Spin (public relations)

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In public relations, spin is a usually pejorative term signifying a heavily biased portrayal in one's own favor of an event or situation that is designed to bring about the most positive result possible. While traditional public relations relies more on creative presentation of the facts, "spin" often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics to sway audiences away from widespread (and often commonsense) perceptions.

"Spin" was originally an acronym, "Significant Progress In the News," used by public relations specialists in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in the mid-1980s. SDI had come under criticism as technically impractical. "Spin" was a public-relations attempt to counter these claims by issuing news releases showing steady progress.

As an example of spin, when US President George W. Bush was running for his first term, the American public initially interpreted his stumbling and inarticulate way of speaking as a sign of low intellect. In response, Bush's team "spun" his awkward speech patterns as evidence of his "Aw, shucks," man-of-the-people personality. They were able to spin this trait in this way because then-President Bill Clinton had built up a reputation as an articulate intellectual who was himself quite talented at spin. His nickname was "Slick Willie," referring to the fact that he could talk his way out of almost any problem, even if it was his fault.

By the time Bush was a candidate for the presidency, he cultivated an image of being a good-hearted everyman whose sense of morality made up for any deficiencies in intellectual sparkle. So the Bush team contrasted their rough-around-the-edges candidate with the smart but "slick" Democratic Party by making their candidate's inarticulateness a distinguishing virtue.

In the UK, Prime Minister Tony Blair is a past master at the deceptive techniques which are an inherent part of spin. He employed intelligent, skilled spin doctors: Peter Mandelson and later Alastair Campbell, to mastermind his presentations. Both 'left office' however, coincident with the public understanding of their workings; though Mandelson was redeployed and sent to the European Commission.

The techniques of spin include:

  • Selective quotation and cherry picking (selectively presenting evidence that supports one's position)
  • Selective use of facts
  • Non-denial denial
  • Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths
  • Euphemisms to disguise or promote one's agenda

Another spin technique involves the delay in the release of bad news so it can be hidden on the back of more important or favourable news or events. A famous reference to this practice occurred when UK government press officer Jo Moore used the phrase good day to bury bad news in an email sent on September 11, 2001. The furore caused when this email was reported in the press subsequently cost her her job.

Skilled practitioners of spin are sometimes called "spin doctors", though probably not to their faces unless it is said facetiously. It is the PR equivalent of calling a writer a "hack."

See also

External links

de:Spin Doctor nl:Spindoctor sv:Snurrmästare

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