A Radio Strategy in a Digital World

Last fall, I met with a friend who had recently spoken with an executive at another (not the Mets) professional sports team in New York.  The exec said that the single biggest change in the sports world in recent history was the advent of sports talk radio; specifically for you New York sports fans, WFAN.  Before WFAN, teams had a cozy relationship with beat writers and newspaper columnists — that is, the media — and the reporters and columnists would, by and large, echo the company line as gospel.  The team controlled information and access; in exchange, they left to the media the “right” to distribute the story.  It was a win-win, as the team got positive press and the journalists were glistened the experts.  For any baseball fan, this is self-proving: the Baseball Writers Association of America decides on the end-of-season award winners and Hall of Fame inductees.  (In any other industry do journalists decide award winners?  Could you imagine if the editorial page of the Washington Post named the Nobel Peace Prize winners?)

Sports talk radio changed all that, for at least three reasons:

  • All of a sudden, there was a lot of space for analysis, even if the analysis was mostly blather.  When a radio host has to fill four hours a day, five days a week, he has to say more than the snippet the team gives him.
  • The snippet gets challenged — especially by fans.  Radio gave the fans a chance to sound off, via call-in shows.   While not the focus of talk radio, there was no equivalent in sports.  Most newspapers and magazines published letters to the editor, but not about sports minutiae, e.g. whether a specific player should be sent to the minors.
  • Reporters and columnists became sources.   Literally.  Radio hosts would invite them to call in; the hosts would put the questions to the writers.   Writers reply, and are challenged by the host (e.g. “Why did the coach call that play at that moment?”).

The end result:  Beat writers no longer had a monopoly on the sound bite, and when that went away, so did the teams’ cozy relationship with those beat writers (and the rest of the media population, for that matter).

The media wanted more access, as individuals wanted scoops; the team wanted more control, as stories took on live of their own.  The two goals don’t mesh.  That’s why we have an era where it’s not uncommon to see players yelling at reporters (or pushing away cameras); why Theo Epstein once donned a monkey suit to avoid reporters; why Allen Iverson talks about practice.

But today, the landscape has again changed.  With Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, ideas move way too rapidly to play the cat-and-mouse game between teams and the media.   And even more importantly, the new landscape is participatory, not broadcast.   There is no need for the team to play this cat-and-mouse game because they can — and should — manage their own memes.

Unfortunately, the radio era harmed the notion that “conversation” and “participation” are laudable goals, for in the radio era, attempts at either were doomed to backfire.  So, I suspect, it will be a long time before those once burned get over their new media shyness.

Managing Your Memes: The Three Ds

Imagine you owned a Major League Baseball team; well call it the Mets.  Your star player (“David Wright”) is, inexplicably, striking out a lot, and your team is having a bad year.  What message do you expect the sports media to hook into and spread?

In the Mets’ case, the media has hooked onto a meme.   “David Wright is striking out a ton, and it’s hurting the team.”

But it’s not true.   Yes, he’s striking out a lot — but he’s also outperforming the rest of his team.   He’s second on the team in home runs, leading in runs batted in, gets on base more often than anyone else, and even is second (by one) in stolen bases.   He is on pace for a “30/30” season — thirty homers, thirty stolen bases — and 100+ runs batted in.   Yes, he’s striking out a lot more than in years past, but he’s having a good, if not great year.  He’s an asset, not a liability.

The Mets should combat this, just like any organization should if an asset is being treated like a liability by the press.  While the example above is sports related, the solution can apply to anyone in the public sphere.

The Three Ds of Meme Management

1) Develop your own soundbite.

The term “soundbite” may come off as negative, but it’s descriptive here.  You need to find a message and boil it down into a sentence or two.   I did that above.

The message has to be short and to the point.   The more you say, the more things there are for the chattering class to analyze, refute, and often (and unintentionally) distort.    Be clear and succinct.*   Stay on message.   You want to tee up your idea and hope that it spreads, winning the day; or at least, is something you can keep reiterating across various media channels.

* And, it should go without saying:  Choose your words carefully to make sure you don’t sound stupid.  Last night, when the Mets removed their starting pitcher from the game after five pitches, the pitcher claimed that he was not injured and was appalled by the decision to remove him.  The pitching coach’s response: that the pitcher is a “habitual liar” when it comes to his playing condition.   Big mistake.

2) Distribute the message yourself.

You cannot control your message, no matter how hard you try.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

But the definition of “trying” has changed from the press conferences, interviews, and press releases rubric of years past.   It’s not enough to sit around, crafting the message and choosing which media outlets you’ll speak with.    Nearly any organization can distribute the message themselves.  Have key stakeholders (the general manager? the owner? even a PR representative or spokesperson) start a blog.  Create an organizational Facebook page.  Use Twitter accounts, etc.  None of this is groundbreaking advice, so it is rather absurd that organizations have not yet caught on.  Again, take the Mets for example.  To the extent they use any of these tools — and it is minimal — it’s for marketing purposes only.

3) Defend your message.

Once others hear, repeat, rehash, and discuss your take on the goings-on, some will criticize it.  You need to be ready to defend it.

That means engaging the critics on their turf, as the Mets and other sports teams often (and sometimes poorly) do take the media to task, head on.  But rarely do you see a team do this.  Instead, they hold press conferences, go on radio shows, issue statements, etc.  They don’t ever engage the fan directly via media properties they control.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Twitter, Facebook pages, and blogs is that you can receive — and reply to — feedback right then and there.  And the replies are public, so even if you don’t convince the skeptic, you may convince someone else listening or watching the argument.  Overlooking this value, in the current “social media” climate, is fatal.

* * *

Applying the three Ds is not difficult.  It simply requires time and consistent effort.

One such example occurred last week, when Fox News ran an article claiming that Wikipedia founder (and my former boss), Jimmy Wales, was stripped of editorial rights due to an unrelated scandal.  He took to Twitter (and to TechCrunch, a third party blog) to set the record straight and defend himself:

The defense consisted of pointed replies to those who reacted skeptically:

Effective?  You bet.   The passion plus the time investment means that he’s taking it seriously; that this is important; and that the current media-driven meme is incorrect.  It’s believable and simulteaneouly remarkable.

It’s the approach everyone should be taking in managing the media sentiment of their organization.  Don’t follow the sports teams’ model.

What Starts With “T” and Can Let You Broadcast a Message to Millions?

I know the theme song to the horrid TV show Step by Step.   By heart, even.

Step by Step aired for six years on ABC’s “TGIF” lineup, and then for a seventh on CBS, totalling 160 episodes.  At thirty minutes per episode (including commercials — this was pre-DVR), a person who watched the entire run wasted over three whole days of his or her life.  It is still being aired in syndication on ABC Family: once a day on weekdays and twice-daily on weekends.

The show featured six children and later, a seventh and one cousin.  It was not significant enough, however, to vault any of those eight actors and actresses beyond the show itself.  A quick perusal of Wikipedia confirms this; in fact, one of the actors is so insignificant that he did not even have an entry in Wikipedia until 2009.   That’s not terribly surprising.  Step by Step was not something you commiserated over the next week at school.   No cultural icons came out of the show; there was no Balki Bartokomous or Tony Micelli or Mike Seaver.  Even in retrospect, the only things I can remember about the show is how across the board stupid the characters were (except for the nerdy kid, who was hardly praised for being smart) and, of course, the theme song.  Heck, it was only marginally funny.

Yet, I watched it often enough to be able to sing a significant part of the theme song by heart, over a decade after it ceased production.  And apparently, I am not alone.

We’re enamored by the lure of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and social media generally.  But don’t underestimate the power of television.

Can Big Bird Convert Twitter Followers Into Facebook Fans?

I work for Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street.   I’m the Director of New Media Communications, which means, in part, I get to figure out how we use Facebook and Twitter.   I have been collecting a lot of publicly available data about one of my projects, and the results have proved interesting.

Earlier this year, we opened up a bunch of official Fan pages (when they were called that) for various characters.   We started with Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert and Ernie, Rosita, Oscar the Grouch, and Abby Cadabby.   Each proved popular, and on March 25th, we invited our then-60,000 plus Twitter followers to become Facebook fans of those characters.

The bitly link did about 550 clicks.  Before the tweet, most of the existing character fan pages had fewer Facebook fans than we had Twitter followers by an order of magnitude.  Each of these pages fan counts grew by about 10%.

But the more interesting feedback I had to gather by hand.   People tweeted at @sesamestreet with their requests.   Almost 20 different characters — including human actors and one teddy bear — were suggested.  Many characters were suggested by only one or two people, but three characters stood out.

  • Big Bird lead the way by a lot.  For indexing, say he scored 100.
  • He was followed by Snuffleupagus.   Using the same index, put him at roughly 75.
  • The Count (officially Count von Count) came in third, with an index of 40.

A week or so later, we announced the new pages on Twitter.

I intentionally did not announce it on Facebook because I wanted to see how well our then-70,000 Twitter followers would translate into Facebook fans.   It was slow going, taking about 90 minutes to get one of the three characters to 100 fans, despite roughly 650 clicks overall that day.  I stopped checking once the first character hit 100 fans.

Given the response to my informal poll, I expected Big Bird to come out to a quick and decisive lead.  I was wrong.

Snuffy and The Count were neck and for the 90 or so minutes it took for the latter to prevail.  Big Bird was a laggard, not even coming close.  It was the exact opposite results of the poll.

Small sample size, perhaps?  Maybe I wasn’t hitting the same audiences?  Perhaps the responders on Twitter were not also using Facebook?  Or maybe they were, but they did not want their Facebook (real?) friends to know they were fans of children’s television characters?

Any are likely explanations, but none are very satisfying.   Instead of coming up with some answers, I instead ended up with another question:

Which “survey” was more accurate?

In effect, I conducted two surveys on Twitter.  One was an explicit ask: Which character pages would you want to become a fan of?  The other — “we’ve created these pages!” — was, implicitly, the same thing.   The former was more theoretical while the latter concrete.   Which one is better?

Yesterday, I checked these three characters’ pages again.  The results changed, reflecting closely the results of the earlier poll:

Indexing Big Bird to 100 again, Snuffy comes in at 77 — not far off from his original Twitter score — and the Count at 67.  It makes sense that these are a bit higher because while the Twitter responses naturally limit the # of possibilities (140 characters and the memory/imagination of the responder being two factors), there is no such mutual exclusivity or memory leaks when presented with options on Facebook.

Some general takeaways:

  • Twitter followers do not convert to Facebook fans at as high a level as I thought.  Cookie Monster, who is obviously incredibly popular on Twitter and the Internet generally, jumped only about 300 fans.  That is, about 0.5% of our Twitter followers became Facebook fans of Cookie Monster — a paltry sum.
  • Twitter followers may act as a good focus group.  While the conversion to Facebook fans for Big Bird, Snuffy, and the Count didn’t come overnight, the original “poll” seemed to accurately predict who would be the most popular.  For what it’s worth, Cookie Monster, whose tweets are retweeted with alacrity, has nearly 25,000 Facebook fans — to Big Bird’s 1,250 or so.
  • The natural growth of Facebook pages is impressive.  We’ve done very little to promote Big Bird’s inclusion on Facebook, yet his Fan count is growing.  The same is true for each of the other characters as well.

I’m sure some of that is wrong — and that it’s certainly incomplete.

Leaving the Wheelchair Behind

The headline — it’s not a metaphor.

Let’s say, heaven forbid, you lost the lower half of your body in an accident, and were confined to a wheelchair.  Under what circumstances would you venture off and leave the wheelchair behind?  To sleep, take a bath/shower, and… that’s pretty much it, I’d guess.   And you would never, ever leave it behind.

Or so I thought.

At just before 9 PM tonight, I got on the subway.  I noticed a man with no legs — nothing below the waist, roughly — in a wheelchair.  My first thought was that it must be very difficult for him to get around, given the wheelchair, because very few of subway stops are wheelchair accessible.

We both got on the first car of the train.   Before the train reached the next station less than two minutes later, the guy was in the middle of the car, panhandling.  Nothing too strange, except he wasn’t in his wheelchair.  He was scooting along, pushing himself forward with his arms while simultaneously carrying a coffee can of change and small bills.  He said nothing — the jingle of the change and the spectacle of a legless man moving slowly though the subway car spoke volumes for him.    And when the train stopped at the next station, he didn’t.  He moved on, reaching the end of our car just after the train disembarked.  Then he went through the doors at the end of the car and into the next one — leaving his wheelchair behind.   I waited a stop or two and, amazed, took the picture to the right.

A few stops later, I got off the train.   The wheelchair was in front of me, still laying fallow in the lead car.   As the train doors closed and the subway left my station stop, I watched the man pass from car three to car four, going further and further away from his wheelchair.

