Spin (public relations)
In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, "spin" often implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.
Politicians are often accused by their opponents of claiming to be honest and seek the truth while using spin tactics to manipulate public opinion. Because of the frequent association between spin and press conferences (especially government press conferences), the room in which these take place is sometimes described as a spin room. A group of people who develop spin may be referred to as "spin doctors" who engage in "spin doctoring" for the person or group that hired them.
Edward Bernays has been called the "Father of Spin". As Larry Tye describes in his book The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and The Birth of Public Relations, Bernays was able to help tobacco and alcohol companies use techniques to make certain behaviors more socially acceptable in the 20th-century United States. Tye claims that Bernays was proud of his work as a propagandist.
As information technology has increased dramatically since the end of the 20th century, commentators like Joe Trippi have advanced the theory that modern internet activism spells the end for political spin. By providing immediate counterpoint to every point a "spin doctor" can come up with, this theory suggests, the omnipresence of the internet in some societies will inevitably lead to a reduction in the effectiveness of spin.
The techniques of spin include:
- Selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one's position (cherry picking). For example, a pharmaceutical company could pick and choose trials where their product shows a positive effect, ignoring the unsuccessful trials.
- Non-denial denial
- Non-apology apology
- Mistakes were made is an expression that is commonly used as a rhetorical device, whereby a speaker acknowledges that a situation was handled poorly or inappropriately but seeks to evade any direct admission or accusation of responsibility by not specifying the person who made the mistakes. The acknowledgement of "mistakes" is framed in an abstract sense, with no direct reference to who made the mistakes. A less evasive construction might be along the lines of "I made mistakes" or "John Doe made mistakes." The speaker neither accepts personal responsibility nor accuses anyone else. The word "mistakes" also does not imply intent.
- Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths, or avoiding the question
- "Burying bad news": announcing unpopular things at a time when it is believed that the media will focus on other news. Sometimes that other news is supplied by deliberately announcing popular items at the same time.
- Misdirection and diversion
For years businesses have used fake or misleading customer testimonials by editing/spinning customers to reflect a much more satisfied experience than was actually the case. In 2009 the Federal Trade Commission updated their laws to include measures to prohibit this type of "spinning" and have been enforcing these laws as of late. Additionally, over the past 5 to 6 years several companies have arisen that verify the authenticity of the testimonials businesses present on the marketing materials in an effort to convince one to become a customer.
Another spin technique involves a delay in the release of bad news so it can be hidden in the shadow of more important or favorable news or events. A government department could release a controversial report on the same day as a major sports event.
Fictional spin doctors
- Malcolm Tucker – Number 10 Director of Communications and Strategy in the BBC comedy The Thick of It and the film In the Loop. Portrayed by Peter Capaldi.
- Nick Naylor – Protagonist of Christopher Buckley's bestseller Thank You for Smoking.
- Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty in the American sitcom Spin City.
- Conrad Brean – hired to save a presidential election in Wag the Dog.
- Charles Prentiss and Martin McCabe in the BBC comedy Absolute Power.
- In the game Toontown Online, one of the Lawbot Cogs has been named a Spin Doctor.
- Dick Harper – Protagonist in the film Fun With Dick and Jane.
- Jeremy Slank in Fat
- