The tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the cold-blooded murder of six others at the hands of 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner should rightfully bring all Americans together in a time of reflection. This heinous act soils the very foundations of our democracy.
As of this writing, Loughner never offered his motive to the public, nor have authorities released this motive to the media.
Sadly, it appears that America’s opinion leaders have been zapped into the 1999 classic “Office Space” and purchased Tom Smykowski’s infamous “Jump to Conclusions” mat. As Smykowski described it, “it would be this mat that you would put on the floor, and it would have different conclusions written on it that you could jump to”.
Having spent the majority of my career in communications-related positions within government and politics, I understand the impact wrought by targeted messaging. With that, I’d offer several key points to consider when following fast-evolving news stories such as the Arizona tragedy:
1. Be objective: Separate opinion from facts, and separate columnists from reporters.
2. Do your own research: Don’t be content to trust one single information resource; take a few moments to look into the situation at hand. Reviewing previous news stories, quotes, political activities, social networking sites and other public records will provide you with a more detailed, comprehensive and independent view.
3. Demand facts: Be skeptical when opinion leaders reinforce their long-standing ideological persuasion in the midst of a fast-moving news story. Seek the direct correlation between the action and their conclusion. Review the sources determine whether concrete facts were actually utilized.
4. Be credible: When reviewing your findings, outline the facts first and foremost. If you are seeking to utilize this research to support your own conclusion, offer as many citations as you can find, all of which are independent and indisputable. Credibility is key.
Those of us who have led crisis communications efforts understand the need to build and maintain credibility with both the media and the general public during a time of rapidly-changing news. We understand the value of serving as a trusted information resource. Repeating a rumor offered on a blog or repeating a line from a speech without supporting evidence is irresponsible, ineffective and undercuts our effectiveness as communications professionals.
It is time for all of us to come together, pray and reflect on the events of this past Saturday.
It is also time for us to demand the facts, and return our “Jump to Conclusions” mat.
John Durso, Jr. is the Executive Director of a Manhattan-based non-profit, and a veteran of New York politics and government for more than a decade.