Brain Williams: Personality Cultist

Brian Williams

There are three questions surrounding the Brian Williams saga that have consumed the debate:

  • Why did he deceive the public, when the facts could easily be verified?
  • How many of the stories he told on Letterman and elsewhere were lies, or at the very least extreme exaggerations?
  • And what can he do to redeem himself?

You can’t turn on a cable news channel, read a newspaper or blog, or turn to a website on the topic and not hear or read from a slew of experts on one of the three.

We have heard from everyone from fellow journalists, to Navy SEALs, to crisis-management experts, to psychologists — and even from noted intellectual Charlie Sheen — as to why he created the quagmire he finds himself in and how he can extricate himself from the muck.

The details of each have been dealt with numerous times — both here and elsewhere — so I will try not to be redundant.

The reason he was confused about Katrina was he had dysentery; his claims that he was given gifts by SEALs were fabrications, but basically harmless bravado made on an entertainment program, so what’s the big deal? (BTW: I totally disagree with this argument.)

However, I do want to address one issue that has been used as a defense for his claims related to Iraq: The Fog of War.

I have known, and still know, many reporters who have covered conflicts, put their lives on the line and suffered deeply as a result.

Whether they have been kidnapped, like the titan of journalism we just lost, Bob Simon; wounded and nearly died, like current CNN analyst Kimberly Dozier, or were killed in conflict, like my old friend and former colleague Marie Colvin.

I can continue the name dropping, adding those who were murdered by ISIS and those who are still involved in coverage in the Middle East, Ukraine, Central Africa and elsewhere.

These brave and dedicated people are the ones that suffer the Fog of War. Not some highly paid news people who go over to these areas of conflict for short stints — mostly for the publicity involved and the ratings and exposure it brings to their outlets.

Brian Williams was once a fine, investigative journalist. I have watched his work since he was a reporter on Fox News’ station WTTG in Washington, D.C.

He has devolved into a personality cultist.

He fell into a trap of his own making and it infuriates me when people try to make excuses for his behavior or theorize what he can do to bring his credibility back.

The Fog of War!

Go talk to the parents of James Foley or Colvin about the Fog of War.

Brian Williams is a pathetic, habitual liar. If he had just done it once, maybe he could be forgiven. But we are daily getting more incidents under question.

Let him take his millions and figure out what he has done — maybe spending it on a good shrink would help.

But as a true journalist, he is not redeemable. And people should stop trying to make it sound like these incidents are going to blow over.

And, though it it’s a darn shame, he has no one — or anything — to blame but himself.

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‘Human Capital’ Is Not Machines

Contract

Let me start by saying the main point of this post, which I will eventually get to, is: Never take on a job, contract or consultancy until you have it in writing. This should be obvious, but it is surprising how many people I have spoken to who start a project before it is all official.

So, now for the meandering.

I have already posted about the first time I was referred to as “Human Capital” by a very important CEO and couldn’t hold back and blurted out: “Are you comparing me to a machine?” Needless to say, it did not endear me to this fine gentleman.

Well, I recently had an experience, which reinforces the overwhelming perception that many executives look at people – even at some of their best talent – as nothing more than machines, unless they significantly improve the company’s bottom line.

Now, before you go off and say the purpose of any business is the bottom line: I fully understand this and agree. But that does not mean an employee should be treated like a machine – or worse, like a piece of furniture.

Again, I will slightly fudge some of the details here and not name names – it is not my way. It is not that I fear attribution, but let the guilty stew in their own brew, without me stirring their personal pots.

The following happened to me with the same company – not once, but twice. (And, yes, I know: Fool me once….)

I get a phone call early in the morning a few months ago from a CEO that I have known for several years saying she desperately needs to speak to me. She had just returned from vacation and found out that her main media coordinator had given notice, and she needed to fill the position very quickly.

The CEO wanted me to come in the same day to discuss whether I would take on the job as a consultant, or better yet full time. Explaining I had obligations we agreed on a time the next day.

She introduced me to her No 2, who sat down with me and discussed details of the job, my responsibilities and the amount of compensation. I told him that I would like to start on a contract basis and we could go on from there.

