It is that time again, Dear Readers. We are close to the end of the year, and I am ready to crown my best and worst communicators of 2009. There was an abundance of candidates for the Rocchi Award for Worst Communicator, while it was harder to find effective communication. So, for good or for ill, here are my choices, as voted upon by my panel of experts. (Okay, I am the panel, but hey, I spend a lot of time studying communication, so I’m as qualified as any group of people!)
WORST COMMUNICATOR – Dishonorable Mention
My goodness, but the poor and ill-advised communication from a wide array of politicians was stunning this year. Here is a sampling of ne’er-say-wells:
- President Barack Obama, last year’s best communicator, relinquishing his title through his inability to articulate the case for healthcare reform, allowing his opponents to highjack the discussion.
- Sarah Palin, last year’s runner-up for worst communicator, with her ham-handed explanation of why she was resigning as governor of Alaska. She couldn’t blame that one on Katie Couric.
- Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, resurrecting long-discarded Hispanic stereotypes by saying to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings, "You'll have lots of 'splainin' to do." Shades of Ricky Ricardo! With that phrase (combined with a condescending tone), he played right into the worst stereotypes of the Republican Party as an exclusive country club.
WORST COMMUNICATOR – Runner-up
Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California, was roundly criticized for speaking against gay marriage in the question-and-answer portion of the Miss USA beauty contest. Personally, I thought she should have been able to say whatever she believed in that situation and inject some honesty in that otherwise faux and homogenized event. But she quickly overstayed her welcome and became a tempest in a D-cup. This self-described Christian complained incessantly about the attempts to silence her as she appeared ad nauseum in the same “mainstream media” she sought to denounce. If she was so persecuted, why did we see so much of her?
Speaking of seeing so much of her… (segue to the sarcasm…)
It became hard to reconcile her squeaky clean, church-going image with the nude photos that surfaced, which was later followed by a video of her “pleasuring” herself. Miss Prejean, remember the Biblical injunction against those who would cast the first stone? No, didn’t think you did. Watch your step next time as you ascend that soapbox.
WORST COMMUNICATORS -- Winners
Remember how Spider-Man was advised “With great power comes great responsibility?” Well, NBC, the National Broadcasting Company, officially abdicated its responsibility as a broadcaster by eliminating quality from their lineup. Slowly but surely, the network has become a purveyor of pap by concentrating on weight loss competitions, one-time events and other inferior programs. However, their greatest crime was to give up five hours of quality programming every week, Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. and turning it over to Jay Leno and his pale imitation of the Tonight Show. I am not a Leno basher by any means (I met the man in person once, and he was an absolute prince), but it was unconscionable to give up prime-time real estate to his un-entertaining variety show while a cable network is picking up NBC’s discards like “Southland.”
Even Jay looks guilty and weary on his show. He probably is aware of the crime for which he is an accomplice. NBC is creating a template for the demise of the once-great networks. Maybe Comcast will treat this jewel with more respect if the FCC approves the acquisition.
BEST COMMUNICATOR -- Runner-up
I wrote earlier in 2009 – in the same post criticizing Senator Tom Coburn — that “Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was a model for his party, and perhaps all citizens, in his decorum (during the Sotomayor hearings). He clearly had issues with Sotomayor, but he was able to express them in a courtly and respectful manner, calling to mind a level of discourse that we once had in this country until we Rush-ed in another direction. And as a former Judge Advocate General (JAG, like the TV show), he was well-qualified to question Sotomayor on legal issues.”
Joe Klein of Time magazine, in his own year-end review, also gave Graham kudos: “He faced down his home-state party on climate change and the need for civility in politics.”
In a year marked by knee-jerk partisanship, Graham used high-minded language to rise above the fray.
BEST COMMUNICATOR -- Winner
Let me compare two scenarios:
- A certain leading golfer is revealed to be having a number of extramarital affairs, and he loses his standing with the public as well as a number of lucrative endorsements.
- A famous TV star is threatened with the disclosure of several relationships with staff members. Said star meets with the extortionist, has him arrested and, in turn, shoots up to number one in his time slot.
David Letterman, along with his press advisors and his lawyers gave us a masterpiece in press relations this year. Lynette Rice of Entertainment Weekly wrote that “Letterman has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to preempt the scandal by getting ahead of it, both by using his sincere mea culpas and by poking fun at his predicament.” Indeed, Letterman controlled the situation rather than letting it control him. As a result, he and his show are leading in key audience demographics for the first time in years.
Tiger Woods is not the only person who could have learned from this approach. Presidents Nixon and Clinton could have benefited from it, too.
I wish the good had outweighed the bad in 2009, but let's hope for better in 2010. Let's all do what we can to improve communication in the second decade of the 21st Century.