It’s not just winning, but HOW you win

Some would tell you that the larger, more diverse electorate that shows up in a Presidential year means Republicans are marching toward disappointment in 2016. Not so. In my new piece at Communities Digital News, I discuss how data-driven campaigning delivered most of the really close races of 2014 to the GOP – and how that sets them up for future success.

Sure, 2014 was a wave election – but that shouldn’t detract from smart Republican campaigns that put themselves in position to take advantage. There’s a difference between riding a wave and surfing.

Fearless Forecast: American Sniper will NOT win for Best Picture

If you’re laying down money on the Oscars… well, you might have a problem. But since we’re this far, my gambling advice would be to take the field against American Sniper. (Just remember: gambling advice is easy when it’s someone else’s money.)

We’d like to believe that the Academy Awards are only about excellence, but that’s a ridiculous expectation. There’s a vote on each award, which means a human element that’s susceptible to the winds of Zeitgeist. (Sidebar: Winds of Zeitgeist sounds like it should be a dime-store novel.) That’s why Michael Moore’s non-criticism criticism of American Sniper back in January damaged the movie’s chances. By injecting his opinions, the once-relevant documentarian Moore predictably drew a response. Conservatives praised the movie loudly while bashing Hollywood liberals.

The result was plenty of chatter about leftist Michael Moore and troop-supporting conservatives – but little about the film’s portrayal of war and the effects of military service on families back on the home front. Given the fact that Chris Kyle’s real-life alleged murderer is on trial right now, the film could have been recognized for making an important statement about post traumatic stress disorder. Instead, Newsmax is banging the drum for a Best Picture Oscar.

If liberals really do control Hollywood, would those who are Academy voters want to cast a vote for a movie that would validate the red-meat conservatives who have so vocally opposed Moore for nearly two months? If you’re looking at two or three movies and wondering who gets your nod, does the idea of controversy steer you away from Sniper?

Michael Moore clearly didn’t hurt the film at the box office, but the controversy over his comments made it tougher for American Sniper to pull off a win on Sunday night.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t see American Sniper, so these arguments aren’t on the merits of the films. (One of the joys of parenthood is that you can critically review every film you go see with, “While the storyline was somewhat derivative of earlier works, but sweet mother of jellybeans it was nice to get out of the house for two hours.”)  Maybe the other movies are actually better; maybe they aren’t. But clearly, thanks to the backlash against Moore, Sniper has a brand beyond being among the five-to-ten best movies of 2014.

ARod checks a box

Michael Kay had a smart reaction to the hand-written apology Alex Rodriguez dropped today.

It was a little silly that ARod scrawled the mea culpa across a couple sheets of paper pilfered from an office printer. But in releasing a written statement, Kay points out that Rodriguez will not face a firing squad of New York writers and radio commentators looking to tear him down. It won’t win him any fans, but at this point what would? Rodriguez’s reputation and credibility are shot, and the only chance to get back in the good graces of fans and Yankees ownership is to shut up and play well.

The letter itself says all the right things – or at least, all the things he has to say. Yes, he’s sorry. No, he doesn’t expect you to believe him. More important, its release allows ARod the luxury of responding to any further questions about coming back from suspension with a succinct, “I already talked about that.” Even if no one else wants to move past his PED use and suspension, Rodriguez can credibly say he has.

Each year, it seems like Rodriguez offers a new lesson in crisis communications – and usually provides a comprehensive seminar of what not to do. Maybe he got this one right.

How SNL became bulletbroof

Last night, Saturday Night Live’s celebration of its 40th season was… odd. The broadcast was not crisp. Most of the jokes fell flat. The cuts from scene to scene were sloppy. Eddie Murphy could have been replaced by Damon Wayans without materially changing anything.

It doesn’t really matter, does it? Watching cast members from different eras collaborate and the self-referential callbacks to the earlier classics, served as a reminder that SNL has undergone more resurrections than the bad guy in a 1980s slasher flick. Even though there were a lot – a LOT – of seasons when the show was less-than-par, there’s a trail of would-be competitors in the show’s wake. Even as the Tonight Show yielded ground to Arsenio and, eventually, Letterman, SNL was never seriously threatened. (MAD TV’s mid-90s debut was probably the best shot anyone took.)

