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November 08, 2002
Spin This! (Press)

Spin This!

There's an election and everyone claims victory.

A bill is passed and everyone wants the credit.

A speech is made and both sides jump in to use it as validation of their separate and opposing viewpoints.

Who's lying?

According to Bill Press, no one is. Not exactly. In fact, in Spin This! he claims, and amply proves, that it's all a matter of perspective.

Call it "slant" or call it "an angle" or, if you're a politician, call it "spin." According to Press, everyone "spins" the facts. Your employees, your teachers, the guy you went out with last week, the Pope, you name it, they spin it. Spin just a buzzword for what my mother called, "putting a good face on a bad job."

The book blurb calls spin, "intentional manipulation of the truth." Remove the PC-speak and it's "creative lying." Using just enough of the truth to make the lie believable. Lying enough to make an unpalatable truth palatable. Advertising with as little truth in it as they think they can get away with.

Press insists that spin isn't quite lying but to my mind it's very little different from. There's a degree of "spin" that equates to the, "little white lie" and does no harm. And then there's what this book describes, which goes far beyond that.

(Unless, of course, you've read the book and you're armored against their tactics.)

Bill Press paints a fascinating but scary picture.

Okay, it isn't as though most of us don't know that politicians are lying to us, but it's scary and irritating to realize how systematically both the politicians and the press have created a system whereby they can avoid offering us the plain facts.

Words have power and our leaders, and wannabe leaders are trying to use words to manipulate us, to recreate reality inside of our brains into a picture that favors their agendas. Sadly, against those people too disenchanted with the system, or too busy with their daily lives to put the time into untangling the complicated web of lies (spin! spin!) we're fed daily, this manipulation frequently works.

On the one hand I'm marginally encouraged that maybe They don't think of the voting (or, non-voting, as recent polling numbers have pointed out) public as complete morons. I mean, if They are bothering to lie to us (excuse, me, "spin" us), then They think we're capable of thinking, and thinking quite a lot more than They want us to, right?

On the other hand, when it comes time to wonder, as we all do, whyinthehell so few people vote any more, why people mistrust politicians, and why the popular press is falling out of favor, I wonder if these spinners have the intelligence to connect their own behavior to the cynicism it has engendered?

Press, quite rightly, recommends George Orwell's 1984 for the person looking for a case study in the effects of spin. Orwell calls it "newspeak" but it's the same animal in a different skin.

Once you're grounded with the concept by Orwell's book, go out and pick up Spin This!. (You can skip Orwell if you're pressed for time or money and can't find a library, but I highly recommend it.)

In fact, I think Spin This! should be required reading for everyone, not only because it sensitizes you to the spin all around you each day but because the examples of political spin that Press uses to illustrate his case are real eye-openers.

Some thoughts I had as I read, and the items in italics are lifted from Spin This!

As Press reminded me, Walter Lipmann (and if you don't know who he is, shame on you) reputedly believed in, "the manufacture of consent" as a way to "simplify" the process of democracy to a point where the public would be able to understand it.

The manufacture of consent.

Think about that. "Manufacture" means artificial, doesn't it, something "not natural"? The phrase itself implies creating "artificial" consent, thus leading inevitably to the idea that consent for whatever it is that's being spun would not be forthcoming if people were allowed to consider it in its "natural" state.

Keep thinking about it, because "the manufacture of consent" through spin is what politics is all about today.

Adlai Stevenson, "In America, anybody can be President. That's one of the risks you take." Heh. Heh.

George Bush's "leadership style" is largely explained by his previous experience in politics, as the governor of Texas. "The governor of Texas is a part-time job. Think about it. The legislature's only in session 165 days -- every two years! Cabinet members are elected, not appointed. The real executive power rests with the Lieutenant-Governor."

Which explains, to those who were wondering, why Bush thinks it's perfectly natural that 90% of the work of leading this country belongs on Cheney's desk. "Scary thought, isn't it? If anything happens to Cheney, George W. Bush is only a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Nixon, Clinton, Bush, they're all in here with examples of their own kind of spin. Ample examples from current events illustrate Bill Press's points. The book is an easy and absorbing read and I highly recommend it.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:43 PM