Curing the Disease Would Mean Fewer Cable-News Apologies

How many more apologies are we going to have to endure from cable-news anchors before we finally deal with the more systematic problem?

I trust that the most recent emotional apology from Melissa Harris-Perry was authentic and heartfelt, and she believes what she did was over the line in the segment about one of Mitt Romney's sons family pictures.

It's is a very good thing that she understood the inappropriateness of the discussion and commentary. But isn't the real concern that an environment is created where this kind of behavior is more and more common?

READ: Romney Accepts Apology From MSNBC Host

When a cable news (and I use the term "news" loosely these days) network creates an environment of name-calling and snarkiness throughout its programming, are we surprised that people step over the line? The goal of the networks is far removed from opening up honest lines of debate in conversation in search of the truth.

Their goals seem to be divisive and mean-spirited in pursuit of a dedicated but very partisan audience. It is an appeal in many ways to people's worst instincts and not their best standards of behavior.

I have seen this happen to many organizations like sports teams and corporations that encourage looking at opponents as enemies, and who are more interested in scoring points than in a honest journey toward good values like compassion, tolerance and service to the whole.

Is it any wonder that when organizations are created around principles that are of a more base nature, that people in the organization might step way over the line? If success is defined in the organization as merely winning at all costs, or a pure profit motive, or ratings points of a particular audience, is it surprising when participants go too far and then need to apologize?

We have seen football teams who emphasize a "do whatever it takes to win" strategy, and then have members of that team do outrageous things to opponents or teammates. Or corporations that are only concerned about profits or market share, and then have executives get caught in scandal in pursuit of that goal.

And now we see the same out of some of the cable news organizations.

Harris-Perry isn't the problem, but a symptom of a broader organizational disease. If your goal is to be divisive, snarky and mean-spirited, then why should we be surprised when anchors or commentators step too far and have to either be fired or reprimanded?

When organizations end up with these situations, the first step is obviously to hold the players involved accountable. But the deeper more important step would be to look in the mirror and ask themselves about the entirety of the environment involved. And really look at what values they are trying to foster on an organization level.

Are the values ones that appeal to people's best nature or their worst?

Let's stop thinking we have solved the problem by dealing with the teammates, and look more at a comprehensive and wholesale change in the entire organization. It is only then that we will begin to see fewer apologies, and more real positive change in our society as a whole.

And this would need to be a top-to-bottom adjustment with value standards set by the leaders and then holding the entire organization accountable.

If the mission and vision of the team is set at a high value-driven level, then the players and tactics will naturally flow accordingly. If the mission is of a more dark nature, then we shouldn't be shocked when player and tactics go awry.

And I have often reflected on the same in my own relationships, both personal and professional. Negative behaviors and the ways people act out are important to examine, but much more important is understanding the root causes of such behaviors and figuring out a way to alter those.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.

Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.

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