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Monday Memo: Empathy? Sympathy?

| August 23, 2021

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — No names: Last week a top-5 market morning talker I coach asked listeners, “Can this country get ANYTHING right anymore?” I later asked him, “What was your hoped-for outcome asking that?” Crickets.

No names, and I’m not making this up: Same day, another brother in the talk radio family posted on Facebook: “Thank goodness Americans see the collapse of leadership.”

I’ll skip the obvious question (Has the format degenerated into misery-loves-company?) and ask the obvious consultant question: If today sounds like yesterday, how much would the listener think he/she misses by not-listening tomorrow?

Had the FCC not shifted its focus to broadband, and pretty-much stopped regulating radio post-Consolidation, we might be reminded that we’re licensed to serve in the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Seems quaint now.

Empathy, or at least sympathy?

The two terms are often misspoken interchangeably. Here’s the difference: You’re on the Block Island Ferry and you feel sorry for a seasick passenger. You’re sympathetic. If you’re empathetic, you’re barfing.

If you’re a parent of young kiddos, you get it. Here comes the school year we hoped we wouldn’t repeat. If you aren’t, sympathize with parents’ dilemma and speak to it usefully. Be known for what Mike McVay calls “survival information.”

I have personal empathy for last week’s media/consumer disconnect.

  • Working in cable news, I see-inside the stimulus-response trap. The split screen is irresistible: Saigon 1975 on the left; desperate Afghans clinging to the taxiing military transport plane on the right. The president called it “gut-wrenching” and cable is looping the video. Nobody’s playing Lee Greenwood now.
  • But who was watching? Other than talkers seeking to profit from pessimism. Likely fewer viewers last week than usual. My consistent experience over eight seasons owning a hotel in a summer haven is that two weeks before Labor Day is peak business, since school begins earlier now than when we Boomers were young.

Google the polls. Most Americans, of every political stripe, wanted-out of Afghanistan. They have for a while, after $2 trillion squandered, over two thousand U.S. service men and women killed, and tens of thousands more now at suicide risk. Last week, the Veterans Administration Emailed nine million vets: You are not alone. Are you speaking to them? The crisis hotline is 800-273-8522. That’s 800-273-TALK.

Yet another prediction?

Two weeks ago here, I wrote that jab-wary “soreheads’ face-saving pivot will be FDA Final Approval for vaccines previously dissed as ‘experimental.’” Many didn’t wait. On Thursday — as ICU units neared zero capacity in several southern states, the Pope called getting vaccinated “an act of love,” and three U.S. Senators (a Democrat, a Republican, and an Independent) tested positive – over a million doses were administered for the first time in seven weeks.

Last week, for the first time since May, USA COVID deaths exceeded 1,000 for four consecutive days. My column offered that “data denial will be to 2021 what disco was to 1978: white-hot present-day, scoffed-at in retrospect.” With Americans now scared-straight, vaccinated FOX hosts segue from their exhausted contra-pandemic narrative to giddy Afghanistan updates.

So hold me to this one, too: Yes, Taliban looks terrible now. Give it six months. They’ll be a worldwide laughingstock, vulnerable to revolt from within (angry Afghans already boldly march under their country’s flag, protesting the Taliban’s). And threats from without, as they sit atop a lode of lithium that mightier, more-organized countries are drooling-over. Tens-of-thousands of Afghans not-insane flee, a brain drain that will haunt the medieval-minded attempting to govern a nation that has never, ever been at peace with itself.

So if you’re doing The Daily Downer Show, milk the misery while you can. Your unvaccinated audience is dying.

Holland Cooke is the author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). He is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet.  And HC hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice