Last weekend I led a candidate training program run by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. It is a bipartisan four-day session that brings experts in all the important aspects of campaigning — planning, fundraising, message development, communication, GOTV, and more — and wraps it all in a framework of ethics. (I helped design the program, which is unique in the nation and produces successful candidates.)

In the wrap up session at the end, I did something a little different than I normally do. As the days unfolded, I had been noticing many students (all first- or second-time candidates) resisting some of the advice they were getting. Even more interesting, some of the most-repeated advice was the advice most strongly resisted.

For instance, most consultants repeated that the best thing for a local candidate could do is to knock on doors. Yet many students would later make plans about attending large events or meetings, talking with press, and other things — almost anything but knocking on doors.

I began to realize there was a list of things that people just don’t want to do that was behind this resistance. This is not criticism of the students. I believe these are natural things that most people would rather avoid. It’s just that, in the campaiogn world, they are necessary.

So I repeated the list to the group. Here it is:

  • Ask for money for individuals
  • Do in-depth homework and really know issues
  • Work very hard
  • Research ones’ self and face shortcomings
  • Knock on doors and talk directly to voters
  • Give up control of the campaign to a campaign manager
  • Feel anxious or uncomfortable (especially speaking in front of people)

This relates to Seth Godin’s “lizard brain.” That’s the part of your brain that paralyzes you with fear, distracts you, and tells you that you don’t have to out in all that work.

I have very high hopes for this group of candidates. There were a number of real stars. And I got the sense that once these areas of resistance were named, they would be much easier to work against.

Three Statements That Help Civility

I am sitting in a speech by a former state delegate of Virginia, speaking at an evening session of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership’s Candidate Training Program. She’s talking about the qualities of leaders.

She identified three statements that can help any leader foster better relations, better understanding, and better results. That is, foster great civility.

These statements are:

Why do you think the way you do?

I don’t understand what you just said.

I think you might have misunderstood me.

These are things I plan to remember.

Ethics Scenario: All The News That Fits

Tomorrow, I will be leading a four-day candidate training program with the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. More on that program here.

The program is an ethics-based soup-to-nuts campaign school, and I provide the ethics training piece. My bit is part lecture, part case study, and part small group exercises. I thought you might be interested to look at one of the hypothetical scenarios I developed for use in this (and other) programs.

The following scenario is based on a real event. See if you can guess which one. More important, see if you can answer what I ask students to answer: In this story, who has an ethical dilemma, when do they have it, and what is it? There is more than one answer.

All The News That Fits

Bill Jones is an investigative reporter at the Fallswood Bee, one of the major metropolitan daily newspapers in a Midwestern state. It is October of a presidential election year, and the state is considered an important “swing state.” Many see this election as pivotal and emotions are high. The Bee’s editorial pages have endorsed the challenger.

American rock legend Freddy “Snake” Smith has planned a brief tour to raise money and support for the presidential challenger. There is a stop planned for Fallswood in the second weekend in October, to be held at a venue in an area of town that many consider “tough.”

Janice Frederick is Editor of the Fallswood Bee. Concerned for the nonpartisan reputation of her newspaper, she issues a memo one week before the concert. “To all Weekend, General Assignment, and Political Reporters,” she writes. “Please be reminded that the Bee’s ethics policy bars Bee reporters and editors from ‘activities that conflict with your status as objective news professionals.’ This includes concerts that are held as political fundraisers.”

Come Monday after the concert, editor Frederick has a nagging hunch. She asks a Bee reporter who lives near the concert hall, Karen Archer, whether she knows of any Bee reporters who attended the “Snake” Smith concert. Archer is a good friend of Jones and works with him on various stories. She says she saw Jones walking on the sidewalk in front of the concert hall with his wife. Jones, when asked, says he did see the “Snake” Smith show. His wife, a freelance rock and roll writer, needed to attend for an article she was working on, and asked him to come along to provide a sense of safety in the rough neighborhood.

Frederick suspends Jones from the newspaper for three days for violating the Bee’s ethics code after being explicitly reminded not to. Jones contests the suspension to publisher Frank Shanahan, saying that, as an investigative reporter, the memo did not apply to him because it referred to other kinds of reporters instead. Frederick says that’s irrelevant, as the ethics code applies to all reporters, not just those she named in the memo. The issue has garnered unwelcome attention from many quarters: other reporters are threatening to strike; the incumbent’s political campaign is calling “foul;” and the press trade journals are watching Shanahan’s decision because it is considered unusual for a publisher to overturn actions by editors as this impairs journalistic objectivity.

The Fuzziness Of About And Around

Let me just get something off my chest. There are two words whose current common usage I can’t stand.

Those words are “about” when used as a weasel-word substitute for “is,” and “around” when used as a weasel-word substitute for “about.” Both transgressions are often committed by otherwise intelligent people.


First up, “about.” This is deployed in the service of a definition, apparently when the writer is unsure what the definition in question is. Here’s a good example:

“Leadership is about listening to your colleagues.”

Note that the first part of that sentence, “leadership is . . . ,” promises us a definition. This hope is dashed immediately with the “about” which makes the sentence actually mean “leadership appears to have something to do with.” Too often, this construction is used not as a way of qualifying or extending some concept that has already been defined (which is a usage that would work) — it is instead treated as if it is the definition.

When I read that something is about something else, I am immediately suspicious that the writer is not sure what they really want to say.


Now, let me come to the rescue of the poor word, “about,” which has been kicked to the curb in hifalutin discourse by a strange construction using the word “around.” Like this:

“My work is around the ethnographic taxonomies of indigenous peoples.”

My friends in academe seem the most common transgressors. Here again, the word seems designed to give the writer a little bit of room, as if they are not exactly sure what their work is about and so would rather tell us what it is in the vicinity of.

Thanks, I just had to get that off my chest.

The Verizon iPhone Commercial

Happy Friday!

My friends know that I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the iPhone to finally come to Verizon. I refuse to put up with AT&T’s network problems.

Up to now, I have been happy with my Motorola Droid (I am a big-time Google guy) but in hindsight I have to admit it was always a stopgap while I waited for the iPhone.

Well, now the iPhone is coming, and Verizon has finally dropped the first commercial for it. So, here’s a little diversion to whet your appetite:

Call To Stop Child Sex Trafficking At The Super Bowl [UPDATED]

You might be surprised to know the the Super Bowl is one of the largest events to spur demand for the sexual exploitation of children every year. According to

Texas Attorney General Abbott is taking a stand and has prepared a task force to identify and respond to traffickers who plan to sell children at the Super Bowl.  However, it is not enough to expect law enforcement and victim advocates to bear the entire burden of responding to this issue, which is expected to include many victims.  In support of the efforts of the task force, we are requesting the Super Bowl Host Committee embrace a proactive approach with community members by endorsing the “I’m Not buying It” campaign, which would raise awareness and deter the buying of children during the Super Bowl.

You can help by signing the petition, or directly supporting the Traffick911 “I’m Not Buying It” campaign.

Watch this video to learn more:

Natalie Grant and Tenth Avenue North PSA for Traffick 911 from Nate Bernard on Vimeo.

[UPDATE: I initially, erroneously, said the Super Bowl was “the single largest event.” Thank you to my frien Tim Burgess for pointing out my error.]