Michael Charney is a principal with Charney Coaching & Consulting LLC, where he provides expert services in the areas of team building, communications and succession management. As part of his responsibility for social media strategy and business platform development, he also provides regular blog, Facebook and Twitter postings.
As an executive and leader he has pioneered work in corporate social networking, textual and language analysis and professional services methodologies.
In the early days of social media, he helped design and create internal corporate social systems that allowed people to build profiles, define levels of expertise, and share knowledge with virtual team members around the globe. These systems were used by such companies as Unisys, ADP and Benjamin Moore, and such organizations as Yale University.
This background provides him with an understanding of social networking culture, particularly with respect to the ways in which individuals use social networking as a personal bully pulpit. He found that, when working in corporations, the most knowledgeable and/or respected individuals were not necessarily those who dominated conversations—a phenomenon clearly seen throughout the course of his experiment in the political Twittersphere.
Michael has also taught English as an Adjunct Professor and is the author of more than two dozen short stories, essays and technical articles covering a wide range of topics including mainstream fiction, science fiction, technology, education and knowledge management. He has won awards for both his fiction and non-fiction, and has been published in both North America and Europe. Examples of his published works include:
- ”Punks on the Admiral,” a prize winner in the semi-annual short fiction contest sponsored by Amaranth Review.
- “Moths,” published in Eotu and subsequently selected for their annual “Best of” issue.
- “Self-Judgment: A Student Discovers the Value of the Personal Essay,” an award-winning essay subsequently anthologized in Making a Difference: Personal Essays by Today’s College Teachers.
- “A Dialectical Model for Best-Practices Development,” published in World Congress of Intellectual Capital Readings: Cutting-edge thinking on intellectual capital and knowledge management from the world’s experts.
Michael has a Bachelor’s Degree from U.C. Berkeley and a Master’s Degree from William Paterson University, the latter in English with a concentration in Creative Writing.
Interestingly, Michael has never been all that interested in politics. At least, he didn’t think so….
Visit his website at www.chasingglennbeck.com.
Is Glenn Beck a liberal?
Perhaps not, but when Michael Charney decides to plant that idea out in the “Twitterverse,” some interesting conversations begin. People shout at him (MORON!), block him (SCUMSUCKER!), and belittle him (WAKE UP, IDIOT!). Eventually, though, some people start to listen…
Today’s political dialogue has been stolen, hijacked from us by those with the loudest voices. Until we begin to take that conversation back for ourselves, we remain at the mercy of those with the most radical agendas, the most extreme visions for our country. The risk is great: a country run by a vociferous minority that just happens to scream louder than the rest of us is NOT what democracy is supposed to be about…
With discussions about politics, schools, national security, manifestos, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Flag Code–and the Senate’s Candy Desk–Charney cuts a wide swath through the issues facing our country, a country he claims has a serious case of “Electile Dysfunction.”
Q: Thank you for this interview, Michael. Can you tell us what your latest book, Chasing Glenn Beck: A Personal Experiment in Reclaiming Our Hijacked Political Conversation is all about?
Gladly. And thanks, by the way, for taking the time to speak with me and letting me share my story.
Let’s face it: when it comes to politics, we in the U.S. are about as polarized as we’ve ever been. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the loudest voices with the most extreme views—people like Glenn Beck and Ed Schultz—have pretty much taken over the conversation, and have replaced logical, intelligent dialogue with a bunch of insidious marketing messages. The result is what I refer to as a bad case of “electile dysfunction.”
Curious to see how these opinions form and how these conversations happen, I went out into the “Twitterverse” (under a persona named @BeckIsALib) to find out, spending three months tweeting—every single day and many times each day—with other political junkies. I ended up writing about whatever was going on at the time and whatever people were tweeting about: the GOP campaigns, the death of Osama Bin Laden, even Megan McCain’s weight problem and the issues with the Senate Candy Desk! (Yes, it’s true: the United States Senate has a candy desk….)
Along the way, though, I learned things about myself I didn’t like. I had prejudices. I could be a real jackass sometimes. Put simply, I got sucked in and had to work hard to pull myself back out. In doing so I realized that only if moderate, logical, reasoned conversation comes back into politics will we ever have a chance of creating the nation we really want.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your book?
The idea, unfortunately, emerged from tragedy.
Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan last spring, Glenn Beck came out and said that if perhaps we had all been just a bit better at following the Ten Commandments, then maybe this particular Act of God might never had happened. I couldn’t believe it: an entertainer with no particular background—a former shock-jock and self-proclaimed rodeo clown—had crossed some line I didn’t even know I’d drawn. And this guy seemed to have tremendous influence! It was my anger, my sheer incredulousness, which drove me to the keyboard and started the project.
Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?
I actually did most of the research after the first draft was written because I didn’t want to interrupt the experience. For each week in the thirteen-week cycle I was both writing about the current week and editing the previous week, always letting current events drive the theme for any one particular period.
After that first thin draft I went back and did research on any of the relevant subjects and inserted the research where it belonged. I read a fair bit of material on Beck and political radio, obviously, but also read books and did researched on issues such as the Birthers and Truthers (the latter being those who believe 9/11 was a setup), the conservative thinking of Buckley and Goldwater, and even the physiological and psychological bases of how we develop our belief systems.
I also had to research parts of my own childhood that I had forgotten about; friends and family were invaluable in that process, particularly one former classmate who had saved a ton of photos for nearly forty years.
Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?
Don’t allow your voice to be drowned out. Nobody out there really knows more than you do, and your voice (and vote!) is just as important as anyone else’s. Think logically, not emotionally, about what you want for yourself, your kids and your country, and—above all—don’t let any ridiculous marketing sound-bite tell you what to believe!
Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?
Newt’s in; Huck and the Donald are out. The Twitterverse yawns.
On Saturday Mike Huckabee used his own Fox News show to non-announce. He teased his audience during the day’s promos and the show’s opening monologue, and then made them sit through the usual mix of pontification and guest rants. Then, in a scene that played like an audition for a remake of This is Spinal Tap, Huck strapped on his custom Overture bass (christened the “Huck Bass”) and joined the insanely talented Ted Nugent on stage where they both cranked it up to eleven. Frustrated yet again by the way entertainment and politics constantly merge, I fired off this tweet:
BeckIsALib: So, did #Huckabee decide he’s going to the Miami Heat? Oh, wait…different circus.
Finally, as the show closed, Mike told us that his “heart said no” and that he would therefore not join the race for the 2012 nomination. The news landed with an anticlimactic thud but did spawn at least a few clever tweets:
RetaketheWH: Huckabee: “My Heart Says No;” I think his wallet was threatening to beat the crap out of his heart!!
Huckabee’s one-act play generated the expected spike in tweet traffic but somehow it all felt watered down; people were tweeting just to tweet. I felt that way, too, like I had an obligation to say something. My only real motivation was the desire to appear clever, but unfortunately I’d already peaked with the LeBron James reference. I lobbed a few more out there, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today? How did you do it?
It’s very difficult, period, to get books published through traditional methods. If you don’t have specific credentials and a large “platform” (essentially a built-in audience or market ready and willing to buy your book), most agents and publishers aren’t interested. I can’t blame them, really; they’re looking for books that will sell—it’s what they do.
Then, even if you succeed in getting some interest in your work (as I did) you quickly discover that most of the marketing effort is going to fall back on you anyway, with little chance for a good return.
Given all of that—and with the emergence of options that weren’t available even ten years ago—I made the decision to found my own publishing company—Riddle Brook Publishing. Originally started as a vehicle for my own work, I’ve recently decided to publish other “new New England writers” with interesting stories to tell. I’m currently reviewing several good manuscripts and am looking for more, with an emphasis on narrative non-fiction. I hope to bring out two or three titles this year under the Riddle Brook imprint.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
I love routine; it keeps me productive. I get up about six every morning, let the dogs out and feed them, then settle in with a cup of coffee and a book for about a half an hour, after which follows the news and some yogurt with granola. Then, after getting myself together for the day, I log on and check what has now grown to seven different email accounts, three Twitter feeds, three Facebook pages, and one Google+ account, all of which are very important when you’re promoting a book.
The rest of the morning is spent working with my wife on our consulting business, while post-lunch time is devoted to my writing and my publishing business. Dinner and some television follow, then a bit more reading and lights out. Apart from occasional client visits, that’s pretty much the pattern. It’s not all that exciting, really.
I’ve always wondered why people are fascinated with the writer’s life. It’s really just life, after all.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’m very interested in finding that next manuscript for Riddle Brook. The idea of helping writers get started has become a bit of an obsession. I’m also outlining another book about politics, this one a more exacting exploration of the rhetoric and marketing techniques used in the political process. Like Chasing Glenn Beck, it will certainly have its share of snark and humor.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Michael. We wish you much success!
And again, thank you. It’s been my pleasure. Oh, and one more quick note for anyone who decides to check out my book: make sure you read the footnotes!