Since it is a Presidential election year in the US, I thought I’d explore three recent news stories through the lens provided by or popularized by the late political super-strategist Lee Atwater:
Perception is reality.”
The three news items I want to address are:
- A possible scandal involving MSNBC and a congressional candidate.
- A drop in donations at the University of Missouri following campus protests.
- The termination of the Wounded Warrior Project leadership.
Together, these stories demonstrate the danger of ignoring and failing to manage public perceptions. Such a failure could cost your organization vital support.
NBCUniversal, owner of the cable news and commentary network MSNBC, has previously experienced scandal. NBC news anchor Brian Williams violated journalistic ethics, by falsifying parts of stories he covered, leading to his suspension. Following his suspension, NBCUniversal reassigned Williams to MSNBC in a greatly diminished role.
Now, Chris Matthews, host MSNBC’s Hardball, is at the center of what could become a new scandal.
As first reported on The Intercept blog, guests on Hardball have donated nearly $80,000 to the congressional campaign of Kathleen Matthews, Chris’ wife. This has raised questions about payola and full disclosure. According to the report about Chris and Kathleen Matthews:
Some of the guests made the donations after they were on the show — in some cases, long after. But in at least 11 of these cases, the Hardball guests appeared on the program after Kathleen Matthews announced her candidacy, and without any disclosure of the donations. And in at least three of those cases, the donations came within days of the MSNBC appearance.”
The investigative report raises the issue of payola. Were potential Hardball guests asked to contribute to Kathleen Matthews’ campaign as a quid pro quo for appearing on the program?
While we do not yet know whether there was any pay-to-play involved, The New York Post has already declared:
Chris Matthews at Center of NBC’s Latest News Scandal”
The Independent Journal Review headlined a story with:
There’s a Scandal Brewing at NBC News, and Chris Matthews Is Right in the Middle of It”
Again, we don’t know whether Chris Matthews has done anything wrong. However, for thousands of people, perhaps more, that might not really matter. They definitely have serious concerns. For its part, MSNBC has done nearly nothing to reassure the public about the network’s journalistic ethics. This has led to a MoveOn.org petition calling for the suspension of Chris Matthews, according to The Daily Caller:
A MoveOn.org petition demanding that MSNBC suspend Hardball host Chris Matthews has garnered just under 10,000 signatures, even as the network has refused to address what Huffington Post called a ‘clear conflict of interest.’”
It remains to be seen how this might affect donations to Kathleen Matthews’ political campaign or how it might affect voter attitudes. It also remains to be seen what impact this report might have on Chris Matthews’ future at MSNBC. However, one thing is certain, MSNBC’s near silence on the subject is raising the ire of thousands of people, if not more.
University of Missouri (Mizzou):
Simmering racial tension on the University of Missouri Columbia campus flared up in November during protests that captured national media attention. At one point, an associate professor yelled, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” The targeted reporter was simply doing his job.
In the aftermath of the protests, the University system President and the Columbia campus Chancellor both resigned. Several months later, Mizzou terminated the associate professor mentioned above.
Now, we know from a report from KTVO-TV that the campus unrest has cost Mizzou millions of dollars in donations:
A University of Missouri official says about $2 million in donations have been lost in fallout from the Columbia campus unrest last fall. Vice Chancellor for Advancement Tom Hiles said Thursday that several donors who had pledged money to the university have pulled back their pledges.”
In addition to the fundraising fallout, Mizzou expects a sharp decline in student enrollment. FoxNews.com has reported:
Safe spaces may become empty spaces at the University of Missouri, where officials acknowledged an expected sharp decline in enrollment next fall is due at least in part to protests that rocked the campus last fall. The school is braced for a 25 percent drop in new students this coming fall, forcing the institution to enact painful budget cuts, as well as hiring and salary freezes. ‘We do know that the events of last fall have had an effect on our application numbers; however, it’s difficult to provide a specific number as we do not have any hard data,’ University of Missouri spokesman Christian Basi said in a statement to Foxnews.com.”
While Mizzou officials have attempted to address student, alumni, and public concerns, it’s clear that much more needs to be done to reverse the downward fundraising and admissions results. The situation on campus may or may not be better. However, the perception among many shows that public concern remains.
Wounded Warrior Project: