tv studio with anchorperson “Ifind television very educating. Every time somebody turns on theset, I go into the other room and read a book.” — Groucho Marx(Photo: Shutterstock)

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W.C. Fields famously advised actors pay heed to that oldHollywood adage “never work with children or animals.” Why? Becausechildren and animals steal the scene. How accurate is this adage?Future President of the United States and then-actor Ronald Reagansaw his stage career momentarily revived following his appearancein the box-office hit Bedtime for Bonzo, where he played opposite amonkey. So much for old adages.

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Related: Fiduciary rule worth more dead than alive— Carosa

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Our course, the popularity of Bedtime for Bonzo didn't stop thepopular media from questioning Reagan's credibility during hisPresidential campaign. A lot of good that did. Reagan won easily.So much for the relevancy of the press.

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Which got me to thinking about something Harold Evensky told merecently (see “Exclusive Interview: Harold Evensky says DOLFiduciary Opened 'Good' Pandora's Box,” FiduciaryNews.com,September 18, 2018). Harold knows a thing for two about the greatfiduciary debate. He said, “The future of thefiduciary is not with regulators or politicians but with the publicmedia and the client.”

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Hmm. “Public media”? Now, I can understand the client (see last week's BenefitsPro column), but themedia?

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Then I remembered something that happened shortly after the DOLcame out with its now-vacated “Conflict-of-Interest” (aka “fiduciary”) rule. I'm pretty sure thenon-disclosure has expired, so it's safe to talk about it now.

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It was a typical day at the office when the phone rang. Toooften, those rings come from a party desiring to extract money fromme or the people I represent. I don't like those calls. They allsound like they know me. I don't have a great memory (ever sincethat concussion playing football sophomore year), so I rely on mylistening skills to determine if a person really does knows me.

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This was one of those times. It was a woman claiming to be aproducer for John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. She sounded like sheknew me. The “scam radar” told me this one was a classic.Unsolicited phone call from “Hollywood producer” wants to tell theworld your story. And it will only cost you…

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OK, so that's what I was thinking. I told her I was “busy” andthat I'd call her back at a time that was convenient for her. Thatgave me a chance to conduct my usual due diligence (aided no lessby my daughter the Hollywood publicist). Turns out the lady was thereal thing. I called her back and graciously offered myexpertise.

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Just before the conversation ended, I asked her, in a “why do Imerit this” sort of way, how she happened to pick me as the personto call. She said, “We read your article on the Frontline“Retirement Gamble” show. We didn't want you to do the same thingto us.” She didn't know that the last thing Martin Smith, whoproduced that episode for PBS, told me was, “Well, I guess Ilearned something. Next time we do a show on this topic, you'll bethe first person I'll call.”

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John Oliver's show aired and didn't make the same mistake as theFrontline piece. It was a hit. From that moment, occurring aboutthree months after the White House announcement of the DOL'sFiduciary Rule, we knew “fiduciary” had graduated from the dustyshelves of the ivy-covered tower to the mainstream.

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Clearly, the media helped solidify the concept of fiduciary inthe mass market. But what more does it need to do?

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If you ask me, it's more of an “error of commission” thingrather than a “error of omission.” The media needs to be carefulwhen it reports talking points. This is the “commission” whichgenerates the error. It's too easy for some journalists to take awhite paper and report it as the Gospel truth. There are generallytwo sides to every story. And one side is often more compellingthan the other (but not always).

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How the media reports the difference between “sales” and“advice” will help the public differentiate between the twobusiness models. Neither is universally “correct” and either can bemore appropriate than the other depending on the specificcircumstances. By providing useful guidelines and even templates totheir audience, the media can deliver an essential service.

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A mere eight years after his box-office smash Every Which Waybut Loose, where he costarred with an orangutan, Clint Eastwooddecided to run for mayor of Carmel, California. Upon hearing this,President Reagan said, “What makes him think a middle-aged actorwho's played with a chimp could have a future in politics?”

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The press, wisely, didn't take make the same mistake again.

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Maybe there is hope the press will get “fiduciary” right.

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).