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Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’

Ben Carson Stonehenge memeI was updating some slides for a class on writing for social media last week and wanted to update the memes I used early in the class.

When I taught a similar class last spring, I used some Rand Paul memes to illustrate points after using some Hillary Clinton memes. The Republican race didn’t have a clear front-runner, but Paul had inspired some pro and con memes that fit the writing points I was making in class. In both cases, I wasn’t trying to make partisan points about the candidates (and used pro and con memes about each of them). I was just trying to use timely points about applying the craft of writing to memes.

Paul is lagging in the Republican presidential polls, though, so I updated my slides last week with some memes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Within a week, my Carson memes were out of date. A gusher of memes was fueled by Carson’s speculation that the Egyptian pyramids were built for storing grain, followed by media debunking of his claims about getting a “full scholarship” offer to West Point, meeting Gen. William Westmoreland as a young high school ROTC cadet, behaving violently in his youth and a story about a hoax by a professor at Yale. (I’m working on a subsequent post on fact-checking, relating to these stories and Carson’s response to them.)

Each of the stories prompted more memes, including some that played on humor from multiple Carson stories.

I don’t know whether memes are a permanent form of writing that will endure, or whether they will pass as a fad. But clearly writing in social media, for now, is a matter of both the visual effect of blending words and photos and the visual use of type fonts, sizes and styles.

From a journalism standpoint, the meme combines many of the principles and techniques of headline writing with newer social-media writing techniques.

I’ve never claimed expertise in design, but I expand here (with some newer Carson memes added to the ones I used in class) on the points I made in classes last week about writing in memes:

Ben Carson memes

My former Digital First Media colleague, Ryan Teague Beckwith, did a great story in 2012 about Barack Obama as our first meme president.

Now memes are a regular part of the social media conversation about politics. Whether they love or hate Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Carson, partisans express their opinions, often with humor, in memes. You blend words and images to make a clear point supporting your candidate or mocking the opponent. If political campaigns don’t already have meme specialists, they will soon. I know of news organizations that have posted memes on social media to promote stories. I don’t know whether that will become standard, but I would be experimenting with it if I were in a newsroom someday.

Below are some Carson memes I used in last week’s classes, with some advice on writing memes (updated with a few memes that came out since my classes ended last Wednesday): (more…)

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In a series of posts nearly five years ago, I made the point that some of the great wisdom of the ages fit easily into tweets. I made the same point in some classes last week, noting that even in long writing forms, such as books or speeches, you should make key points briefly in memorable lines.

In my slides for the class, I imagined how some historic speeches or books might have been summarized in tweets:

FDR tweet

 

Anne Frank tweet

JFK tweet

Rachel Carson tweet

Martin Luther King tweet

Ronald Reagan tweet

What else?

Suggest some other imagined tweets from historical writing such as books and speeches, and I’d be happy to add them here (and possibly use them, with credit, in future classes and workshops).

The rest of the class

As noted above, these tweets come toward the end of a class about writing for social media. I review the full class in an accompanying post. Here are the slides for the full class:

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Donald Trump’s obviously phony pandering to evangelical Christians, and his strong showing among them in polls, continue a decades-long tradition of Republican exploitation of conservative Christians.

Journalism has not often done a good job of covering the intersection of religion and politics, partly because the he-said-she-said story form and the tradition of “objective” journalism hinder journalists from calling bullshit on the hypocrisy and exploitation that many journalists see. And religious extremists wouldn’t care what journalists say anyway.

But here are some facts and observations from my decades of covering religion and politics as an editor and reporter, as well as many years when I had different journalistic duties, but still have watched in fascination as a voter:

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A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

When I blog about historic front pages, I normally tell about papers that actually made it to homes and/or vending machines. This one didn’t make it out of the Des Moines Register’s building (except for the copies spirited out by a few editors for keepsakes).

Usually when editors stop the presses to update a story or dump a bad one, the papers that have already been printed go out to the early routes because the mistake is found too late. But all the papers were still in the building 35 years ago when we learned that a deal for a Republican presidential ticket of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford had fallen through.

The Reagan-Ford discussions had been the buzz all day. Ford, who was more popular after his presidency than during it, would add some heft to the ticket of a former actor at the top of the ticket who was genial and popular, but perceived as a lightweight.

