Watching the Democratic Convention together, my friend “Mr. Skeptic” snorted, “This is just a slick show populated by Hollywood stars and career politicians, full of lies and spin.”
Okay, some of that may be true – except for “spin.” Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe spin = lies. I think what many mock as spin is actually advocacy.
Mr. Skeptic grew up during the Watergate scandal and is fundamentally suspicious of government and politicians. He assumes that like Nixon and his CREEP team (the Committee to Re-Elect the President), public figures are usually lying, ambitious opportunists who only care about increasing their power. To him, politicians spin the truth as a way of avoiding the facts. In other words, spin is lying.
Like many of his peers, he’s an Edward Snowden/Julian Assange fan who actively worries about the government spying on us -- he even harbors a sliver of belief that the Bush administration was behind 9/11. Bottom line: he distrusts politicians and government.
I grew up in the post-JFK era, believing in the value of serving one’s country and community by being a public servant; I believe in the government that gives us schools, roads, parks and a social safety net; I believe that most politicians are committed to their values and until they get to Congress, don’t receive much personal gain. While there certainly are exceptions, in general I trust them.
When Donald Trump is asked about his sacrifices and says he is a successful job creator, Mr. Skeptic hears that as the same ol’ spin. I hear it as bullshit, not spin.
When Trump’s campaign creates a video distorting Clinton’s stump speech in which she says, “We aren’t going to raise taxes on the middle class” to “we ARE”, that’s a lie, not spin.
When faced with criticism or follow-up questions, and he complains about how the media treats him poorly, that’s avoidance, not spin.
Here’s Trump’s M.O. as Eli Stokols recently wrote: Trump's (Detroit economic) speech was full of falsehoods and misleading statements. He attacked Clinton … said that she would raise taxes on the middle class, even though she has not . He stated, "No one will gain more from these proposals than low-and-middle income Americans"; the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, however, has concluded: "the largest benefits, in dollar and percentage terms, would go to the highest income households." And Trump repeated a claim that the government employment figures are manipulated even though not a single serious economist has validated the claim.
Because Trump is a liar and Clinton is supposedly “untrustworthy,” Mr. Skeptic thinks all politicians lie, and that all PR is diverting the public’s attention away from the truth.
In my mind, spin has integrity because it absolutely is based in truth and uses facts for advocacy, even though it specifically highlights what we like about a policy or candidate. Lies and obfuscation do not.
Spin is part of our advocacy PR toolbox. We look at reports about climate change, declining coal production and a foreseeable loss of jobs – our “spin” is to say we need plan for our sustainability (and continued existence!) and create economies built on a more sustainable energy base. Trump looks at those numbers and says “I’ll bring back the coal industry,” ignoring the hard science demonstrating we’re headed for mass disaster unless we get serious about renewable energy. There are a lot of global corporations with a lot of power and money invested in the status quo and they’re not going to let reality interfere without one hell of a fight.
When PR professionals spin a story for their clients, we are sharing a perspective with the media and the public that is rarely heard over the din of corporate, well-financed interests. We spin for balance.
What do you think? Is Trump’s lying just spin – or is spin a more laudable endeavor?