The Need for AccountabilityThe Prof G Show with Scott Galloway
- 821 views
- 14 Jan 2021
Scott and Michael Smerconish, the host of a daily radio program heard on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel and the host of CNN’s “Smerconish,” discuss their thoughts on the insurrection that took place last week at the U.S. Capitol. Michael explains how the media has led us to this polarization and shares his experience as being a radio host for the past 30 years. Follow Michael on Twitter, @smerconish.
Scott opens with why we shouldn’t applaud the tech CEOs for kicking the President off their platforms and how the violent event that unfolded last week marks a need to vaccinate our nation with a new respect for institutions and greater accountability.
This Week’s Office Hours: CPG brands, the digital advertising bubble, and a prediction about AMC Theatres. Have a question for Scott? Email a voice recording to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related Reading: Stupid
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Episode 40 for sure, no opening joke here, trying to read the room a bit, this is this is an ugly week and it's difficult to find humor or levity in it.
I am a enormous beneficiary of the generosity, capitalism, incredible full body contact, friction, liberty of America, as are the majority of you who are listening to this and the notion that a Duck Dynasty mob could overrun our government and throw their feet on the desk of the speaker and to see our elected representatives.
They call it the House of Representatives for a reason. Every 650000 odd of us get a representative and to see them cowering in legitimate fear that they were about to be murdered. I see as a violent incursion, insurrection and absolute devastating blow to America and at a minimum, incredibly diminishes our standing abroad.
What moral authority do we have to preach to anybody when we let misinformation go on high gear and it results in a mob and somehow they get into the Capitol? So it's been a week since a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and the Internet platforms have suspended or banned. The president's accounts, the deadly event that unfolded last week is a culmination, I believe, of the last four years. Already, Republicans are calling for healing.
Heeling. For us to come together, which is Latin, for we don't want to take responsibility for what has gone on here, the notion all this hate and vindictive invective online, the notion that somehow this was a shocker, that we couldn't we couldn't think this could happen. You know, that dog just won't hunt. And I believe that part of repair, if you will, is not reuniting or glossing over what's happened here, but tracking down everyone who set foot in the Capitol, finding out which elected representatives knowingly spread misinformation, finding out which government officials, be they policemen or firefighters, coordinated and conspired with this mob and then meting out punishment in a sad state of affairs is that we seem to be begging 30 somethings with nose rings and sociopaths running Facebook.
We seem to be begging them to close their accounts because we have such a flaccid, neutered government that that is our remedy, that these organizations are now so powerful that they we ask them to shut off parler. And my sense is that when Amazon has so much power, it can turn a company off overnight. That's a bad thing. Now, does that mean parler shouldn't be out of business? No, it should be out of business because of regulation.
That says when you knowingly spread misinformation that results in violence, you are liable. Similar to every other media company, Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg deciding to strip Trump of his accounts isn't because they lean blue or red. It's because they lean green specifically. As long as they're bringing the register, as long as it's raining money, they'll ignore democracy or threats to the great experiment that is America. They go where the profits are. Twitter stock is up three fold.
Since Trump took office on January 20th, 2017, Facebook has doubled these two individuals trying to wallpaper over what they knew was going to happen. I should not be applauded. There should be accountability. Data shows that when someone actually gets a DUI, they have usually driven 200 times drunk before they get a DUI or get into an accident. So, yeah, maybe it didn't mean to kill that family of five in their minivan. But you've been driving drunk and Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have been driving drunk for a very long time, behaving recklessly, ignoring all sorts of data around where this was headed.
And now we have a family in a minivan that is dead or specifically in addition to all the other damage to the union. We have five five dead from the mob of last week and countless we're going to find out. I think this doesn't get better. Typically, what's happened over the course of the last five years is the misinformation that defines the far right and to a lesser extent. But still, it's there to the far left. We're going to find out, OK, that's not true.
And we go on to the next outrage and to a certain extent, just it it existing creates a certain amount of legitimacy around it. But then it's on to the new outrage and the old outrage kind of dies and goes away. This is going to get worse. We're going to be shocked at the shit that's going to come out around this. This was ugly. This was an incursion. This was treason, whatever you want to call it. But I think this is going to get this is not going to age well, this is not progress.
These terms banning individuals. Great. We needed to do. It's too little too late. But the fact that one company can shut parler down speaks to the fact that Amazon has become too powerful. Think about the last time a media company was shut down overnight before Amazon decided or RWC decided to pull the plug on parler. It was when Peter Thiel, billionaire, funded a lawsuit against Gawker. So now we have media companies being put out of business by big tech and billionaires.
And that's not to say they don't deserve to be put out of business. But is that who we want the arbiters of justice or what is good and bad media to be? To be big tech or billionaires? We must find a way to reassert the primacy of truth and reason in our discourse. There is a right and there is a wrong. Truth is not subjective. We need to embrace data again. Our elected officials who knowingly spread disinformation should be censured and denied federal and state matching funds for their next election.
We need to teach our kids the tools of science statistics, critical thinking and then civics. Mark Zuckerberg is what happens when you replace civics with computer science. We also need to find a way to inculcate empathy and commitment to the Commonwealth in the next generation as the evolution of our economy leads to dispersion and segregation, which is a fancy way of saying that as we all withdraw to remote work, as we all once we get a certain amount of money, send our kids to private schools with other kids that look, smell and feel like our kids as we no longer commute to work and see the veteran on the off ramp, as we no longer go to the movies and see people from different income and ethnic groups, as we no longer go into the restaurant and see the single mother bringing us food, our empathy and our notion around there, by the grace of God go I diminishes.
