Donald Trump and Bill Belichick’s Media Strategies Should Inspire Us to Think Better

What has struck me in the past few weeks of watching both our new President and the coach of my beloved New England Patriots interact with the media is how both individuals manage the information that reaches the public. President Trump’s style, for better or worse, is more spontaneous, but he has been called out by media organizations across the political spectrum for the contradictory statements he has made along the way. Meanwhile, there are no contradictions in a Bill Belichick press conference. If you exclude proper nouns, it seems possible he’s uttered less than a thousand different words to the media in his multi-decade career and they are all, maddeningly, on message.

It’s made me wonder, in this age of instant access to fact checkers and transcripts (but also fake and biased news sites and social media), what is the value of a more or less verbose public figure? Is it better for democracy to have a leader who only speaks in focus-group-refined pablum, or do we learn more from an authentic, if contradictory, politician.

What I’ve come to appreciate is the ability to track what people are doing, rather than getting worked up over what they are saying. To be sure, words do matter and have wide-ranging effects, but in terms of actionable and concrete data, press conferences are almost always more entertainment than accountability.

All of which is to say, this reaffirms my belief that 2017 will be a watershed year for the way we think about the importance of critical thinking and information literacy skills. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Socialist, if you want to maintain agency in this rapidly-evolving landscape, you will have to be able to navigate information accurately and responsibly. Passively receiving what information comes your way is simply not a strategy for success in the knowledge economy, in your professional, personal, or political life. One of Belichick’s catch-all catch phrases goes, “It is what it is.” Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be forever. We can all become better thinkers, and we’ll have to if we want to make it in the 21st century.

Image credit: Jeremy Vandroff, via Flickr