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May 6, 2020 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

David Roth is critical of Donald Trump, to be sure, but saves his most scathing critique for the journalists tasked with covering him, a view I share completely.

From The Cancer in the Camera Lens | The New Republic:

This is especially troubling because confusing and frightening things really are happening, every day. Thousands of Americans are dying, every day, from a disease that, as a quadruple-bylined survey in Science concluded, “acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.” For more than a month, state and federal leaders have edged up to suggesting that this is something the country might just play through, shedding thousands of lives every day in the name of the American Way and various industries’ bottom lines; states are already gearing up for this kamikaze response to an unreasoning virus. Trump is fixated on various numbers that he can watch go up or down and on not losing his reelection campaign; he fights to win the day because it’s all he knows and how he lives, and he’ll govern that way until he isn’t governing anymore. There is no leadership of any kind coming from the top of the government, and while it’s hard to say what the Democrats are doing, exactly, “leadership” surely isn’t the word for it. All of it, quite literally, is a matter of life and death. Right now, either out of instinct or inertia, the culture is tipping toward the latter.

And yet, as with the broken system that perpetually elevates what Trump says over what he does—the treacherous spectacle that puts him back in those presidential close-ups day after day—the obvious failure of it all has somehow not led to a change in course. The institutions that might help people understand a uniquely terrifying world instead turn, daily, back toward the uncomprehending pursuit of an idiot king’s vinegary whims. When a reporter from The Washington Post stammered out a question last week about Trump’s stance on disinfectant/sunlight injections, Trump was already leaning in, manifestly out over his skis and yet comfortably in his element. “I’m the president,” he said, “and you’re fake news.” Here is what he said after that: “It’s just a suggestion. From a brilliant lab, from a very very smart, perhaps brilliant man. He’s talking about sun, he’s talking about heat. And you see the numbers. That’s it, that’s all I have. I’m just here to present talent. I’m here to present ideas.” It’s not an answer, but it was enough to get him to the next question. Trump didn’t know the answer to that one, either, but someone was still waiting to ask it.

The media’s failure in this era is only matched by the President’s.

May 4, 2020 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I’ve teamed up with a good friend of mine to launch a new podcast that focuses on PR and law named, naturally, the PR & Law Podcast.

I’m still not entirely comfortable with the result; it has been more than a decade since I’ve done any kind of radio, which remains my first love. I am having an absolute blast working on the podcast, but we still have plenty of kinks to work out and refinements to add.

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April 16, 2020 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

From Possible Chinese Nuclear Testing Stirs U.S. Concern – WSJ:

The Trump administration’s allegation is included in an unclassified summary of an annual review of international compliance with arms-control accords. The review has been in preparation for some time and is likely to add to existing strains over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, its militarization of the South China Sea and trade disputes.

It also comes as President Trump is seeking to open nuclear-arms talks with Beijing in the hope of negotiating a new nuclear deal that also includes Russia and covers all nuclear weapons.

Some former arms-control officials said that the Trump administration appeared to be more concerned with scoring points against China than resolving potential disputes through diplomacy.

This is explosive news (no pun intended). There are the concerns over nuclear testing in China, of course, but also over the State Department’s decision to call out China so publicly when relations between the two nations is already riven with mistrust.

April 14, 2020 -

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A Twitter war between two countries isn’t very common, and even less so in Asia where open confrontation is often downplayed. But when people have the chance to be anonymous, the insults can fly — no matter where they are. That was the case recently when Mainland China and Thailand went after each other in a war of foul language, funny creative memes, and even self-deprecating humor.

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March 31, 2020 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

You can always count on the United States to find ways to entertain — not even Covid-19, with millions of people under lockdown, can stop America’s cultural juggernaut. When the outbreak of the novel coronavirus led to the cancellation of the iHeart Radio Music Awards, music execs decided to replace it with an ingenious idea: having musical artists perform from home, together.

The iHeart Living Room Concert for America helped raise US$8 million for coronavirus relief on Sunday night. It was a hit, drawing nine million viewers to watch acts like Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong, and many more perform from home — kind of like the rest of us are doing, minus the singing.

One of the bigger hits of the night was, surprisingly, the Backstreet Boys. So if you miss the late 90s and early 00s, fill yer boots.