And a nation has to be a set of values and a shared set of empathy. And one of those values, again, has to be some sense of truth and right and wrong. OK, so Debbie Downer, let's end on a hopeful note. It feels as though the American corpus, similar to a vaccine, has ideally received enough of a tyranny pathogen to inform an immune response to future viruses or mobs before. Again, it forces our elected representatives to barricade the doors to the House chamber with furniture.
I'd like to believe we're getting less stupid, but be clear. Repair is not about us moving on and coming together again as Republicans who are complicit in this. It's about holding people accountable. There is a truth. There is a stupid, the definition of stupid people who levy damage on others with no demonstrable benefit to themselves.
There is a stupid and people need to be held accountable for this violence, for this incursion and for this chaos. There needs to be prosecutions. There needs to be people kicked out of Congress. We are a nation and a nation has a right and a wrong. In 1941, a bunch of young men refused to comply with the draft and their argument was legitimate. My dad went over to Europe. He went overseas. He came back. He died slowly of a respiratory illness because he was subject to a gas attack.
And now I am the only one here to feed my kids and my mom. I am not going back over there where we got absolutely nothing for the huge sacrifice my dad paid. I refused to comply with the draft, a legitimate argument. And, you know, we did. We put 5000 draft dodgers in jail. There is a right and there is a wrong here. There's some fucked up version of Lochness or through some fucked up version of Welcomeness where we suffer from what I call were infected with both sidedness that we have a need to understand this mob.
They were the Americans left behind by America. They didn't have access to higher ed. No, no. They're stupid. They are dangerous. Why is a stupid person so dangerous? Because you can't counterattack against a stupid person as their moves are impossible to predict. This should be about prosecution. It should be about censure. The repair here is accountability.
Coming up after the break, we have a conversation with Michael Smerconish, the host of a daily radio program heard on Sirius XM POTUS channel and the host of CNN's SMERCONISH. I like Michael a lot. He's someone I would say is a comrade in arms. He's a raging moderate. I've gotten to know him. He's a very thoughtful guy. And I had a great dad, Barry, into his kids.
And just an incredibly I don't know that rare breed of person that tries really hard to acquit himself by understanding and empathizing with both sides of an issue, but not afraid to call people out. He also works his ass off. And, you know, he kind of shows up for work, if you will. We'll discuss with Michael his take on the insurrection that took place last week, as well as his experience as a radio host for the past 30 years.
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Welcome back, here's our conversation with Michael Smerconish. Michael, where does this podcast find you? I am outside of Philadelphia, literally in Ardmore, which is one of the stops on the so-called mainline railroad tracks. This is my permanent studio.
Mm hmm. So I would love to get I was struggling with how to what the first question to Michael Smerconish would be. Can you give us your sense of the state of play right now?
What are we learning about what happened last week? What are some of your thoughts? What's what's different about our understanding of what happened last week, today, as opposed to yesterday or over the weekend?
I think that we're in a very perilous and dangerous time. I've been paying close attention for 30 years. I view my coming of age as having been nineteen eighty, which was the year that I turned 18, registered to vote. And in that time period, the time period in which I've been paying close attention, I don't remember anything like this. I was alive during Watergate, but not mindful, not knowledgeable. I was just a kid. But in the time period that I've been aware and watching, I don't remember being this concerned about the nation's fate and future.
Why are you concerned? I'm concerned because I think that there's a climate of misinformation that has taken hold. It's really my mantra. If I stand for anything in what I do in my professional work more than other issues, it is the belief system that the media has driven us into this ditch. And so in many respects, what I see having transpired a week ago in the nation's capital and all of the attendant circumstances are sort of the fruition of things having been building for three decades.
So one of those clearly one of the pillars or one of the incendiaries here has been misinformation and the spread of misinformation. Do you see any other. Well, let's start there. Who do you think the culprits are? I mean, it's it's easy to blame Facebook and I do blame Facebook, but it's it's a variety of factors. Give us give us the algebra of misinformation here.
Well, you know, that's really your bailiwick. And I'm I'm mindful of what's been going on in Parler and in Facebook and in Twitter. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the infrastructure of terrestrial largely AM band talk radio and conservative outlets that are online, as well as Fox News that I think are the de facto leaders of the Republican Party and have been for the last several years in a process, Scott, that I had a front row seat to watch Evolve.
And it was all predictable in retrospect. This to me is the culmination of what I saw beginning in the late eighties or early nineteen nineties where leadership of the Republican Party does not lie in the hands of Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy and to some extent even Donald Trump, but rather in the hands of largely men with microphones. But something's changed.
We've had Rush Limbaugh for a while. We had conservative talk show host back in the 70s and 80s. Something has given the ability to people to go so much into a bubble or that the most vicious message is not only get freedom of speech to get freedom of speech. Something has changed here. Is it because there's no accountability? Is it because there's no fact checking? Is it because the platforms spread these things? Is because the profit motive encourages not only FOX, but CNN to go extremely right or extremely left?
I mean, something has changed in the soup here.
It's a little of all of the above, not the least of which is your reference to the profit motive, because the individuals who are leading the discourse, who've taken control of the national conversation, they have radio ears, television eyes and computer mouse clicks as their primary objective. What has most changed is that one of their own is the commander in chief. You know, I remind my radio listeners that Donald Trump first dipped his toe in the presidential waters prior to the nineteen eighty eight cycle.
