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The Dirty Secret Behind Sir Richard Branson’s Attack on the Suit and Tie

Joseph Stalin Refused to Wear a Tie

For Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson – the English business magnate known for his Virgin Group of more than 400 companies, his daredevil exploits, his humanitarian deeds, and his estimated net worth of $4.2 billion – nothing is more important than brand image.

Largely because Virgins are always in short supply, Branson serves as the personification of his brand, and works hard to nurture the image of a counter-culture, free-spirited, creative thinker who’s always ready with new solutions to old problems, eager to challenge the status quo. The public’s role is simply to accept the underlying notion that Branson’s companies all embody the same sort of energy and positive thinking that he exhibits, and to ignore the fact that several of his ventures have gone belly-up over the years.

So it’s no great surprise for Branson watchers to see him crank up his PR machine to attack formal business attire – specifically the suit & tie – as the greatest threat to capitalism since Joseph Stalin (who, ironically, was never photographed wearing a business suit.)

Evidence of Branson’s well-managed crusade to disparage the defenseless suit & tie can be seen everywhere. He’s in London snipping off $125 silk ties from people he meets. He’s in Entrepreneur Magazine extolling the virtues of the open collar workplace. He’s on CNN, with his toothy smile, explaining why it’s impossible to be creative while wearing a business suit. Here’s a sampling of the Branson propaganda:

“Suits and ties in an office are just another type of uniform, but in an arena where uniforms no longer serve any useful purpose. At one time they probably showed that the wearer was, at the very least, able to purchase and maintain a fairly expensive piece of fabric. Now, however, in an individualized, interconnected culture, your achievements speak for themselves. The suit and tie is an anachronism.”

If businessmen believed that not wearing a suit & tie would make them more creative, move them up the corporate ladder faster, or get them closer to earning their first billion dollars, they’d all be on the Branson bandwagon. If casual wear was the proven secret to success, they’d all wear pajama bottoms, tank tops and Crocs to work (which happens to be the official uniform of everyone who works from home.)

But suit & tie wearing business professionals all know two important things that Richard Branson is never likely to understand or to acknowledge:

  • Throwing on a suit and tie at 6 o’clock in the morning requires very little time or effort, and involves zero concern that what you’re wearing will be the butt of jokes at lunchtime, and…
  • Rumor has it that Virgin Menswear LLC – a new concept in men’s fashion – is currently under development by Sir Richard.

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Casey Anthony, Communitainment and the Death of Democracy

The Fourth Estate: As journalism goes, so goes democracy.

While observers of the Casey Anthony trial focused on the apparent injustice of the verdict, defense co-counsel Cheney Mason used his first opportunity in front of a microphone to call reporters to task for “media assassination,” and for publicly promoting an assumption of guilt. “I can tell you that my colleagues coast to coast and border to border have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television to talk about cases they don’t know a damn thing about,” Mr. Mason said.

Mason’s rant aside, no one denies that loudmouth Nancy Grace, pop shrink Dr. Drew Pinksy (his degree is in internal medicine), CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and a very long list of respectable print, electronic and online media sources have feasted on the Casey Anthony trial over the past 3 years. And the American public, including this writer, did not resist the sideshow, nor reject the media’s conclusion that Casey would be found guilty and put to death.

The day prior to the Anthony verdict, a news story broke regarding one of Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloids, News of the World, involving accusations that in 2002 its journalists hacked and manipulated the cellphone messages of murder victim Milly Dowler, 13, while her family and police were searching for her. The newspaper had previously admitted to intercepting the cellphone messages of celebrities, politicians and other public figures in the mid-2000s.

But the revelations about Milly Dowler are significant because in 2002, the editor of News of the World was Rebekah Brooks, a confidant and friend of Rupert Murdoch – whose company also owns the Wall Street Journal. Ms. Brooks, who is now chief executive of News International, the British newspaper division of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, has always denied knowing anything about phone hacking at any Murdoch-owned papers.

Here’s the point of all this:

The historical roots of journalism, now mass media, were nurtured by its role as The Fourth Estate; the independent public watchdog that keeps in check the three major democratic “estates” of power (in Britain the houses of Parliament, in America the three branches of government). So in spite of the great amount of attention it pays to murder trials, royal weddings and the lives of celebrities, the media plays an important role in our democracy; and to function properly it must be objective, unbiased and independent.

The problem – demonstrated by the media’s conduct in both these recent incidents – is that the line between news and entertainment continues to erode. All media sources are competing for the same eyeballs, so speed is more important than accuracy in reporting, and there are no rules regarding how the news is gathered. The journalist’s role has shifted from fact-based to opinion-based reporting. Journalism is now “communitainment.”

Three years ago, veteran journalist Bill Moyers explained it this way: “Our dominant media are ultimately accountable only to corporate boards whose mission is not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the whole body of our republic, but the aggrandizement of corporate executives and shareholders…These organizations’ self-styled mandate is not to hold public and private power accountable, but to aggregate their interlocking interests. Their reward is not to help fulfill the social compact embodied in the notion of “We, the people,” but to manufacture news and information as profitable consumer commodities.” [Read Bill Moyers “Is the Fourth Estate a Fifth Column?: Corporate media colludes with democracy’s demise” in its entirety.]

As we continue to feed on mind-numbing, easily digested communitainment…let’s keep in mind what we’re really giving up in exchange for what’s often falsely packaged as the truth.

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