Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing strategy from a solid foundation 8: a case study example of the consequences of a priori underlying assumptions 7

Posted in book recommendations, macroeconomics, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 17, 2015

This is my eighth installment to a series on strategy as it is developed in practice, and on where it is developed from (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 490 and loosely following for Parts 1-7.) And this is also Part 7 to an historical narrative-based case study that I have been developing here, drawn from the public sector and more specifically from United States policy and practice in maintaining troop levels in their military. My goal for this case study is to illustrate how policy and practice evolve and how both strategy and strategic goals are shaped by and can be changed by ongoing experience – and if not always for overall long-term goals than for how operational processes and their performance are measured in reaching towards them, which in practice can constitute functional shift in what constitutes those overall goals themselves.

I finished my core historical timeline-organized narrative for this case study with Part 7 of this series, and with that have at least briefly and selectively discussed military recruitment and troop strength maintenance policy, as carried out in the United States from its pre-independence colonial period up to and including recent and still ongoing War on Terror conflicts. And I ended that posting, stating that I would continue its discussion with a brief and selective analysis of:

• The role of news and of the public press, historically, in shaping public opinion on military action, as just briefly touched upon (e.g. in Part 7) for more recent conflicts,
• How direct access to raw news and events observations have become progressively more and more possible, and even publically expected and certainly since the dawn of on-scene television reporting,
• And about how the rise of the internet and particularly of the interactive internet and social media have made all of us reporters as well as consumers of news and events reporting – thus disintermediating the news and reporting process and removing editorial filtering from that, and certainly as a requisite part of the news process.

One of the core organizing points that runs throughout the historical narrative that I have been developing here, is that while government leadership and government policy are shaped by perception of troop level need in meeting strategic and operational national goals, the possible and the societally acceptable in this are shaped by public opinion and by the level and form of public willingness to participate in this. And that citizen side to this dynamic, perhaps more than anything else, is shaped by news reporting, and by the overall news story that comes to support or refute government policy in place and its implementation.

In keeping with the already established format of this series, I begin this discussion with an historical narrative. News reporting per se, is one of the oldest and most long-standing issues of debate in the United States, and in fact the British government’s challenge to the free press in colonial America was one of the defining issues that led to the American Revolution and the formation of the United States as an independent country in the first place.

Benjamin Franklin, one of that country’s founding fathers and a leader among them, was a printer by trade and a widely respected writer and author, and all of the leaders of that newly forming nation where highly literate and saw a free press as essential to liberty. Thomas Jefferson: another of the leading lights and leaders of this group, who went on to become the second President of the new United States, followed the news from both sides of the Atlantic and even during the height of conflict of the American Revolution, avidly reading newspapers and books as they arrived from Europe. But I begin this narrative in the colonial period, and with a very specific event: the trial of John Peter Zenger, a printer and publisher, in 1735.

The Zenger trial is often thought of in the history of American jurisprudence as the pivotal event in determining the independence of grand juries and the grand jury system in the United States. But it is also seen as having laid the groundwork for establishing strong freedom of the press rights in that country too, with those rights formalized in the United States Constitution in its First Amendment, and as one of the core principles in the United States Bill of Rights.

That establishes the foundation for the independent press side of this discussion as news reporting and as public opinion shaped and informed by it, impact upon government policy and how it is enacted.

All of the conflicts that I have addressed in the course of writing this series, from Part 2 on have been widely reported and editorialized on in the United States and in a free, and editorially and ideologically diverse press. As a case in point example of that coverage, and to cite an historical resource that I first delved into as a teenager, I note the US Civil War coverage that can be found in the archival copies of the New York Times newspaper. This can be found online through the New York Times web site, or it can be obtained as an organized day-by-day record in book plus CD format as:

• Holzer, H (Editor), Symonds. C (Editor), and President Bill Clinton (Foreword) (2010) The New York Times: The Complete Civil War 1861-1865. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.

I cite this example because the New York Times is still actively in publication; it first began publishing in 1851 and continues on to today. And I cite it because a great deal of news coverage from the Confederate side of this conflict can still be found too. Widely circulated news publications like the New York Times have reported on every other of the conflicts of this case study and more too, and similar compiled works from their Times coverage can be readily found too (e.g corresponding book plus CD compendiums of New York Times coverage of the First and Second World Wars.)