He actually went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and spoke to a Rotary Club. By all accounts, he wowed the people who were there and immediately began the conjecture of Donald Trump running for president. He didn't run in eighty eight or in ninety two or in ninety six. Just keep adding four years. Although every one of those cycles he threatened and literally went to New Hampshire, he didn't run until he won in twenty sixteen. And I maintain that if he had run in any of the prior cycles he'd have lost.
But by twenty sixteen the table had been set for him because the Republican primary base was so controlled by the media influences that I'm talking about that they were ready to go out and nominate one of their own. Donald Trump was for Republicans, the sort of. Coronation of your favorite conservative talk radio host, he was politically incorrect, he was acerbic with his wit. He didn't mind who got in his way and he was for completely overturning the apple cart of Washington.
And for all those reasons, I think that he had a head start on all of his opponents and never look back.
So I want to put forward a series of statements and you react to them and tell me where I've got it right or wrong or embellish on it as things unfold, we're going to find out that more and more people, including members of Congress, maybe even senators, lawyers working directly for the RNC, had a direct hand in this insurrection. I think that we're going to find we're going to move higher and higher up the food chain and find that this was even more sinister and even uglier than than we know it is right now.
That's I agree with that. And one of the thoughts that I have is that I believe there will probably be individuals implicated whose job it is to work at the Capitol. Now, I don't know if that means that they're in a security force or they're a congressional staffer or they're a member of the House. But what strikes me as being very unusual is my limited knowledge of the Capitol building. Like many others, I interned there. I'm not one of those whose only been to the Capitol one time on a on a high school trip.
I've spent a fair amount of time there, and it's like a mouse looking for cheese in a maze. It's a labyrinth and it's very complicated. And I watch those videos and I've looked at some of the media analysis and I don't understand how so quickly they were able to go, for example, into Speaker Pelosi's office or to find Jim Cliburn's office without a sign on the door. That, to me, smells of inside job. Yeah, it it absolutely I mean, I've been there not as often as year, but I remember thinking it feels like a building.
There would be pretty easily sealed off when you had the kind of warning signals that they had. I just it does feel as if there was plans here that something something.
So getting back to the predictions phase, invoking the 25th Amendment, the president or the president resigns or he tries to do a prophylactic pardon. What are some of the predictions you have for the next several days before the inauguration? He doesn't resign.
The Twenty Fifth Amendment is not invoked. He is impeached by the House of Representatives this week. X The unknown is whether the Senate is sent those articles immediately and moves on them could literally be on the 20th, on the day that Joe Biden is being sworn in, or are they somehow held in the proverbial vest of the Congress and just sort of wielded over the then former president? That I don't know, but he's not leaving voluntarily. Mike Pence is not going to support a twenty Fifth Amendment move.
I think impeachment is the only option. And frankly, the question and I've been debating this on radio with my audience, the open question that I think is pretty complicated is whether it's in Joe Biden's best interest that this all move with lightning speed. I have no doubt that what the president engaged in, the level of incitement that he pursued is impeachable conduct, little different, proving it in a Senate trial, even though it doesn't tether literally to a legal process.
If you and I were having a beer, Scott, and you said to me, Michael, what happened in Washington a week ago Wednesday? And do you think he caused it after I explained it to you? My answer would be absolutely. He caused it for not the least of which reason is he delayed his speech that Wednesday morning. I know because I was on radio and I was trying to manage my radio clock to coincide with what was going on in the Ellipse.
He was supposed to speak at 11:00. Then it became eleven thirty. He didn't begin speaking until eleven fifty five. And I believe that the reason is he wanted to ensure he would be speaking at the stroke of one when all of a sudden the House and Senate were were taking up the issue of the Electoral College. And I think that timing speaks to the effort at incitement. So I think this was by design, is what I'm trying to say.
There's not a doubt in my mind as to his culpability, but because of the timing, if it had happened six months ago, no brainer, you impeach and the Senate convicts and that's the way that it should end. And a final thought. I don't want to get long winded, but a radio caller of mine this week had a thought that I'm embarrassed, had not initially occurred to me. Anthony in San Francisco was his name. And he said the people who should really be hoping for an impeachment conviction are Republicans in the Senate, not Democrats, because absent a conviction, Donald Trump continues to cast a shadow on the GOP for the next four years.
If, politically speaking, you wanted to drive a stake through his heart, then you impeach him and you take him out of the equation for twenty, twenty four. And the last thing I'll say is there's also no doubt in my mind that if the Senate vote were an anonymous vote and you weren't going to find out how they all voted, I believe it would be in the 90s for conviction. I don't think there's any love between Republican members of the Senate and Donald Trump, certainly not the Democrats.
It's all about them being fearful of his command of the base. Which gets me back to my initial point. It's the media. It's the media that really is driving this equation because they have the ear of those primary voters.
It just struck me that within hours of representatives having to barricade the doors with furniture, the representative gaits from Florida immediately started spreading more misinformation. It was antifa outside that this is not true.
How do we how do we break this cycle of obvious misinformation, starting with our elected officials and then moving and then moving to media outlets? It feels like what in your view, in terms of correction and repair needs to happen? Well, here's some good news. One of the largest radio owners and distributors of product is called Cumulous. Yeah, they're based in Atlanta. They have four hundred plus radio stations across the country and they've got some some big name conservative talent that are in there stable.
They put out a memo. I'm surprised that it took a couple of days to come to light. But the memo essentially said from an executive vice president that the nation needs calm and that they cumulous have zero tolerance. Now, for anyone who will maintain that the election has not ended and you will be fired in lay speak, you're going to be fired. If you're somebody who's out there doubting what has just transpired and whether it's all over, alternative paths will not be espoused on our airwaves.