I was told I would get a phone call, probably by the time I got home from the two-hour drive, finalizing the starting date, etc.

For the sake of brevity: I sat and contemplated whether I should tell my other clients I would finish my projects, but after that I no longer would be available.

But, something told me to wait.

I waited for that phone call for hours. Finally, late in the evening, after business hours, I got an email saying they had changed their mind and were going to reorganize from within.

Obviously not pleased, I just chalked it up and decided to move on.

Then, about a week ago, I got a phone call from the same CEO, pretty much with the same pitch. I was wary, but assured this time it would be different and the man who I considered the villain in the first encounter was gone.

So, we met, I was introduced to my “team.” We started talking details and I told them I would start doing research on the position and was willing to start Monday (that’s tomorrow).

I contacted her Friday by phone and then email, saying I had begun my research but had a few questions. No Reply.

I said she could call me Saturday. And guess what the response was:

They had again changed their mind.

Back to the point:

  • Never, ever, agree to start a job, contract, consulting position or anything else until you have it in writing;
  • Always remember that there are many people out there that are looking for work – despite recent figures that show an improving economy – and you are just a considered a cog in most machines; and finally:
  • You are not a machine, but deserve to be treated with the respect you rightly deserve.

This all reminds me of a TV show I saw as a child called “The Prisoner” where the main character keeps on hearing a voice saying: “You are number 6” and his answer was: “I am not a number, I am a free man.”

Oh, and don’t EVER call me “human capital.”

How to Keep on Keeping On

Fist

When I got laid off a year ago, I was not surprised, nor — for reasons I am not allowed to discuss — particularly upset.

The very next day (which was a Saturday), I revised my resume, started posting it on all the usual suspects and started hitting LinkedIn and other sites with a fury. I embarked on a mission to contact everyone I knew and made the obvious requests to keep their eyes and ears open.

I did not go into a funk; I did not feel sorry for myself; and I wasn’t even immediately worried about where my next paycheck was coming from.

I was doing everything I was supposed to do — or so I thought. But it was pointed out to me by two very good friends (who as is my way will remain nearly anonymous) that I was not doing what I do best:

Writing!

Both these friends — one who I have known since college and later worked with, the other who I have also known since almost the beginning of my career — basically kicked me in the butt and said: “Sit your tush down and write.”

They actually gave me a pretty hard time, because they said all I was doing, by not doing, was wasting my talent – and it is extensive, if I do say so myself.

At first, I was angry: Who are these people to tell me what to do? And then I thought about it and came to a conclusion:

They were right.

Now to the point: Just because you lose your job does not mean you should not continue to try and do what you know best.

Obviously in some professions it is easier than others: unless an unemployed actor is into street theater, this advice doesn’t help much.

But there are other ways to use your talents until you land where you want to:

Volunteering immediately comes to mind. So does reading everything you can on advancements in your profession and telling people – particularly on LinkedIn – what you have learned.

I have already blogged on the fear of writing and on retooling your career after 50, so I won’t repeat myself.

But I will say giving up is not the way to go.

There are days when you won’t feel like pushing; there are days when you will want to take off from the job-search grind – and you should, for both sanity and health reasons.

But we should still wake up most morning looking, driving ourselves and pushing forward. That’s how human beings are built.

And, in conclusion to one of my more obvious blogs:

I thank my old Mets fan friend from up north and the Cincinnati Kid for kicking me in the butt.

Those on Your Way Up, Might Be Those on Your Way Down

janitor

I used to visit my uncle at his huge textile factory in Long Island City, N.Y. The man was owner of a well-respected company and a giant in his industrial circle.

Each morning, he would bring three cups of coffee to work: One for himself, one for his receptionist and one for the janitor.

One morning on my weekly visit, I asked him: “Why, if you own the firm are you doing this”?

His answer was simple: “Those you meet on the way up, might be the same people you meet on the way down — so get your nose out of the air!”

The answer surprised me, but taught me an important lesson: When you enter the offices of the company you work for, want to work for, or just have a scheduled meeting with an associate, always treat each person who crosses your path as if they owned the place.

