Two Books That May Change How You Look at Today’s Journalism and Politics

In 1983 I read Frames of Mind, a book about multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner. He was mostly interested in how a better understanding of intelligence could improve schools but for me, an editor, it opened up new ways to see the strengths and weaknesses of writers. Gardner listed seven intelligences; the one schools focused on and rewarded was logical-analytical. But Gardner felt the other intelligences also were important to success.

He had visual-spatial intelligence–people who probably would be good at architecture, art directing a magazine. There’s bodily-kinesthetic intelligence–athletes, dancers, surgeons. Musical–good at sounds and rhythms. Linguistic–good at making up stories, doing crosswords, reading. And then there were the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences. Intrapersonal is understanding yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your goals. Interpersonal is how you interact with people, how good you are at understanding others.

In the 1980s Gardner came down to DC  from Harvard to talk about the book and after his presentation I talked with him and suggested that Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were good examples of different intelligences. He agreed and talked about what Carter was good at (logical-analytical) and Reagan was good at (intrapersonal and interpersonal). Which was more successful in the political world? Reagan—not even close.

In 2011 came Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. He has two ways of thinking: System 1 and System 2: System 1 operates automatically, impulsively, and quickly, with little or no effort. System 2 gives attention to effortful mental activities and can override the impulses of System l.

As an editor, I found that fast-thinking caused a lot of problems in journalism. At The Washingtonian, I often found that fast talkers and fast thinkers were good at selling a story but then couldn’t deliver anything resembling good journalism.  One of the smartest writers I worked with was a slow talker. In discussing a story, he sometimes talked very slowly as he organized his thinking. But he wrote stories that had depth and made an impact.

Slow and fast thinking ties into one of my favorite quotes from the late Phil Merrill, longtime publisher of The Washingtonian: “A lot of damage in Washington is done by bright, articulate people with very bad judgment.”

Listen to and vote for fast thinking politicians and you get a Donald Trump, not a John Kasich or Jeb Bush. Listen to fast thinking journalists, those who dominate cable TV and digital journalism, and you see why more and more people don’t trust the press.

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