I've never seen anything like that in the time that I've been paying attention. And I was coming of age just when the Fairness Doctrine was ending. And although I don't believe in the Fairness Doctrine, I believe that there's been a complete abdication on the part of the owners of these outlets who have just been ringing the register and looking the other way with regard to how they get there. So I'd like to think that that when an outlet like Cumulous is trying to police itself, that that's a good thing.
Now, I get a little nervous in your realm when I start looking at the social media platforms. I didn't like the way in which they comported themselves. In the 11th hour of the campaign, I thought that there was some censorship there that was unwarranted. And I thought that that in their effort to try and strangle some of those stories in the crib, they probably gave them more heft. But I also, by common sense, believe that they lack the capability to fully police themselves.
I don't think any amount of artificial intelligence is going to allow Facebook to keep all the hate speech and all the misinformation off their platform that they'd like to. So then you set up a situation where double standards are almost guaranteed and it'll be what about as of. Well, you're allowing the ayatollah to say this, but Donald Trump wasn't able to say that, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It's a conundrum with no easy explanation. But I'm very, very loathe to get people to have to surrender their access to a platform where they can express themselves.
Yeah, it is a weird one, right, because I was thinking about the last time a media company, so Parlo was put out of business, HWC said, we're no longer going to host your site and overnight they're out of business, which speaks to the concentration of power, which is a different talk show. But at the same time, these terms are private firms. They have no obligation to engage in this type of content. By the way, you referenced Cumulous, you're on Cumulous right now.
Westwood One, who distributes this podcast, is owned by Cumulous. So I'm sure they appreciate your good words.
But this brings out this brings up a raft of a raft of issues. I was saying about the last time a media company was literally put out of business. And I was thinking about Gawker when Peter Thiel, the billionaire, basically funded to the tune of ten million dollars a lawsuit. Yeah, that's right. To put them out of business, I thought, well, where is our country when big tech and billionaires, when we're going to them to kind of try and figure out a way to mete out justice?
Right. We look to them to try and solve these problems instead of government. So what what role do you think an organization like CNN plays? Do they do they wake up this week and do things any differently?
If you were counseling and maybe you are the CEO of AT&T, John Stanky, or the guy or Jeff Zucker, the guy who runs CNN, what's your advice? What what does CNN do differently this week than last week?
Well, so let me just first go back and say that the most frustrating part of this whole dynamic that we're discussing, radio, cable, social media platforms, I wish that there were not regulation necessary of any kind because people were sampling more outlets. The frustrating part to me is that we've never had as much choice as we enjoy today, and yet so few of us seem to be taking advantage of it. I don't go to bed at night without watching, not only, of course, with Chris Cuomo says on my own network, but checking out Hannity's opening commentary or that of Rachel Maddow, what I think has largely driven the country into a ditch are the people who are in these silos where they're totally dependent on only terrestrial talk radio and Fox News or maybe at the other extreme, it's MSNBC, Slate and Salon.
You get the picture, take advantage of all of it. If I have one bit of advice for four people who listen to me, it's that they hopefully, when my program has ended, change the channel, mix up your diet, and don't for a moment assume that because you're on Facebook and you're reliant on the news feed that you're well-informed. All you're doing is triggering an algorithm of the type of stories that you've exhibited an interest in, no different than if you were in the retail marketplace and now you're getting car ads.
So that's the first big point. The second big point is that I believe the middle can be owned and not only do well commercially, but also to do right by the country. I'll tell you a funny story, and this is the answer to your your CNN question. I was syndicated in 2009. I had had a successful morning radio program in Philadelphia. I have a significant ego. Of course, I wanted the program to be heard outside of Philadelphia.
I got my wish at a very odd time for me because having voted religiously for Republican candidates from 1980 through 2008, I broke with the party, voted for President Obama and told my audience about it, which didn't go over so well. Nevertheless, I was able to get syndicated, and two years after I was syndicated, I was nominated. Two things happened. I was asked to come to Chicago for a convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. So five hundred people in a room who are comprised of some quote unquote talent, but mostly executives in the radio business and owners.
I was also nominated for a Marconi Award at that time at that same convention, which I did not receive in the keynote address that I delivered in twenty eleven, I went into that room and I said, I think we need to change our business plan A because we're not doing right by the country. Individualism is dead. We're all saying the same things. And many of the things that are being said here are not in the nation's best interest and B because there's a whole market share out there that we're ignoring.
And I received very golf applause. Tepid applause when I was finished with my remarks. And some people would pull me aside to say, you're absolutely right. But I look back at that speech 10 years ago, and I think that it was it was prescient because the marketplace has not tried to adjust itself and pursue centrism. I am I would like to think in my own small way that I'm showing you don't have to be doctrinaire left. You don't have to be doctrinaire.
Right. You can be an independent thinker and you can still have a platform in. Marketplace, so my specific answer is I would like my network to own that space, to have divergent opinions. Twenty four, seven, call it down the middle and and not allow yourself to be perceived on one side or the other of the aisle. So let's talk about that, because you and I, we haven't known each other very long, but I immediately talk to you and I'll and I'll be generous with myself, I think we've established a nice rapport.
And I think part of that is we're part of this group that I think is growing or this. I don't know if it's a silent majority of our generation, but what I call raging moderates. And in every 10 years, we like to talk ourselves into believing that there's this renewed interest in some sort of third party or independent party. Do you think that there is more room in the middle that's emerging that will come out of this and say, all right, there needs to be another way?
Well, I pray that there will be I thought that in the last cycle that Gary Johnson and Bill Weld running as libertarians had an opportunity to try and break new ground, they were never able to get on the debate stage because they couldn't attain the 15 percent. And then Gary Johnson, Governor Johnson had his Aleppo moment on Morning Joe one day, and that kind of sealed his fate. But I was I was egging them on and hoping that if you had individuals with credentials and were intelligent and could express themselves, that there would be a breakout opportunity.
And I would like to think that we're seeing one now, because if Donald Trump is impeached but not convicted, which I think is the likelihood, at least in the short term, then he will be out there and memories will fade and he will come back and he will dominate the Republican Party. I made a prediction you'll be interested to know the morning after Georgia, which was the Wednesday of last week when the shit hit the fan. And my prediction was Donald Trump.
This was Scott. This was before events unfolded at the capital. I said Donald Trump will will not only not run in twenty twenty four, but he will not be speaking at the Republican National Convention. That was the marker that I laid down the morning after Georgia because I believed over time people would realize he was at fault for his own defeat and he was at fault as well for the loss of Georgia and consequently control of the Senate by Republicans. If I'm right, it doesn't mean that he goes quietly into the night and plays golf.
He'll still be out there making mischief. And that will, by definition create a fissure in the Republican Party, because I think that the leadership will decide they've had enough of him and he'll be outside as a renegade. So there's going to be a splitting up of the electorate. Now, does that present the opportunity that you and I would wish for? I don't know, because the Republican Party, so many of us have have left the GOP and are out there in independent land that we're not there to influence Republican primaries to begin with.
But I do believe I look at those Gallup numbers. The Gallup numbers religiously show that more people identify themselves somewhere in the 40 plus percent range as an independent as as compared to a Republican or a Democrat, which are each in the upper 20s. Last time that I checked. And some people lie because there's a panache, a search associated with, oh, I'm in trouble. I mean, you're not an independent, right? But my God, even if you cut the number in half, they're a hell of a lot of us.
There's more people registered as independents in Florida than Democrat or Republican.
Do you think any of this this is a loaded question.
So let me make a statement and respond to it rather than trying to lead you. I know better than that. My sense is this doesn't get better until there's Republicans are calling for healing, which is, I think, Latin, for we don't want to take responsibility for what has actually happened here. And my sense is that across social media and across our elected officials, that unless there is real accountability and punishment, that this isn't going to get better.
And the analogy I use is that the algebra of deterrence is really important. And the idea of deterrence, an example of where it's worked is Michael, I know you have kids in college. If someone called you and said for 50 K, I can get your kid into Harvard Business School, we're just going to donate fifty thousand dollars to the tennis team, you would hang up the phone because you're an ethical person, but you'd slam the phone down, I think, because you saw Aunt Becky do a perp walk.
Does the process of repair really start until there's some real punishment and accountability here?
I think it's a tough call. I think it's a tough call because the opportunity for blowback exists. And that's why the social media platform outcome is of particular significance. Because if there's a perception now that everybody is losing their voice because of what transpired at the capital, you might end up stoking Republicans, conservatives in a way that they otherwise would not have been. I believe that there needs to be accountability. I think that the president's conduct is deserving of the impeachment House vote, the Senate trial we can talk about separately.
That's a blemish that will never go away as he's the SEC, the only president to have been impeached on two occasions. Where do we go beyond that? I'll tell you where we don't go. I want anybody who broke into the capital to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The guy with the horns and everybody who was with him. But, you know, there were some stories this week that I found troublesome. There were stories that talked about a police officer in Philadelphia, members of the New York Fire Department who may or may not.
You retired and a police officer or two, one was from Seattle and the other was from Texas. Yeah, those four examples come to mind and in each of them, the employer was taking a look at whether they had been at the event. And when I saw those stories, not knowing whether they had broken the law or had just been present and captured in social media, I do hope that we maintain a line because I may disagree with somebody who took off a day of work to go hang out at a protest of the Electoral College and carry a sign, even an abhorrent sign.
But I separate them from those who broke into the Capitol. And I don't want the former punished in the way of the latter.
Yeah, there is a there is a we do need nuance. Right. Showing up to our protest is different than trespassing, which is different than trespassing in the Speaker's office, which is different than showing up with Molotov cocktails.
Say, I tell you another one, Stuart Stevens, who has run several presidential campaigns, he tweeted, and actually, I believe the origin of this was was at Forbes with the content manager at Forbes. But there was an idea that took hold online. I think that's the way I express it. And I became aware of it because Stuart Stevens, a name that I know and respect his work in past Republican campaigns, the gist of it was to say that we need to compile a database of those who served in the Trump administration.
And it took on a life of its own where people thought that that was too heavy handed. In fact, one tweet that stands out in my mind was someone said, that sounds about right. All right. I had my own back and forth with with Stuart Stevens about that. And one of the things that that we identified is the fact that I once served in a low level capacity. But nonetheless, when I was twenty nine years old, I served in the Bush 41 administration.
There is a directory out there somewhere that lists me, along with thousands of others who served on the watch of Bush. Forty one, by the way. I'm cool with that. I'm proud of the association. But in the current world in which we live now, people are talking about we need to keep track of everybody who ever served in the Trump administration so as to penalize them professionally when they're looking for a new gig. Well, if you're talking about Kayleigh McEnany, if you're talking about someone who served at that level and was a spokesperson and gave half to misinformation and lies of the administration, yeah.
