Presentation on the use of Emotional Intelligence instruments for leadership development.
Defining moments are ridiculously difficult to predict. For example, President Bush attempted to use ‘defining moment’ rhetoric to pressure the U.N. Security Council to pass resolution 1441, calling for Iraq to disarm what later was found to be a non-existent weapons program (CNN, 2003). Later, President Bush attempted to define a ‘defining moment’ for the Iraqi government in their push to rid Basra of militants (Myers, 2008). Of course, the attempts to define the defining moments of a presidency occur on both sides of the aisle. After the killing of Bin Laden, Democrats rushed to a ‘defining moment’ narrative for Obama’s presidency (Warren, 2011). Despite the efforts of political public relations machines, defining moments remain elusive, precisely because they require the passage of time and the resulting perspective that goes with it, and because they must hold symbolic meaning for larger historical narratives. However, most public relations functions continue to use their skills in an attempt to define moments for those they represent, based on the antiquated idea that media has powerful effects on a mass audience, but many do not consider the meaning-making capability of individual audience members.
On May 1, 2003, the American public was greeted with the sight of President Bush, heroically landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, fully bedecked in a flight suit, where hours later, under a banner reading ‘Mission Accomplished’, President Bush would announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq (Bash, 2003). While President Bush choose his words very carefully, the banner betrayed the government’s interest in staging a ‘defining moment’ in the U.S. public sphere. Of course, the pseudo-event did become a defining moment, just not in the way it was intended. Rather than ‘mission-accomplished’ becoming a symbol of American military dominance and a capable administration, it became a symbol of an administration out of touch with the reality on the ground in Iraq, and as such, cast doubts on the administration’s ability to win the peace.
Bush staffer’s would later argue that message was mangled, that the press got the meaning wrong, and that the banner was not intended to convey the end of the war, rather the end of a successful deployment of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (Bradley, 2011). However, their objections ring hollow, and the event serves to illustrate a public relations function that continues to operate using the notion of the media as “a great keyboard on which the government can play” (Time, 1933). Shafritz, Russell, and Borick (2011) support the idea that governments continue to use the mass media as a device to influence the public sphere. However, the notion of a mass society easily influenced by a powerful mass media, has largely been refuted in research on media effects (McQuail, 2010). An alternative view of the communication process, is the reception model, which has focused communication research on the role of the individual in the social construction of meaning (McQuail, 2010).
President Bush and the communications staff of the Bush administration sought to shape public perception of the war effort by suggesting that combat operations were successful and complete. The staff chose powerful symbols of American military might, an aircraft carrier, fighter jets, and U.S sailors. In addition, the staff sought to portray President Bush as an accomplished military leader, having the President fly onto the aircraft carrier on a Navy jet, despite the aircraft carrier being within helicopter range. While it remains unclear whether the ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign was intentionally placed behind President Bush, it is difficult to believe the sign escaped the attention of the White House communications staff. However, history demonstrates that the clearly orchestrated pseudo-event did not shape public perception in the way in which it was intended.
Rather, the American public created an altogether different meaning resulting from the public relations disaster. ‘Mission Accomplished’ was not only widely criticized in the press as premature (Andersen, 2007; Bash, 2003; Bradley, 2011), but also widely parodied (Ferell, 2010; The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 2003). In addition, the phrase became an Internet meme symbolizing incompetence, failure, or disingenuousness (quickmeme, 2012; Urban Dictionary, 2012). The picture that emerges from the widespread use of ‘Mission Accomplished’ demonstrates an altogether different ‘defining moment’ than the one envisioned by the Bush administration.
Therefore, public administrators should consider carefully whether to attempt to stage ‘defining moments’ of their own, for public perception is not so easily shaped. Rather, when framing debates in the public sphere, consideration should be made how pseudo-events will play in the larger context of the public debate. While the mass media is an important tool for public relations, the idea that the mass media exerts a powerful influence over public perception has been refuted in studies of media effects. Instead, public relations staff should consider the meaning-making capability of individual audience members and how the symbols that are used support existing narratives in the public sphere.