Maybe, in retrospect, it makes sense; it’s not very likely that someone is going to steal a wheelchair, the guy can probably do better panhandling if he’s scooting around in half-a-body; it may even be easier to maneuver between train cars without the wheelchair’s bulk.  But for the life of me, there’s one thing I can’t shake — where did this guy ever, possibly, get the idea to leave his wheelchair?  And not just that, but leave the car it was in!  I cannot imagine it would ever occur to me that the “best” thing I could do, if I were in his situation, is to leave the wheels behind.

Expecting Service, Not Product

Last week, Johnson & Johnson announced a recall of Children’s Tylenol. A day later, one of my children ran a fever. Luckily, we live in Manhattan, home of Duane Reade and their seemingly bazillion locations throughout the island.  As you can see from the map below right, they’re everywhere.  In fact, there is one in my apartment building — and twelve (!) others less than half a mile away.

Dutifully, I went down there to get some Children’s Tylenol — or, rather, the generic equivalent.   I spoke with the manager, who informed me that the name-brand product had been recalled, so they didn’t have it, and that Duane Reade does not carry a generic.

This did me no good.

I went a block away, passing another Duane Reade en route, to a CVS.  They sell a CVS-branded generic equivalent, which I learned when I arrived there to see it on the shelf.  Problem solved, with minor-at-worst inconvenience.

Yet a week later, the exchange with the Duane Reade manager bothered me.   I could have gone anywhere for the medicine — the product is the same at CVS, Duane Reader, RiteAid, etc. — but I came to him.  Yes, I came to him because he was closest, but that’s by design: Duane Reade wants to always be the closest drug store, because convenience matters.   The fact that there’s almost always a Duane Reade around the corner acts as a proxy for good customer service.

They can be forgiven for not having generic children’s acetaminophen.   But with a recall in effect for the name-brand product, how hard would it be for them to advise me to go to CVS?  Look at it from my perspective: It’s 8 A.M.  There’s a well-publicized recall in effect for the medicine I need — it hit the wires midday the day prior.   He’s in charge of a drug store, and I’m there looking for medicine (clearly) for my child.   Odds are, I’m going to leave his store and go to a competitor anyway.  If he sends me there, I’ll remember that fondly.   I’ll appreciate the great customer service.  And I’ll come back next time.

Instead, I’m left wondering: Why wouldn’t he help?

The Wikipedia Reading Club: Jackie Robinson

Yesterday, I kicked off the Wikipedia Reading Club with this post on John Adams’ entry.   Click that link to learn more about the Club and how to participate; read on if you already know.

Today, it’s Jackie Robinson.  As a die-hard baseball fan, I know more about Robinson than the average person, I’d bet — I know he broke the MLB color barrier, of course, but I also knew a good amount about the details of his playing career; even the fact that he retired rather than accept a trade to the San Francisco Giants (although I did not realize that he had decided to retire prior to the trade).   Here are a few things I learned; please share your thoughts in the comments, as always.

In junior college, Robinson had a run-in with the police over what he saw as a racially motivated detainment of a friend. Specifically, “[a]n incident at [Pasadena Junior College] illustrated Robinson’s impatience with authority figures he perceived as racist – a character trait that would resurface repeatedly in his life. On January 25, 1938, he was arrested after vocally disputing the detention of a black friend by police. Robinson received a two-year suspended sentence, but the incident – along with other rumored run-ins between Robinson and police – gave Robinson a reputation for combativeness in the face of racial antagonism.

This jumped off the page for two reasons.  First, I thought one of the reasons Robinson — beyond his supreme talent for baseball — made for a great candidate to break the color barrier is because he was one to turn the other cheek; it turns out, I was entirely wrong on that point.    Rather, Branch Rickey and Robinson had to come to an informal agreement that Robinson would turn the other cheek in spite of his history of doing the opposite; I see this as a major testament to Robinson’s will and fortitude against hate that I can’t even imagine.

Second, six years after he debuted, the Yankees were still an all-white ball club.  They had a guy named Vic Power in the minors was was destined to get a call to the bigs.  But the Yankees, allegedly fearing Power’s temperament, kept Power in the minors for the 1953 season — they did not even extend him a Spring Training invite.  Again, allegedly, the organization did not want Power to be the first African-American Yankee, instead preferring Elston Howard to take that honor.  With Power clearly Major League ready but Howard needing time in the minors — the team was converting him to play catcher, the Yankees traded Power in December of 1953.

