Celebrate Doing it Right
By Eric Wright
In 1961 when Yuri Gagarin returned safely, becoming the first human in space, the Soviet Union announced the achievement in a broadcast aired in the middle of the night EST. Until then, it was top secret and no one knew of the launch. A reporter heard the broadcast and immediately called NASA, waking PR Chief Shorty Powers, who was sleeping on a cot in his office. When he answered, the journalist demanded, “How is NASA and the U.S. going to respond to this Soviet triumph?” A groggy Powers said, “What is this? We’re all asleep down here.” The headlines the next morning read, “SOVIETS PUT MAN IN SPACE, SPOKESPERSON SAYS, ‘U.S. ASLEEP!’”
I thought of that when I heard an entertaining, highly regarded investigative reporter speaking at a conference. He had gained notoriety breaking scandals on various athletes, professional and amateur, and now taught the skills he honed over decades to journalism students at a major university. Though he was obviously a talented individual, the delight he took in explaining how he gained the confidence and trust of those he interviewed, with the express intention of betraying that trust once the interviewee confided some weakness, I found troubling.
Don’t get me wrong – I respect the “whistleblowers” or those who shine the spotlight on injustice and journalists who with detective-like doggedness probe to ferret out the real facts. But when one finds success and acclaim by uncovering what is wrong, suddenly finding something wrong becomes the end game. It is like asking a group to find a “red” object in a room; if that is what you’re looking for, almost immediately you’ll find something red.
Let’s face it, we humans get some sort of delight in hearing “muck” about others, especially if we dislike or are secretly jealous of their success. As Ethel Mumford once said, “Knowledge is power, if you know it about the right person.”
I’m not qualified to evaluate anyone’s intentions, but I know from experience that it is much easier to point out how someone did it wrong or why they lost, versus doing it right or winning. The former I do from my recliner every Sunday afternoon in the fall watching the Dolphins lose yet another chance to be in the playoffs…there I go again, see how easy it is?
When I took a golf class as a college freshman the one thing I remember the coach saying was, “You don’t learn from your mistakes. You can hit the ball wrong all day long and learn nothing. You learn by hitting the ball right and then repeating that action over and over until it is instinctive.”
Of course, we can learn from our mistakes, but the point the coach was making was that from mistakes we only learn what not to do. The only way to learn what to do is by doing it right or by watching or hearing others who have done it right.
If our region is going to be as transformative as we all dream it can be, celebrating the successes and focusing on those who get it right is the only way we will achieve that goal. President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “muckraking” to refer to certain journalists in a 1906 speech where he acknowledged that, “The men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck…”