We all have had bosses who treated us brutally and all have witnessed colleagues who treat the janitor as if he or she was of less importance than that boss.

Bad mistake.

Not only does it show that you have little regard for your fellow human being but — more importantly in a business situation — it shows you have little knowledge of human resources.

(We won’t even get into the first time I was referred to as “human collateral” and almost forgot the point of this post and nearly reverted to the street kid I once was.)

There is an old business axiom that goes something like this: I’d rather be respected and feared than loved.

To me, that’s a bunch of malarkey.

Most of us, barring those who are totally miserable on the job, want to make their worth known. We want to be appreciated and respected for what we do and what we bring to the table.

This does not mean you have to “love” everyone you work with or for. What it does mean — and without sound trite, or biblical — you should do onto others.

On that note, here are several lessons I have learned in my years as an employer and employee:

  • Always at least listen to what a colleague has to say — whether you agree with that person or not or whether she or he is a subordinate or a manager;
  • If you do disagree with what is being said, politely let the person know why and how the idea might be improved;
  • And finally, never demean or besmirch a person’s idea, especially in front of others.

This might seem like obvious comments, and you might not always be in the mood to have to sit through — let’s say a meeting you consider full of drivel.

But in the long run, it will serve you well.

Just ask my ex-boss, who was just fired for his negative attitude toward his employees.

All I could do was smile as I waved good-bye.

And, by the way, I bring the receptionist coffee every morning.

When a ‘Connection’ . . . Isn’t

Zappa

You’ve sweated through high school, college — maybe graduate school. You’ve held several jobs, possibly in different careers and along the way you have met scores of people.

On LinkedIn, for example, you can find these people, or people who know these people, or those who are somehow connected. It can be a very useful tool in getting a job or more business — no complaints there.

You network elsewhere and meet more people, who know or knew people whom you know or who know of you — or who you once were.

And here my dear colleagues lies — as the late, great Frank Zappa said — the “crux of the biscuit”:

Who of these people are really connections — and which ones know who you are — TODAY? And which ones remember who you were, maybe as a different and less — or, in some cases more — appealing a colleague than you are now?

It is therefore critical that before you send your references and connections off into the world, it’s best to reconnect with the people you’re listing and make sure they are who you think they are and reinforce to them who you are at this point in your life.

I’ve been working since I was 14 and along the way have met a lot of people — been good to many — maybe not as good to others.

I have lived in several countries and, in some, actually have accomplished at a very early age what some people never accomplish in a lifetime. I can back this up.

I remember my mother telling someone when I was 21 that I had already lived three lifetimes.

But I digress.

This post is about connections — and whether they are just part of your past who can be of no help to you, or you to them.

Or even worse: They don’t remember when you were there for them and, now that you are in need, they are nowhere to be found.

So let the story be told.

As is my way, this tale will be slightly altered so no links can be made to those guilty of what I call severe and demeaning memory loss.

It was my second or third job, and I was approached by my boss and told of a colleague who had broken up with his live-in girlfriend and basically had nowhere to live.

I had taken in strays before — both human and animal — and she knew this. She also knew I had room in my house and asked if I would take the man in.

Without hesitation, I said yes.

Several years passed; my colleague was much more of a likeable character than I was — or, more likely, played the part very well. He also hung around me like a stray puppy as he built his network, through what even I will admit was intense charisma and good looks.

We still worked together, but he had found a place to live and I had moved in with my then-girlfriend.

And then several occurrences, some self-inflicted some happenstance, left me in a lurch. I was basically homeless and without a job.

So I turned to my colleague, but he said his current circumstances could offer me no solace.

Having met a sufficient number of ingrates in my life, I took it with a grain, and pulled a phoenix, getting my life back together.

Years passed. This once-homeless colleague of mine became a leader in his chosen profession and quite well known both here and abroad. I continued pursuing my career, had some setbacks here and there, but was doing quite well.

Then I heard that my old colleague had hit the pinnacle — so I approached him, not really out of immediate need, but figuring it might be of future use. Plus, I thought we might renew an old friendship.