March 30, 2020 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The video of a representative of the World Health Organization hanging up on a reporter for asking questions about Taiwan’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak quickly spread around the world on Saturday. The Hong Kong reporter, Yvonne Tong, was asking questions of Bruce Aylward, a Canadian doctor. From The Guardian:

Asked by the RTHK reporter, Yvonne Tong, if the WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s membership, Aylward didn’t respond for several seconds, before saying he couldn’t hear the question.

Tong offered to repeat it but he cut in: “no, that’s OK, let’ move to another one then.”

“I’m actually curious to talk about Taiwan as well,” Tong said.

Aylward then appeared to either hang up the call, or get disconnected.

This is truly one of the most embarrassing, self-inflicted PR disasters in recent memory (and not just because he hung an oversized WHO bath towel behind him).

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March 30, 2020 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am a huge fan of The Ezra Klein Show, a Vox Media podcast that goes deep into some random but fascinating issues like loneliness, identity politics, atheism, poetry, veganism, “political hobbyism”, class conflict, I could go on. Klein is the best kind of journalist: struggling to make sense of the world, genuinely curious, and open to having his mind changed. 

Another of my favorite journalists is Evan Osnos, an award-winning staff writer for The New Yorker. Evan was based in China for a long time, overlapping with a few years that I lived in Beijing. I didn’t know him well at all, but occasionally ran into him at Luga’s, a dive burrito shack pouring fake booze for just over $1 in a seedy bar district. Osnos is arguably the best writer on China today; he speaks Putonghua well and has taken the time to dive deep into the culture. Not only does he “get” China in a way that few other journalists and pundits do, he’s able to articulate the many nuances and contradictions in both society on the ground and in the highest levels of government in a way that helps the rest of us understand the country better. (One of the best recent books on China is Osnos’ Age of Ambition, which is a fascinating look into how the country’s growing political and economic power is shaping society on the ground.)

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March 16, 2020 -

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Editor’s Note: An update to this story has been included at the end.

The Covid-19 pandemic got serious in North America last week when big events started to be called off to prevent person-to-person transmission of the virus. The NBA was the first of the major sports leagues to suspend the season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday night, minutes before tipoff between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. The NHL followed about 15 hours later, announcing Thursday morning that the NHL season would go on “pause”. Then it snowballed: the MLS, Major League Baseball, Broadway, NASCAR, and other events were all suspended with some, like the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament, canceled outright.

Even though sports executives have known about the coronavirus since January, nobody expected sports leagues to suspend their seasons. It’s a drastic step that brings huge consequences both financially and logistically. In a way, the leagues had no choice, as they relied on information from health officials and had to do whatever it takes to stop Covid-19 from spreading further. Stopping the regular gathering of 20,000 people in arenas across the continent seems to be rather obvious!

A crisis like this can provide excellent public relations case studies. Some organizations have come forward with clear and compassionate communications with their season ticket holders, fans, and employees, while others — ahem, Mark Chipman — have badly missed the mark.

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March 7, 2020 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

There isn’t much to this story, except for the fact it’s extremely rare and very entertaining.

We have all worked in jobs with people we dislike, and sometimes dislike passionately. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can be a massive distraction for an entire team.

The key, in those situations, is to remain as professional and cordial as possible, especially when you are on live television! But one TV news anchor in New York let his frustration get the best of him, criticizing his own station’s reporter during a live hit from an apartment building where residents were complaining about building management.

The live, on-air interaction was shared on Twitter by Kalen Allen, who works in the TV business in LA. You can tell, right from the moment the reporter throws back to the anchor, that something was up. Things went downhill from there, fast.

At one point, the reporter makes reference to previously being the anchor’s boss, which is probably awkward. It goes without saying, though, that those feelings should never affect work.

I suspect they won’t be sitting at the same table for the next company dinner.

Let me know what you think in the comments!


January 12, 2020 -

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’ve been fortunate over the years to be involved in some pretty bizarre and random projects, like traveling around China for a Business Traveler television show, serving as a Simon Cowell-style judge on a Chinese version of The Voice, or personally escorting (now Presidential candidate) Mike Bloomberg for part of his visit to Hong Kong many years ago. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I ever have imaged doing any of those three things.

Now, I can add a fourth: attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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