And the press can take a very active role in both shaping public opinion and in driving government policy in this. And as an example of how that can arise, I turn to consider a conflict that I have passed over and not explicitly discussed in this narrative, at least up to here: the Spanish-American War. And I focus here, on the role that yellow press journalism, as pursued by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal-American, played in bringing about this otherwise avoidable war.

Hearst and Pulitzer were at war with each other, with each seeking to dominate the newspaper industry and marketplace as the predominant source of news sold and read, and certainly in New York City and the greater New York metro area. They fought this war with lurid headlines, and inflammatory news pieces, and news coming from and reportedly coming from Cuba became one of their key battlefields of this war. They started with exposé articles about the living conditions that Cubans faced under Spanish rule. Then when a Cuban insurrection against that rule broke out in 1895, Hearst in particular became an anti-Spanish war hawk. And the rhetoric heated up on both sides.

These news stories offered both text and image, with drawings for illustrations. And some of them were incredibly inflammatory. As a case in point and to cite a very well-known example that prompted tremendous public outrage when first published, I cite a Frederic Remington illustrated news piece reporting an at least largely apocryphal event, claiming that a group of male Spanish officials had strip searched an American woman looking for messages from Cuban insurrectionist rebels. Remington is known primarily as one of America’s greatest artists, and particularly for his Western depicting works, but he was also the most influential artist illustrators involved in creating this ongoing flow of news stories.

And then the USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor with significant loss of life and it was reported that this happened as a result of sabotage and that this ship was torpedoed by the Spanish, as an overt and intentional act of war against the United States. The cry went out: “Remember the Maine!” And a declared war with Spain to liberate Cuba and kick the Spanish out of the Americas and the Western Hemisphere quickly followed. And in a real sense this became a global war, or at least a globally reaching war; American forces soon found themselves facing and battling Spanish forces over Spain’s Pacific possessions: the Spanish East Indies too. And when insurrection broke out in the Philippines, Americans found themselves fighting there against Philippine revolutionaries too in what came to be known as the Philippine-American War, with this conflict going from 1899 to 1902.

The first push leading to all of this was a ratings war over newspaper readership share between two arrogant publishers, who each saw themselves as rightful owners of what was a shared marketplace. And as a complete aside, many years later – after many other wars, scuba divers using equipment and resources not available at the end of the 19th century explored the wreck of the Maine or what was left of it, and found that the explosion that sank her happened in the immediate area of the ship’s boiler room. Steam power was still new in ships when the Maine was built and commissioned, and some of these systems had already failed and even catastrophically and with boiler explosions. The hull plates that were torn open by the explosion that sank the Maine were twisted and torn in a way that could only happen if this explosion took place inside of the ship – and not from the outside as if from a torpedo or other outwardly impacting bomb. That was found much later, but it reinforced the message that the US entered this war as a result of a rush to judgment based on flawed and inflammatory evidence and reporting of it.

I raise this story here for the lessons it has conveyed to US policy makers. The United States has and needs a free press but the exercise of that freedom can carry risks, and certainly when an agenda to publish on the side of an independent press and other news sources collides with the priorities and concerns of government policy. That can mean unconsidered public release of sensitive information that could compromise specific missions and risk lives. Or as in this case, that can mean a press with its own agenda shaping and even forcing government policy and overall military action.

I have already briefly touched upon, in Part 7, the role and impact that news coverage had in the conduct and outcome of the Vietnam War, and on how news reporter access to the front has been managed in War on Terror conflicts since then. My goal for this posting was to fill in some of the background history to this and particularly for noting how powerful news coverage can be in shaping military action and the policy behind it. The case study I have been developing over the past seven series installments here, is about military recruitment and troop strength. Hearst’s and Pulitzer’s battle for newspaper supremacy both got the United States into war – several globally distributed wars actually, and shaped public perception of all of this, and public willingness to serve. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders (the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry), and their participation in the US war in Cuba as a part of the Spanish-American war are only one part of that story.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, focusing there on the second and third to-address points that I listed at the top of this posting:

• How direct access to raw news and events observations have become progressively more and more possible, and even publically expected and certainly since the dawn of on-scene television reporting,
• And about how the rise of the internet and particularly of the interactive internet and social media have made all of us reporters as well as consumers of news and events reporting – thus disintermediating the news and reporting process and removing editorial filtering from that, and certainly as a requisite part of the news process.

And after that, I will discuss general lessons and principles learned and learnable from this case study, and more general principles of strategy development and its evolution per se. I will turn back to Part 1 of this series when addressing that. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.


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