Andersen, R. (2007, May 1, 2007). “Mission Accomplished,” Four Years Later Retrieved August, 15, 2012, from http://www.prwatch.org/node/6005
Bash, D. (2003, October 29, 2012). White House pressed on ‘mission accomplished’ sign Retrieved August 15, 2012, 2012, from http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/10/28/mission.accomplished/
Bradley, T. (2011, September 18, 2011). Press Missed ‘Mission Accomplished’ Meaning, Says Bush Staffer Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/press-missed-mission-accomplished-meaning-says-bush-staffer/
CNN. (2003, Fenruary 7, 2003). Bush: ‘Defining moment’ for Security Council Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://articles.cnn.com/2003-02-07/us/sprj.irq.wrap_1_security-council-al-saadi-weapons?_s=PM:US
Ferell, W. (Producer). (2010, August 16, 2012). You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O0WUzU-Kxc
McQuail, D. (2010). Mcquail’s mass communication theory (6th ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Myers, S. L. (2008, March 29, 2008). Bush Says Iraq Has Reach ‘Defining Moment’ Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/washington/29cnd-prexy.html
quickmeme. (2012). Bush Mission Accomplished Retrieved August 15, 2012, 2012, from http://www.quickmeme.com/Bush-MISSION-ACCOMPLISHED/?upcoming
Shafritz, J. M., Russell, E. W., & Borick, C. P. (2011). Introducing public administration (7th ed.). Boston: Longman.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Producer). (2003, August 15, 2012). The “Sign” Controversy. Retrieved from http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-29-2003/the–sign–controversy
Time. (1933). Foreign News: Consecrated Press. Time.
Urban Dictionary. (2012). mission accomplished Retrieved August 16, 2012, 2012, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mission+accomplished
Warren, J. (2011, May 5, 2011). Obama, Osama, and the Problem With Defining Moments Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/obama-osama-and-the-problem-with-defining-moments/238394/
“Sport and mass media enjoy a very symbiotic relationship in American society” (McChesney, 1989, p. 49). Indeed, from the first closed-circuit televised broadcast of the Olympics in 1936 to the digitally-delivered Olympics of 2012, the Olympic games provide a compelling environment with which to explore the nature of the symbiosis. In particular, the London Olympics, the first to have a immersive digital media experience in addition to the traditional broadcast experience, sheds light on the conflict created by new forms of media and how new media threatens traditional commercial mass media business models in the world of sports coverage, perhaps upsetting the symbiotic balance. NBC Universal, which owned the broadcast rights to the London Olympics in the United States was heavily criticized for their coverage, accused of forcing audiences into viewing paradigms of an earlier era, failing to use new media to its potential, and putting the commercial interest over the public interest (Deitsch, 2012; Holmes, 2012; Moore, 2012; Stanley, 2012). Most of the criticism centered on NBC’s failure in three dimensions, real-time versus prime-time, cultural deafness in a global village, and tone-deaf coverage selection, prompting a new Internet meme, #NBCFail(Sandomir, 2012; Stanley, 2012). Despite the criticism, NBC’s coverage was a commercial success with the largest audience in media history (CNN, 2012). The London Olympics demonstrate that the mass media is dealing with a new reality as a result of a networked audience. Mainstream media organizations occupy a liminal existence between traditional mass media business models and new media expectations, attempting to step into the digital world while remaining tied to earlier paradigms.
Little does more to reflect the symbiotic relationship between media and sports as much as the financial arrangements between the media and sporting agencies. In the case of the London Olympics, NBC paid the International Olympic Committee $1.18 billion for the exclusive U.S. broadcast rights to the games (BBC, 2012), fees that provide the bulk of International Olympic Committee revenue (Associated Press, 2008). One could argue that the games would not exist in their present form without IOC broadcasting revenue streams. Moreover, with such hefty prices for broadcasts rights, NBC needed to assure that their coverage would generate significant advertising sales to make the broadcast a commercial success in a media environment where audiences have been fractured between traditional mass media and networked media. At risk, was not only the commercial success of the deal, but also NBC’s brand reputation in delivering a high-quality media experience that serves public interest in the media event.
By all accounts, the NBC broadcast of the Olympics was a commercial success. NBC had originally expected to lose $200 million on the broadcast, but ended up making a small profit as a result of larger than expected advertising revenue (Heistand, 2012) and the largest audience ever recorded for any media event (CNN, 2012). Moreover, NBC executives have linked to their primetime success to their digital programming, suggesting their digital coverage drove viewers to primetime audiences and calling their move into digital coverage “a big, bold, swing” (Heistand, 2012, p. 1). However, critics have argued that NBC’s digital coverage was missed opportunity because the network continued to think of coverage in traditional, monopolistic terms, assuming that viewers didn’t mind not seeing the events live, and couldn’t get the information elsewhere (Stanley, 2012). Indeed, NBC’s choice, to delay coverage until primetime, or only offer live digital streams to paying cable customers angered many viewers, although savvy Internet users streamed live coverage directly from the BBC using Internet proxies to circumvent NBC (Moore, 2012). Rather than a bold move into digitalized networked communication, NBC appeared to use digital content simply to draw the audience to primetime coverage, their traditional revenue source.