I understand why you'd want to discourage one of the Silicon Valley giants from hiring her to run public affairs. But if there's some young person who had a gig at Treasury and I know a lot of people who fall in this category who were never a part of the ideology of the administration, I don't know that I want them punished for life by that association.
Yeah, I think when you're asked to serve your country and asked to serve in the White House, your inclination is to do it. And there's nothing wrong. I don't think that I agree with you.
This case by case lists like that are are dangerous. So I want to I want to shift gears now. You've been I did get a chance to watch things I wish I knew before I started talking where you celebrated your 30th year as a talk radio host. So last 30 years, advice to your advice to your 20 year old self for twenty five year old self, thinking about a career in media.
Resist the ideological bait. Samaa, I. I, in recognition of my 30th anniversary and talk radio, was about to go out on the road. I had prepared a show that I was calling Things I wish I knew before I started talking when the pandemic hit had to refund the money. And something said to me because of the uncertainty of knowing Will, when will I get on the road? And I'm so glad that I did this. I commandeered a historic playhouse, the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, not too far from where I was born and raised.
Four hundred empty seats. I brought in a television crew from New York, socially distant, everybody masked. I went up on stage and I delivered the show to four hundred empty seats that I had hoped to take out across the country. But what do I most wish that I knew? I most wish that I knew that the business was about to take an ideological turn and I should stay far from it. And what I explain in the course of recounting my own career is how when I cut my teeth and talk radio those thirty years ago, I was at a strong signal station in Philadelphia where the quote unquote talent was.
Yes, a conservative plus a libertarian plus a doctrinaire liberal, plus a woman who we had no idea what her politics were. We just knew that she had this really commanding husky voice. She was from down under from Australia and she was called the saucy Aussie. In other words, it was a collection of individual. Those with personality who were uniformly told to make the phones ring and the ideology did not unite us at all, that changed a couple of years later when Rush Limbaugh was syndicated and now conservatives sort of filled this vacuum that existed because they had no other where to go.
And I watched it all unfold and I totally get why it began. I just don't know why it lasted so long. And of course, I recorded this program, this full length film, without the knowledge of how the presidential campaign would end or the mayhem thereafter. But it all fits the narrative that I was describing.
Talk a little bit about something you do. One of the things I admire about you and I aspire to be more similar to you in this regard is your multichannel. You write books, you're one of the top radio personalities, and you also host a well rated Saturday morning show on CNN. Compare and contrast the mediums both from an impact standpoint, a professional standpoint, and just from a personal enjoyment standpoint.
How do you how do you personally view each of these mediums? So they're all compatible, you know, a lot of the content from radio, frankly, radio is sometimes a proving grounds. I've got 15 hours per week on Sirius XM and and no restraints put on me whatsoever. Television is different, but by the time I get to television at the end of the week, yes, I'm reflecting not only what is immediately in the cycle, but what have I done this week that maybe allows me to bring to a television audience something that's being overlooked in the the CNN or cable news bubble.
So they feed on one another. I enjoy radio because I like the more casual nature of it. I'm obviously not scripted when I'm on radio the way that I am on television. I like the intimacy of radio when I'm on television, although I respond to social media comments in real time that I don't know what they're going to say until they put them on the screen. I lack the connection that I feel like I have with the radio audience. I know the radio audience is there.
I can almost see them through their telephone calls and certainly they can see me. So they're totally different. I like about television that I can reach a lot of folks in a short time period. I like being on the road and speaking to live audiences because again, I like the interaction that comes with it. I'm also very comfortable writing, but I don't find enough time these days to do the sort of written work that I like. And I don't mind telling you that one of the struggles and one of the questions that I have right now is, is time management and and am I using the content that I'm providing to maximum effect?
Oh, boss, we all struggle with that. We all start where if we should wake up every morning and be spending an hour doing tick tock videos or our rights are increasing our Twitter following or really focus or doubling down on spending more time on that opening script for your TV show. We all we're all trying to figure out what the right outcome is.
So at least from an outsider's vantage point, Michael, you strike me as a remarkably successful person. You have what feels like a very good relationship with your wife. You have three kids, a little line, is that right?
Three sons, four, four, three sons and a daughter, three sons and a daughter. And what you told a little you told me about them is that they're you're out of central casting for successful kids in school grade schools, graduate schools, great professions. Our listenership is very young and very male. That's how we differ from radio, our most podcasts. Do you have any advice, personal advice or critical success factors to husbands and to fathers?
I'm a believer that you take your big risks early in life because it's funny. There's never been a part of my life where I haven't felt encumbered, encumbered, financially, encumbered with responsibility, encumbered with aspiration. You don't realize it when you are in your twenties that this is really as good as it gets in terms of you being able to afford, going out, taking a risk and failing. So if there's an entrepreneurial idea that you have, if there's a career path that you'd really like to pursue, but it's risky, do it sooner than later.
There never comes a point where I believe you're too old to pursue your dreams. I really mean that. But but take your shot early on before you get too far down the road and also recognize that there are people like me who've been mentored maybe of a different generation and therefore will respond. Well, when you need guidance, when you want insight, when you want to go sit in someone's radio studio. I found a letter a week ago that I'd forgotten that I'd written, but I was I was doing my Marie Kondo routine and this I did not purge.
And I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I wrote a letter to the president of the Philadelphia Eagles and said, I understand that you have a weekly press conference and I'd like to come cover it for my high school newspaper. Well, obviously, I saved the letter because the answer from Leonard Toe's was sure come.