As the presses started rumbling late the night of July 16, our front page proclaimed the ticket as likely. Appearing under the triple byline of three of the best journalists I ever worked with, Jim Risser, George Anthan and Jim Flansburg, was this lead:

Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, in a stunning political move, reportedly persuaded former President Gerald Ford Wednesday night to be his running mate, after promising that Ford would not be a mere figurehead.

As I recall, Dave Westphal, who was editing the story, insisted on hedging with “reportedly.” Our three reporters, and everyone else covering the Republican convention, thought the Reagan-Ford ticket was a done deal.

A commentary by our editor, Jim Gannon, noted how the remarkable deal came together, first raised in a live TV interview of Ford by Walter Cronkite.

Eventually, Reagan decided he would be sharing too much power with his former rival.

With the newsroom floor vibrating from the fast-moving press below, Risser called with news that the deal had fallen through. News Editor Jimmy Larson called the pressroom to stop the presses. But before they could throw away all the outdated papers, I grabbed the one pictured above.

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Jon Stewart cut his old friend Brian Williams a break, making some really big media news to overshadow the story about the possible death blow to Williams’ career.

A suspension of the leading anchor of the old Big Three television networks for embellishing stories is a big deal. But the departure of the king of fake news is huge. Whom will we turn to now to learn what the news really means? Well, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore and whoever replaces Stewart on The Daily Show, but more on that later.

The dual career moves — a suspension following an apology that only made things worse, contrasting with lavish praise following an announcement of a voluntary departure at some vague point later this year — were loaded in contrast and irony that tell us so much about television news and entertainment today:
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Des Moines Tribune front page, Jan. 20, 1981I had fun reviewing the front pages my father saved from the Kennedy assassination. So I’ve decided to make a look back at historic (or just interesting) front pages an occasional feature of this blog.

Since this is Jan. 20, I have to remember the day a bigger story pushed a presidential inauguration to secondary status: Jan. 20, 1981. Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office was a huge deal, but after 444 days of captivity in Tehran, the release of American hostages from Iran was bigger.

Of course, the capture of the hostages and Jimmy Carter‘s failure in attempts to free them by a military surprise rescue mission or by diplomacy was a key reason Reagan was taking his first oath as president rather than Carter taking his second. (Soaring prices and interest rates were other reasons, but the hostage crisis was the biggest humiliation and failure of the Carter presidency.)

I worked at the Des Moines Register at the time, and the Register and our sister afternoon paper, the Des Moines Tribune, worked frantically to cover the varying developments over the last days of the Carter presidency and the first day of the Reagan presidency.

The stories and pictures of both events came from the wire services, but this was a local story, too: One of the hostages, Kathryn Koob, was a native of Jesup, Iowa, and both papers had covered her captivity intensely for more than a year. And, of course, one of the thrills of working on a newspaper is putting together a historic paper, whether the story comes from your staff or not. The local staff writes the headlines, edits the stories and lays out the whole paper, including that historic front page. (more…)

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Brevity is the soul of wit.

Shakespeare wrote that. And no one said it was shallow because he said it in fewer than 140 characters (27, to be precise).

When people who don’t understand Twitter whine about it, a common implication is that you can’t say much in 140 characters. So everything on Twitter must be shallow, right? I received a job application recently that touted the other social media the applicant was using but dismissed Twitter, implying that the person’s big thoughts simply couldn’t be expressed in just 140 characters.

Setting aside the fact that one of Twitter’s best uses is to distribute links to pieces of greater depth, I want to dispute the myth that short equals shallow. I have done my share of lengthy writing. I once wrote a newspaper story that ran 200 inches and my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection ran 38 pages as a pdf. But I aspire to get to the point occasionally with a nugget of wit or wisdom.

So I rounded up some wisdom, insight and humor, much of which you will recognize immediately, all of it tweetworthy.

Let’s start with Jesus, whose most famous statement fits easily in a tweet: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

And some of the most enduring statements from our presidents fit easily in tweets (I deliberately left President Obama off this list because it is just too soon to say which statements of his will endure):

Thomas Jefferson: I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Abraham Lincoln: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Harry Truman: The buck stops here.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

John F. Kennedy: And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Ronald Reagan: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

And, of course, leaders of other nations have been eloquent but brief as well:

Winston Churchill: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Nelson Mandela: If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

Other inspirational leaders also showed their eloquence in brief statements:

Mohandas Gandhi: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

Patrick Henry: I know not what others may choose but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

Helen Keller: It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Douglas MacArthur: Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.