Depending on how you count, SNL has had three excellent cast eras and maybe one or two more very good cast eras. Maybe even more important, SNL has done well at making its content packagable for the social internet age. Topical sketches are very sharable due to relevance and length, and the rise of shorts videos – a presence since the early years but more integrated in the last decade – have only helped. More than any old media property, SNL has been the most clearly adaptable to the modern media environment. While they’ve been slow at times, they’ve generally kept up.)

Because of that evolution – and the continued waves of success – the show has It’s a brand name now.  A bad year (or even three) won’t force NBC to pull the plug. Like Tonight, Today, Dateline, and the nightly news, SNL is more than a series on the network, it’s a block of time. Even if the format changes, 11:30 on Saturday night will have a comedy show on NBC for the forseeable future.

Pity the successors to Lorne Michaels at the helm of the show, though – with the show such a proven commodity, NBC will likely expect success. Saturday night Live may be bullet proof, but the

Week in Review: The best tribute David Letterman will get

David Letterman is not at his peak right now, and he’s probably right to walk away from late night television this year. In Tuesday night’s installment of the Late Show, many of Dave’s gags fell flat, and the audience responded with polite reverential applause. It was especially sad because Letterman made his bones as a sort-of anti-talk-show-host. For him to be treated with such kid gloves is almost worse than the awkward silence following a less accomplished comedian’s failed joke.

Then Chris Elliott came on to do a turn in the guest chair. If you’re a long-time fan, you could remember the old Late Night show, when Elliott was a writer and Letterman did what was arguably his best work. Their friendly banter was genuine – from Letterman making fun of Elliott’s new project, Schitt’s Creek to Elliott pinging Letterman for being two or three years away from being a “wacky Regis.” It’s always kind of fun to watch people on a stage who really respect and enjoy each other’s talents.

Never above making a public spectacle of himself, Elliott offered a touching tribute to Letterman as only he could:

Letterman’s response (“Thank you Chris. That was awful.”) was somehow heartfelt and ironic all at once. It’s too bad they couldn’t save this performance for the final show.

(Sidebar: It’s not the first time Elliott has used the song, as fans of his short-lived sitcom Get a Life might recall.)

We don’t teach kids about financial democracy

An article in the Economist says that activist investors are good for a public company. In making the case, it frames publicly traded companies as organs of democracy:

AS INVENTIONS go, the public company is one of capitalism’s greatest. Initial public offerings promote innovation, by providing an exit route for entrepreneurs; being listed makes a firm open to scrutiny; and ordinary people have a chance to invest in capitalism’s wealth-creating machines.  …Activist hedge funds take small stakes in firms and act like political campaigners, trying to win other shareholders’ support for their demands: representation on companies’ boards, cost-cutting, spin-offs and returning cash to shareholders.

These are good points, specifically the idea that average people have access to big business. Naturally, the problem is that any stock purchase is a gamble, and that the “ordinary people” referenced above might not understand the risk and would lose savings.

Our answer to that, culturally, has been to dissuade investment. We surrender the world of high finance to the images of Patrick Bateman and Gordon Gekko because they make convenient movie characters, while our schools do little to teach people how to build an investment portfolio over time.

When politicians express concern about America’s widening wealth gap, the answers always seem to be income-based: Proposals tend to include increasing the minimum wage or raising tax earners who make more than $250,000 per year. These are placebo solutions. Wealth isn’t about earnings, but savings and investment. Since lower-income earners have fewer opportunities to do that (with less money to save and invest), wouldn’t the smart policy solution be to help them maximize those opportunities?

Part of that is learning how publicly traded companies work, and understanding the shareholder’s rights and privileges. Civics classes teach us that we each have a vote and a right to speak out about our government – and that if we have some sort of beef, we can organize and change things with enough time and effort. Similar lessons about publicly traded companies are, unfortunately rare.