And most importantly, was Ron Jaworski a quarterback back then? Not yet. Not yet. No date. I'm dating myself. But this was this this was just before Jaws. Just before Jaws. This was actually, believe it or not, this was the Roman Gabriel era. Oh, my God. You speak my language.
Another famous Los Angeles Roman Gabriel. All right. So so here's here's my final my final quick tip. Write a letter. Write a letter. I can't tell you how many emails I receive in the course of a week from people looking for guidance, looking for this. Look, it's hard to distinguish and time doesn't allow me to respond. But if a letter shows up, whether it's handwritten well or typed out, I mean, you tell me, does it not catch your eye because you get so few of them?
That's the most obvious advice that I've given to my sons that I give to your audience. Take the time. If you're trying to get in front of somebody, write them a note. Yeah, that's a that's a great piece of advice. Michael Smerconish is the host of a daily radio program heard on Sirius XM Perdis channel. He's also the host of CNN's SMERCONISH, a contributing columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and a New York Times best selling author. He joins us from his home in studio just outside of Philadelphia.
Michael, thanks for your good work and stay safe. That was a privilege. Thank you very much, Scott. I appreciate it.
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Welcome back. It's time for office hours, the part of the show where we answer your questions about the business world, big tech, higher education and whatever else is on your mind. If you'd like to submit a question, please email a voice recording to office hours at Section four dotcom.
First question, Scott, this is Matt Contre calling from Austin, Texas. You frequently talk about Apple's move to get into retail as one of the best and most gangster business moves of the past few decades. I would love to get your thoughts on this prediction. For next year. Disney acquires AMC theaters and turns theaters into a brand temple for loyal Disney plus subscribers, early access to movies, immersive VR content merchandise for sale in the gift shops. They expand their Rundell relationship with their most loyal consumers.
Matt from Austin, Texas. First off, we're brothers in arms that are where we're drinking the same Kool-Aid, whatever the term is. I think it's a really interesting idea. And where you're calling on is one of the key themes in my research is verticalization. And that is if you look at the companies that have created hundreds of billions of value, they've gone vertical and that as they control their distribution. Now, why is that? Why is that because the advertising industrial complex as a weapon of building brand, specifically broadcast advertising every day loses its effectiveness, media splinters and gets more expensive.
So a 30 second spot on the Academy Awards 30 years ago cost one fifth of what it costs now in a reach Tripoli audience. So it's literally one fifteenth of the ahli that it used to. But people still have to go into a store or to a site to buy something. So distribution or great distribution now has more relative impact on a brand than it used to. And Apple recognized this and pulled seven billion dollars out of every purchase advertising and put it into distribution in the form of 550 brand temples.
And it was a genius move. So going vertical, controlling your distribution, whether it's in media, whether it's Nike, opening more stores is more and more important. And if you think about media, the guys that are creating all the wealth are the ones that control their distribution. And Disney's Achilles heel, if they have one, they own ABC, but they don't really control distribution that that fits to the power of their content. Even Disney plus has to pay something like eight or 12 percent total of their revenues to Apple, who controls the distribution through iOS on their App Store.
So I think this is a really neat idea. It's not as simple, I think, as you you say it is because it's not the market cap of three hundred and sixty two million dollars. Disney loses are accretes that in a day, just with their trading fluctuation, I would imagine the firm has some debt. In addition, you're entering into long term leases and you've got to fix these things up. And if they don't work, you have these very visible weeping sores in metro areas saying that Disney sucks.
So you'd have to have a vision for these stores. You'd have to have a capital plan. I think ideally, if I were Disney, I'd want to take this thing through bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is kind of tailor made. Chapter 11 is tailor made for retail or something like AMC, because what you get to do is you get to go through and cherry pick the leases you want to hold on to. But my brother, you are thinking absolutely correctly.
Disney does need some sort of vertical distribution, whether it's through handheld game sets or acquiring or rolling up all of their distribution into some sort of maybe they buy Sony's TV business. I don't know what it is they're going to need to take greater control of their distribution. But thanks for the question, Matt. A thoughtful question, love. Austin, Texas, south by Southwest. Can't wait to get back to south by Southwest. Next question. Prof.
Gee, this is Tim from St. Louis. I work in the KPG space. And my question to you is, how would you advise Nestlé or Unilever or General Mills to proceed in a world where we're moving from brand being less relevant to product being more relevant?
Thanks, Tim, from St. Louis. By the way, I think St. Louis is going to be a new hotbed of innovation and startups, mostly because of WashU has gained so much stature in the world of education and great engineering school. So look for St. Louis to be. I think St. Louis would be a great place to buy real estate because I think you're going to see St. Louis is going to become kind of the next Austin, if you will.
But anyways, that's another talk show. So some data, Unilever's market capitalization. Hundred fifty five billion. General Mills. Thirty three billion. Three hundred and forty billion, by the way, I've worked with all those firms were advise them anyways. And I've said for the last decade they needed to go vertical their distribution again, touching on the previous question and that they needed to open up or start to really promote their brands through own vertical distribution. Now, you said in your question that now that brands something that active brands don't matter or lost of relevance, it's not that they've lost their relevance.
Brands are still very important. It's that the way brands are built has shifted dramatically, and that is product and innovation and innovation. Around the distribution or post purchase community are now what is driving brand value, and it's much easier for brands to be disrupted because if you're used to deferring to the brand of Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton, there was the weapons of mass diligence of Google and TripAdvisor now or tablet, which has reviews or user reviews now help you zero in on Farmdale Hotels in the U.K., which are better than the Four Seasons at a lower price point and more the type of hotel a guy like me likes to stay.