This new superstar would not even acknowledge my existence. Worse: While speaking to mutual friends he said: “Oh yeah, I knew him — he once helped me find a place to live.”

I went ballistic and let him know as much.

As I said, he is now at the top of his profession, but I know to me — as a human being — he is still a user and manipulator.

Enough venting and personal anger; here’s reinforcing my point:

Not everyone you think is a business or personal connection really is one. And when you are in need, be careful who you turn to.

They might legitimately not be able to help or they might just not care.

My former colleague?

May he continue with his unbridled success.

And, I am glad I don’t need him now.

The NYC Police and Public Respect

nypd1

I am part of the baby-boomer generation.

During the protests against the war in Vietnam and the general difficulties that faced the city of New York in the early 1970s, though quite young, I was aware of the constant complaint about “police brutality.”

I was a kid then and of course the cool thing was to be against the war and call police “pigs”.

The neighborhood where I grew up was considered tough – very tough. Ironically, it is now known as the Upper West Side.

I went and visited my old building not too long ago and found that where I had a rent-controlled apartment that cost $250 a month at the time had been changed to condos, with my old apartment going for a $1.5 million.

So certain things in New York City have changed, but obvious some things have not.

I was raised with a tremendous respect for the New York Police Department and at one time even considered becoming a cop.

While anti-war activists and race relations made their job difficult, all they ever did for me was good.

There were issues with race relations, violent crime and general disobedience. But I always believe the police were on my side. I can list numerous instances when they were called and showed up immediately.

I understand the dismay people have with the “broken windows theory” and the “stop and frisk” method of policing since it seems to some to be an extension of racial profiling. But crime is down in NYC for the first time in years.

I am dismayed that the police have been turning their back on the mayor of one of the world’s greatest cities as New York’s Finest mourned two of it’s own.

On the other hand, telling the public how he has told his multi-racial son to react to police doesn’t help.

Not since John Lindsay has the relations between police and the mayor been so bad. It is a shame, as Bill deBlasio was preceded by a list of strong, opinionated and diverse mayors. But they all had respect for the police.

And deBlasio is not helping his case. And note that few New York politicians of any party are standing beside him in support.

It’s a shame, especially when police-public relations have been in the news and the subject of demonstrations for months.

There has to be a solution.

After 50: Retooling for a New Career

I am using my 30-year career as a journalist as an example.

When I first started as a reporter/editor – and I am talking just after typewriters and bottles in the bottom drawer hit the dustbin – we worked on terminals connected to a central computer.

I was working for a wire service at the time and everything we “posted” had to be custom coded – something that is now similar to HTML and other coding methods.

When I get asked whether I know HTML or how to use Content Management Systems, the answer I want to give is: “We invented them.”

My first point: The technology might have changed – or renamed – but the core of most business and journalistic writing remains the same – you just have to adapt with the times.

When I was laid off from my last editing position and began looking for a job strictly in journalism, I was told by an old colleague and former employee – who now holds a position of power in the industry – one piece of advice: “Switch careers.”

And journalism has changed: Newspapers are dying; media companies are intensively moving to web and mobile and verticals on specific issues – mostly something we used to call beats.

Now, this post serves two purposes: Except for the old-school, hardcore obstinate if you really want to remain in the journalism business you have to adapt.

The second: After 50?

I have accepted that despite my considerable and well-honed journalistic skills, people my age looking for a position in the industry are at a disadvantage.

The advantage – we have the old-school skills: the need to have a balanced story; the need to have every claim backed by at least two sources; the basic structure of a news story.

The disadvantage is many of us are not schooled in social media as a tool in journalistic pursuits — plus we cost more.

Then there is the constant quandary of being hired after 50.

But here is the good news:

Barring an age issue the skills you have attained are transferable: to content writers for corporations, to becoming an expert in social media and its uses if you have the time and desire to learn how (I did); to learning some of the finer points of public relations and media outreach.

It can all be done; and I am living proof it is being attempted – big time.

And unless time has truly not been on your side, once you get your foot through the door, the age issue becomes secondary.