O’Reilly a Civility “First Follower?”

September 8, 2010

Here at the Public Conversations Project, we've been intrigued with an idea from music entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who posted a video on his Web site called "Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy." The lesson is that any change effort needs not just the guy who starts it, but "first followers"—the ones willing to stand (or dance) alongside a leader and embrace a new thing when it's risky or looks dumb.

Mark DeMoss is a Republican public relations professional who attended Liberty University, worked for Jerry Falwell, and in the last campaign, for Mitt Romney. Lanny Davis helped Hilary Clinton in 2008, served three terms on the National Democratic Committee, and worked for the Clinton White House. DeMoss is an evangelical Christian conservative and Davis is a Jewish liberal. They are joined in an effort to increase civility in our public life.

DeMoss started a grassroots movement to get political leaders to adopt a Civility Pledge that says:

  • I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
  • I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
  • I will stand against incivility when I see it.

Davis was one of the first to sign on. He had first encountered DeMoss who wrote to him commending his consistent civility in media appearances on behalf of Hilary Clinton during the campaign. Davis is co-founder with DeMoss of the Civility Project, launched in 2009 to build support for the pledge.

Chances are that very few readers of this blog and very few Americans have yet heard of this effort. But interestingly, what seems to be the first break into national media recently happened in July on what some might consider a most unusual place—the Bill O'Reilly show. Davis was on to explain the project's recent solicitation of all governors and Members of Congress to sign on to the civility pledge.

O'Reilly's segment opener called the pledge idea "dopey," but he did not deny the problem the pledge is aimed at. "All you've got to do is look at what's going on in this country and see how dirty and nasty it is on both sides." O'Reilly thought the pledge idea naïve. "It's never going to change. It's going to get worse, Lanny." His comment about himself: "I'm so immature that I just don't think I could ever live up to your civility thing."

But he didn't leave it there. His last words were: "I—I applaud your noble intention, because I do think it's just totally out of control."

O'Reilly's not dancing. But maybe applause is a good first follower role, too.

The Civility Project web site is www.civilityproject.org. The O'Reilly segment with Lanny Davis is on YouTube.