I where there's a gym or it's a little hipper, a little younger because I aspire to be younger and hipper. So there's all of a sudden brand equity as a means of a moat around. Just awareness is no longer sustainable as it used to be. Now brands are still really important, but brand equity can can increase or decrease a lot faster now based on your innovation or lack of innovation relative to a new player. Anyway, CPG firms, CBG firms get don't get the credit they deserve for their product innovation.
And specifically, I'm talking about Nestlé, which does a great job of regionalising packaging and content and their marketing. I think Nestlé only about 10 percent of their brands or even in more than one market and less than one percent or more than 10 markets. And what they are while they're a global firm and that they have presence globally, what they're really great at is regionalize and using kind of this global intellectual or human capital to regionalize their brands. And PNG has fantastic innovation.
They think of themselves as an innovation company. And if you don't think there's product innovation to try and produce a razor, it's incredibly difficult. Also a diaper. I was struck and kind of overwhelmed by how complicated and how much technology goes into a diaper and the difference between a diaper for a little infant boys and infant girls. It's really it is a it is an innovation company. They're just not running ads and selling shitty products, as I think a lot of people think kind of traditional CPG.
So there is these firms are very innovative. They traditionally have done a great job recruiting great talent. They do a great job of managing their talent. So I've been telling these guys they need to get into vertical distribution. They haven't done it. My ideas for one of the firms was to buy Wegmans, which I thought was great distribution, and then slowly but surely similar to what Apple has done, Apple has buzz, makes money, gets credibility from having Bose headphones there, and then slowly but surely buys beats and beats.
And now I just went into an Apple store and they have the new Apple er pod, I think they're called Macs, but basically they have cans now and they're sold out until March and I just looked at it. OK, that's, that's a buzz killer anyway. So I think that I'm still sticking to my guns here. I think CPG needs to go vertical, but also I do think they do a pretty good job of innovation and also with their probably best out in the world, is squeezing the most juice from the media.
Lemon, specifically, Unilever has a reputation for just really understanding how to take a ten million dollar media budget and get twenty or thirty dollars million of value out of it. Thanks for the question, Tim St. Louis, the next big innovation hub. Next question.
Hey, Professor, go. This is Nick coming to you from the Halloween capital of the world, Salem, Massachusetts. I recently listened to an interview with Tim Wong, author of Subprime Attention Crisis and former Google exec. He posits that the delta between perceived and actual value of digital advertising actually classifies it as a bubble waiting to burst and cite several data points. A Google study that concludes that 60 percent of digital ads are never seen. The tendency of digital ads to take credit for purchases from users who would have bought products anyway, and the rise of ad blocking software, to name a few of them.
I immediately thought of one of your favorite moving away from ad supported revenue models towards the Rundell. So I wanted to ask you two questions. Number one, do you agree with Mr. Wang's assessment on digital ads being a bubble? Number two? If yes, this could have huge ramifications for the largest Internet giants whose revenue models are almost entirely dependent on advertising. Google and Facebook come to mind what first and second order effects do you anticipate if this bubble bursts?
Thanks for the question. So, no, my sense is that digital advertising is a shitty business unless you work for Facebook or Google, that their tools and their ability. I mean, Google, when you think about it, search is just an unbelievable business, it's one thing to target a bunch of people who you think might like beer because they're watching football, which means that their 45 year old guys who tend to, I don't know, somewhere between ninety seven and ninety nine percent of them love beer.
But the ability to say the ability to target somebody who types in, you know, German lager to understand attention, to understand people as they move from awareness to intention and then target them at that moment when they're hunting for a new Nissan is just unbelievable. And then to establish that kind of traffic by becoming the new modern age God, by letting people ask any question and giving them a reasonable answer back, it's just remarkable. And then Facebook creating this connective tissue around a third of the of the Earth's population and having them give informed the algorithms so much through the relationships and the content they post such that they can target the teenage kids in homes in Short Hills, New Jersey, who recently got their driver's license.
If you're an insurance company, auto insurance company, I mean, these things are just staggering. So I don't I don't think they're under threat. I do think that digital marketing companies or digital firms outside of Facebook and Google and a few other cats and dogs are you know, it's a term thought. And that is if these firms are growing at twenty to twenty eight percent a year and digital marketing is growing in the high teens, it means that if you're not Facebook or Google, you join newspapers and Yellow Pages, and that is your business is declining.
So I think it is a two class system here. I think that the big guys, the duopoly of Facebook and Google continue to get stronger. I think digital marketing continues to take more and more people's budgets. I don't buy into the basic premise, but it's not a healthy ecosystem in a lot of kids come to my office hours and say, hey, I'm thinking about going to digital marketing. I say, well, that's fine, as long as you're working for Facebook or Google or the media group of Amazon Media Group AMG.
Digital marketing is a fantastic business, a growth business, as long as you work for one of the duopolies or are part of the oligopoly, thanks to the question, if you have a question you'd like to submit, please email a voice recording to office hours at Section four dotcom.
Our producers are Caroline Shagan, Andrew Burrows, if you like what you heard, please follow, download and subscribe. Thanks for listening. We'll catch you next week with another episode of the property show from Section four and the Westwood One podcast network.
All right, so by the way, lion from number 18, I had I had Roman Gabriel pajamas living in testing.
That's hilarious. Is it Philadelphia? I don't know if I knew.
Yes. Anyway, sorry. With the fire high gang in the early 1970s.