Moreover, criticism extended to whether NBC understood how the world had changed as a result of networked communication. NBC appeared to be deaf to the multi-cultural nature of the Olympic broadcast, opting to select coverage primarily of U.S. athletes and with color commentary that appeared to understand little of the world outside the United States. For instance, Moore (2012), described viewers embarrassment of the spectacle:
Having to watch trained TV anchors link Kazakhstan to Borat, describing Luxembourg as a central European nation, note that Uganda’s athletes come from the country of Idi Amin, mispronounce the names of Niger and the Cote D’Ivoire, and otherwise support every ugly American stereotype. (p. 1)
While NBC may be excused their coverage selection given that competition for revenue drives programming choices to the lowest common denominator (McQuail, 2010), the mono-cultural commentary displays both arrogance and ignorance of multicultural character of the global village enabled by the networked world.
The widespread criticism suggests that NBC appeared to underappreciate a variety of audience expectations, including the desire for the shared experience for live Olympic coverage, the expectation of niche, tailored content inherent in the digital world, and the desire of the audience to view the Olympics anywhere, anytime, and on any device. The resulting outcry from audience members over NBC’s botched monopoly coverage showed up on Twitter with the hashtag #NBCFail, however NBC executives appeared to discount the outcry as dissent from small minority (Richter, 1985), an attitude that demonstrates their misunderstanding of the network form of mass communication. For example, while over the last three days, there have been a mere 19,800 tweets with the hashtag #NBCFail, those tweets have made more than 15.5 million impressions (Hashtracking, 2012). Furthermore, the popular #NBCFail meme has transcended Olympic coverage and has entered popular Twitter discourse on NBC’s coverage of football, the mars rover, the election, NBC Nightly News, and even their fall line-up. While NBC’s Olympic coverage has been a commercial success, the damage done to their brand may be incalculable.
The #NBCFail meme is symptomatic of NBC’s failure to meet the expectations of an audience that become accustomed to new media in a networked world. Audiences expect to get coverage anywhere, anytime, and on any device. In addition, audiences have higher expectations of the social nature of global media events, expecting platforms than enable them to share the experience in a multicultural setting. However, while traditional media companies have the financial power that affords the opportunity for exclusive coverage of global sporting events, they are at the same time, unequipped to transition their business models inline with higher audience expectations, given it requires them to creatively destroy the very business model that provides that financial power. In fact, #NBCFail could have as easily been #ABCFail or #CBSFail, given most mainstream media organizations occupy a liminal existence between traditional mass media business models and business models that center around new media expectations.
Associated Press. (2008, November 18, 2008). EBU urges IOC to stick with European broadcasters Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=oly&id=3710990
BBC. (2012, August 14, 2012). London 2012 was ‘biggest ever US TV event’ Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19253273
CNN. (2012, August 13, 2012). Nielsen: 2012 Olympics most-watched event in U.S. TV history Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/13/olympics-closing-ceremony-a-ratings-win/
Deitsch, R. (2012, August 10, 2012). Mark Lazarus responds to criticism. London 2012 Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/olympics/2012/writers/richard_deitsch/08/10/NBCs-Mark-Lazarus-responds-to-criticism/3.html
Hashtracking. (2012, August 19, 2012). #NBCFail Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://beta.hashtracking.com/ht-pro-rpt/cjeffers-nbcfail-2012-08-10/
Heistand, M. (2012, August 12, 2012). NBC: ‘We took a big bold swing’ with digital coverage Retrieved August 19, 2012, from http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/hiestand-tv/story/2012-08-12/NBC-London-Olympics/57015258/1
Holmes, L. (2012, August 6, 2012). Good Business, Bad Quality: How NBC Is Both Right And Wrong On The Olympics Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2012/08/06/158198998/good-business-bad-quality-how-nbc-is-both-right-and-wrong-on-the-olympics
McChesney, R. W. (1989). Media made sport: A history of sports coverage in the United States. In L. A. Wenner (Ed.), Media, sports, & society (pp. 315 p.). Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications.
McQuail, D. (2010). Mcquail’s mass communication theory (6th ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Moore, H. (2012, July 30, 2012). NBC fail shows network’s commitment to ‘the last great buggy-whip Olympics’. Olympics 2012 Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/30/nbc-fail-buggy-whip-olympics
Richter, P. (1985, December 12, 1985). General Electric Will Buy RCA for $6.28 Billion Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from http://articles.latimes.com/1985-12-12/news/mn-16152_1_general-electric-will
Sandomir, R. (2012, July 29, 2012). Olympic Viewers Have a New Reason to Complain, and the Means to Do It. Olympics Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/sports/olympics/nbc-olympics-delay-and-streaming-bring-complaints-on-twitter.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Stanley, T. (2012, August 6, 2012). NBC’s Olympic coverage has been a damning indictment of outdated monopoly media Retrieved August 19,, 2012, from http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100174920/nbcs-olympic-coverage-has-been-a-damning-indictment-of-outdated-monopoly-media/