Rosa Parks: All I was doing was trying to get home from work.

Gloria Steinem: A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

A couple writers known for their pithy wisdom nearly always shared it in bursts of less than 140 characters:

Benjamin Franklin: Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Aesop: It is with our passions as it is with fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters.

Of course, I could go on and on. Virtually every advertising tag line (Just do it. Got milk?) would fit in a tweet, as would many lines from Shakespeare, Mark Twain and other literary giants, as well as lines from our favorite movies, songs and comedians. Not to mention such sages as Yogi Berra and Gertrude Stein. How many of your favorite “Seinfeld” lines would fit in a tweet?

Twitter leaves plenty of room to say something important. Most of us don’t take full advantage of that room, but you could say that about any communication forum.

If you’re interested in more tweetworthy wit, wisdom and inspiration, I’ve compiled other brief quotes by source (it may take me a while to post all the links). Please feel free to add more in the comments. I know I’ve just scratched the surface here:

A note on sources: I chose the quotes in this post primarily from memory, checking all of the quotes in this post in multiple sources (they all show up hundreds, if not thousands, of times on a Google search, so I won’t cite them all). The source I used most, including for most of the quotes in the related links, was BrainyQuote. Biblical quotes were checked using BibleGateway. I used the Bible translation that seemed to be the most-quoted for that passage, often the King James.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Ronald Reagan that would fit in tweets:

Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.

Facts are stubborn things.

Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets.

I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.

I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the US Congress.

Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hit man.

It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.

Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.

The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.

There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.

Trust, but verify.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.

I should note that one of Reagan’s most memorable statements, paying tribute to the Challenger astronauts, was too long for a tweet: We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

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This will be my column in Monday’s Gazette:

When presidents nominate new justices for the Supreme Court, people who care about courts project their hopes and fears onto judges most of them have never heard of.

From the special interests and from the extremes of our political spectrum, we hear caricatures about empathetic or activist judges. And we really don’t have a clue what the justice will do.

Here’s the truth: Presidents (as well as governors) nominate people for the Supreme Court who they believe will be good justices, interpreting and applying the law and the Constitution honestly. They also nominate people they hope will reflect their own political philosophy. They have a better track record on the first score than on the second.

I don’t know how Sonia Sotomayor will work out as a Supreme Court justice, presuming that she wins confirmation. And neither do all the liberals hoping she will be empathetic or all the conservatives who think that “identity politics” play a role in her selection but were irrelevant in the selection of the 108 white male justices who have preceded her to the court.

Do you suppose that when Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Marsha Ternus and Mark Cady to the Iowa Supreme Court that he anticipated someday Cady would write and Ternus would join a unanimous decision overturning Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage? I think we can be sure he didn’t. He appointed them to interpret the Constitution and they did that faithfully.

Do you think that when liberal icon John F. Kennedy appointed Byron White to the court that he thought he would become one of the most conservative justices? Or that Republican Richard Nixon thought Harry Blackmun would be one of the most liberal?

I do know that lots of anti-abortion voters campaigned hard for Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, based on Republican platforms committed to appointing justices who would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. And by the time Roe came up for review by the court in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, Reagan and Bush had appointed five of the nine justices on the court. Add in the fact that the original two Roe dissenters, White and William Rehnquist, remained on the court and this looked like a 7-2 reversal of Roe.

But two Reagan appointees, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, and a Bush appointee, David Souter, joined in a 5-4 decision affirming Roe. Put simply, a majority of the Reagan-Bush appointees voted to uphold Roe, and if even one of them had voted the other way, it would have been overturned.  

Keep this in mind as you read and listen to the various projections of Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice. The truth is that we never know and people from either end of the political spectrum who try to fan hopes and fears are doing so from speculation and ignorance.

Justices, like all people, change and grow through the years. However long a justice serves, we can count on two things: He or she will rule on some issues we can’t now anticipate and a justice at the Supreme Court level is not bound, as appellate justices are, to follow earlier rulings of the Supreme Court.

Presuming she is confirmed, Sotomayor is young enough that she probably will spend the next 20 years or more ruling on the laws of our land. If you know how she will rule on issues we can’t now anticipate, you are either truly wise or, more likely, truly foolish.

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