Care Less about What the New York Times Says
“The best sign that our economic program is working is that they don’t call it Reaganomics anymore.”
– Ronald Reagan on several occasions.
Many people attribute Ronald Reagan’s success to the fact that he was one of the few politicians in recent history who really didn’t care what his critics wrote about him. Reagan was relatively unconcerned with the opinions of the reporters and editorialists who covered his political career.
He understood that a free press was vital to a healthy democracy. By his own account, from a very young age, Reagan was a voracious reader. He did not isolate himself from other people’s thoughts and opinions. On the contrary, Reagan relished open debate on every issue.
However, his background as a broadcaster, actor, union leader, apeaker, and writer gave him a unique insight into how messages were created, manipulated, and delivered through radio, movies, television, and newspapers. Maybe this is why Reagan and his critics never seemed to agree on the height of the pedestal, upon which the media claimed to sit. In short, Reagan never took the members of the press as seriously as they seemed to take themselves.
Growing a Thick Skin in Hollywood
In Hollywood, columnists and critics were part of everyday life. By witnessing inaccuracies in their reporting, Reagan was better prepared to respond to their criticisms when he entered politics. He had seen firsthand that, far from what some people might assume, they were not always right. “…you develop a skepticism about what you read, and take it in stride,” Reagan wrote in his autobiography. “That kind of experience helps you start reading things about yourself as president.”
During his presidential campaigns, Reagan believed that many reporters in the press would seek out minor mistakes or errors regarding inconsequential topics, instead of doing in-depth research that would reveal significant differences between the candidates. Although he liked most of the men and women who covered the White House, Reagan oftentimes considered the behavior of the press to be superficial and petty.
Drawing the Line
There were a handful of times Reagan demonstrated a mild frustration towards the press, such as when he noted in his diary after a televised speech about national security: “Did a press availability in the press room. It went well, so the press on TV almost ignored it entirely….”
But the only times Reagan became really angry at the press were when they aimed personal attacks towards his wife (which he considered cheap shots), and when they reported leaks regarding planned secret missions against terrorists; reports that could risk human lives.
Do you Qualify the Criticism?
Like Reagan, your critics might be found in the local newspaper, or on radio, television and the internet. They might be found in your trade organization, among your competitors, or even in your own family such as when your kids rebel because you insist they get summer jobs!
How strong leaders react to pressure from critics, opponents, lobbyists and detractors
One example of true leadership is Reagan’s response to the peer pressure he received when both his supporters and his critics said he should soften his rhetoric against communism when speaking publicly about the Soviet Union.
Reagan knew the Soviets had been on the move in Central America and the Middle East and he was intent on challenging the further spread of communism throughout the world. He felt it was important to challenge the very premise of a communistic system. Many of his colleagues feared his rhetoric would incite the Soviets, and urged him to temper his words.
Leaders recognize when they are being pressured by their peers.
Reagan was keenly aware that those inside and outside his group were trying to influence his thoughts and actions.
Leaders identify the true motivations behind other’s efforts to influence them.
Reagan had to assess the reasons behind their advice and criticisms. Were they well-meaning individuals who simply believed their position was more prudent? Were they motivated by personal gain? Who was, in turn, influencing them? Might they be reacting out of a sense of fear or from an inaccurate view of history? Reagan had to consider all of these possibilities.Thirdly, leaders assess the validity of the pressure. In his poem titled , Rudyard Kipling wrote:Reagan had to assess the reasons behind their advice and criticisms. Were they well-meaning individuals who simply believed their position was more prudent? Were they motivated by personal gain? Who was, in turn, influencing them? Might they be reacting out of a sense of fear or from an inaccurate view of history? Reagan had to consider all of these possibilities.
Leaders make allowances for their doubting too.
In his poem titled If, Rudyard Kipling wrote:
“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting to…”
Reagan certainly “made allowance for their doubting too” and encouraged a full discourse of ideas from others. It was common for Reagan to fill a room with opinionated experts on all sides of an issue, and have them argue, debate, and sell their point of view. He had the confidence to listen to constructive criticism and the strength to surround himself with people who were not afraid to challenge him. For instance, when others recommended that he fire David Stockman for the lengthy complaints he made to the press, Reagan refused to do so.
Finally, leaders must make a decision.
After everyone had their chance to weigh in on things, it was not a decision by committee. Rather it was a decision by Reagan.
In this case, Reagan decided not to soften his rhetoric with regards to communism. He had seen firsthand many of the horrors that had resulted from communism, and he was convinced that communism was the focus of evil in the modern world. He refused to be deterred from doing his part to bring it to an end, even when he was pressured by those on both sides of the aisle.
A Strong Belief System
This type of confidence stems from a strong belief system.
The decisions are not always successful, because you are not in control of how others will act and react to them. In this case, however, one of the reasons Soviet communism fell was because Ronald Reagan believed it belonged on the ash heap of history, and he cared less about what his critics wrote in The New York Times.
Ronald Reagan said, in what is known as the evil empire speech:
“We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God.”
Without a doubt there are times when you must take an unpopular stand on crucial decisions. Recognize the pressure, assess its source, and make allowance for their doubting too. If you then base your decision on a strong belief system, then, like Reagan, you too “can trust yourself whe