expressed deep concerns about the choice of leadership that 43% of the electorate made in selecting the President-elect of the United States. The communication and behavior of this individual since has not changed my concerns about the level of maturity and the potential for unethical behavior.

I now have a much greater concern that reaches beyond the Oval office. The President is one individual and leads the executive branch of government. Usually we can count on the two other branches of government to ensure the efficacy of a system of checks and balances the founders desired and that our form of democracy depends upon. And our individual and collective voices and shared responsibility to be informed citizens is something we should also be able to depend on.

There are other institutions and groups that serve to mediate and moderate the “power of one,” and one of these is the media. What we are experiencing now in the media is a level of denial and collusion regarding the inappropriate behavior of the President-elect that exposes a lack of character and permits the absence of integrity to become normative. Some media leaders’ manipulation of information has been destructive to any notion of truth and trust and enabled blatant, persistent dishonesty.

Too many in the media treat the behaviors of tweeting policies, bullying companies, spewing vengeful responses toward those who are critical of him or his decisions, and engaging in impulsive word wars as the new norm. We hear their justifications – it’s who he is; he’s always done this, he is different, this is how it’s going to be, etc. The media’s continued coverage of this behavior is comparable to addictive behavior. The drip, drip, drip of vitriolic verbosity feeds and fuels the news. The media responds to impulsivity by being compulsive and repeatedly reporting every utterance and tweet no matter how inane. So many cover the incessant parade of visitors to the tower, and allow him to have the last word in their reporting. No matter how incongruent and inconsistent his messages are they are covered ad nauseam. Some in the media still hold out hope that the person and the quality of his communication will change once the enormity of the task and the gravity of issues of the Office settle in. They still hope. Why?  There is minimal basis and is a sign of the deep level of denial that persists.

A message to the media:


Stop being surprised. Stop hoping it will change for the better. Believe what you see and what you have experienced. Communicate openly and honestly with the American people about the truth. Stop using such euphemisms as “he has a different affinity with the truth” when we have been blatantly lied to. Stop placing his baseless rebuttals and acidic words at the end of eloquent truths such as those recently expressed by Meryl Streep.

Since we cannot rely on the incoming President and some of his congressional allies and cabinet to be open and honest, truthful, and loyal to democratic principles our last hope is you – the media - those who report the news, those with the intellectual acuity to connect the dots, analyze complex information and extract meaning and truth from it. Without this level of competence and commitment the nation is in peril.

In the immediate context if there is a continued dereliction of duty on the part of the media, the incivility will only escalate and it will permit abuses of power that are closer to a third world dictatorship and a sell-off of the soul of America.

The outgoing Vice President told the incoming President, “To grow up!” The fact that this needed to be said is both frightening and reassuring. This admonition is one the media needs to state as well. I have heard the media discussing whether those in his inner circle will be “moderating” influences as if he must have someone always at his side to help him with his inability to control his impulses. The fact the incoming leader of our country must be moderated to this extent is a disturbing reality.

The media must not lower its expectations of effective leadership or its professional standards. We need your maturity and courage; we need you to model truth telling and thoughtful discourse irrespective of the threats and vindictiveness that we have seen over the past 18 months. If not, we will all suffer.

Read reality truthfully. Stop being distracted by the latest rants and deluge of impertinent detail. Cease being obsequious, and stop giving attention to the diversions that take our attention away from what really deserves constant vigilance. It’s what adaptive leaders do, and when the media accepts and asserts its leadership responsibilities it fulfills the moral and ethical responsibility that a healthy democracy requires of a free press.