Given the amount of time, detail, planning, and consideration of off-field behavior that the Yankees required in order to put an African-American in pinstripes, I’m surprised to read that, by present-day indicators, Robinson had a checkered (albeit nearly certainly justified) off-field resume.

World War II cut Robinson’s career short — his football career, that is.   Ted Williams is one of my favorite players, ever.   In 1941, he hit .406 — the last player to break the .400 barrier.  The next year, 1942, he won the Triple Crown.  In 1946, he was second on batting average, home runs, and RBI, but lead the league in runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and won his first MVP award.  In 1947, he won the Triple Crown again.  1948, he lost a few games due to injury, but still finished third in MVP voting.  And to top it all off, he returned healthy in 1949 to win a Triple Crown a third time, his second MVP award, and, for good measure, lead the league in doubles, too.

From 1943-1945, during the prime of his career, he served in World War II.  Yet when he retired in 1960, he did so with 521 homers, then good enough for third all-time behind Babe Ruth (714) and Jimmie Foxx (534).  Imagine how great Williams may have been if he hadn’t lost that time to the War.  (He also missed time to a tour of duty in Korea.)

But for baseball fans, what WWII taketh, maybe  it giveth back?  Robinson was destined to play football — baseball was his worst sport as a UCLA student — but the war cut his football career short.  And then, I learned…

Robinson ended up on the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs because of the above two things.  When serving in the military, Robinson refused — in Rosa Parks’ style — to move to the back of a bus.  After a few twists and turns with many refusing to take action, Robinson was brought before a military tribunal charged with two counts of insubordination.  He was acquitted by an all-white panel, and soon after transferred to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky.  There, he’d meet a former Monarch player who convinced him to push for a spot on the team.

The first team to give Robinson a tryout was also the last Major League team to integrate.  The Red Sox, in case you wondered.

The team was feeling pressure from local politicians to desegregate, so they brought in Robinson — but it was a dog and pony show.  Even at the tryout, Robinson was the subject of racial epithets, even though the tryout was closed to the public — that is, the slurs were coming from the mouths of people in Red Sox management.

Robinson was the first African-American vice president of a major corporation.  He retired from baseball in January of 1957 and joined Chock full o’Nuts, as what sounds like vice president of human resources — where he remained until 1964.

Politically, he was independent and active. Robinson endorsed Richard Nixon in 1960 — over JFK. He supported JFK afterward, and saw Kennedy as a civil rights leader.  Four years later, Robinson backed Nelson Rockefeller in the primaries against eventual Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, but after LBJ prevailed in the general election, Robinson supported him more than one would think, writing to Martin Luther King Jr. in support of Johnson’s Vietnam War plan.  Coming full circle, Robinson supported Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in 1968 — versus Nixon.

I enjoy the nuanced political stance, especially given the leverage Robinson certainly had in the America of the 1960s.   I also can’t help but notice that he backed the loser three times in three election cycles — but I’m not sure what that means.


Your turn.  Read Jackie Robinson’s Wikipedia entry and leave your thoughts in the comments.  And then start your own Wikipedia Reading Club meeting!

The Wikipedia Reading Club

A few weeks ago, Joe Posnanski penned a great column about the etymology of the phrase “begs the question.”  In it, he recalls mentioning the name Amelia Earhart to a colleague and is “stunned” to learn that the colleague has not idea who Earhart is.  Posnanski explains: “[She] was the woman pilot from Kansas who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the world.”

And then he admits that maybe he shouldn’t have been stunned about his colleague’s ignorance.  After all, the sentence I just quoted “more or less exhausts [his] entire catalogue of knowledge about Amelia Earhart.” Mine too — in fact, I did not know she was from Kansas.

John AdamsThat same day, former president John Adams came up in a conversation with a friend.  We were talking about Liz Cheney’s objection to American lawyers representing Al Qaeda members, and Adams — who represented British soldiers (successfully!) charged with crimes stemming from the Boston Massacre — naturally came up.  We both knew who he was, basically — the second President of the United States, a Boston patriot, even cousin of Sam Adams.  But beyond that?  Nothing.  Not even enough to fill a top 10 list.

I figured that needed fixing.  I wasn’t going to go read David McCullough’s 752 page book on Adams, but I wanted to get more than just a glib understanding of his impact on the American Founding.  I read Adams’ Wikipedia entry that evening on my commute home, and found a few things surprising.  But with no one to discuss them with — my friend was happy with his glib understanding — the learnings fell silent.   I wished, quietly, that others had also read the article with me, and shared their top takeaways.  Kind of like a book club, but for Wikipedia articles.

So, I’m starting one here, and hope you’ll do the same on your blog, Facebook page, twitter account, etc.   Here’s how:

1) If you’re interested in the topic (this time, John Adams), read the Wikipedia article and post your takeaways in the comments.  Think of it as a book club, hosted at my place.  I want to know what you learned, what you think, etc.

2) Start a Wikipedia Reading Club meeting on your own blog.  Pick a topic that you think you should know more about, but don’t.  And do what I’m doing, below.  The source need not be Wikipedia, either; for example, if you wanted to know more about Cookie Monster, you might suggest reading both his Wikipedia entry and his Muppet Wiki one.

3) Share your participation in this Club meeting and others on your blog, Twitter feeds, etc. I’ll be sharing my participation in this Wikipedia Reading Club meeting announcing it on Twitter (maybe with a #WikiRC hash tag) and by commenting here.  If you start your own WikiRC around an article of your choosing, let me know on Twitter, by leaving a comment here, by emailing me, etc.  And if I join your meetings, I’ll be tweeting and commenting there, too.

Now, to John Adams:

The fundamental structure of the U.S. Congress was much more radical than I thought. And I thought it was pretty radical.  In elementary school and beyond, I (and most Americans) were taught that the core debate of the Constitutional Congress was one of states rights versus a strong federal government.  One of the big concerns was that large, populous states (e.g. Virginia) would have more influence than smaller ones.  The solution was a bicameral legislature, with one house giving each state equal representation as to any other (the Senate) and the other (the House) tied to population.   Seems reasonable — but it’s now how Adams saw a bicameral system operating.   He noted “that social classes exist in every political society, and [believed] that a good government must accept that reality.”  In his eyes, the elite would be one house, the commoners the other.   Given that this theory was propounded by a Founding Father and the 2nd President of the United States, it should go without saying that it was considered.  Imagine how different America, and probably the world, would be had the Continental Congress adopted Adams’ ideals.

Adams was an accidental, “electability” candidate for President — and won.  Obviously, I knew he won.  The first part caught me off guard, but it explains a lot.  Coming into this, I knew more about Alexander Hamilton and even Aaron Burr than I do Adams — and neither of them were ever elected President.   Now I understand why.

In 2004, John Kerry grabbed the Democratic nomination for President, over the much more passionate and interesting Howard Dean.   Dean rallied the base and to a large degree teed up the issues for both the primaries but did came in third (!) at the Iowa caucuses mostly because he was widely regarded as a bit crazy and divisive.  Kerry, on the other hand, had a reputation for being “electable” — not someone you’d vote for, not someone you’d vote against, but certainly, if enough people disliked George W. Bush, someone who could win by default.  Adams seems to be that type of candidate.  The Federalists were more passionate about Hamilton, but wanted to make sure Thomas Jefferson lost.  Hamilton was toxic to enough voters as to make him a non-option, so the Federalists went with Adams.  And, unlike Kerry’s Democrats, it worked.  The second President of the United States was a default candidate.  Sad, but apparently, true.

In the late 1700s, Britian and France were at war.   American political parties were divided as to whom to support.  The war I knew about, albeit glibly.  I also knew that for the most part, the United States stayed out of it.  But this line absolutely floored me: “Adams’s term (1797–1801) was marked by intense disputes over foreign policy and a limited naval war with France. Britain and France were at war; Hamilton and the Federalists favored Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France.

The default rule of neutrality made a ton of sense for early America.  Isolated from Europe and a very young nation, the cost of war and the time lag made it incredibly cumbersome.    But I never thought “who should we support” was contentious.

Take modern day America.  Since World War II, has there ever been a deep divide about who the U.S. should support?  Perhaps Israeli/Palestinian relations come close, but even then, both major parties back Israel.   My knowledge of the history of American foreign relations is lacking, I guess, but I can’t think of a single example where two major powers were at war and the U.S. couldn’t decide what side to be on.  I’m flabbergasted.


Your turn.  Read John Adams’ Wikipedia entry and leave your thoughts in the comments.  And then start your own Wikipedia Reading Club meeting!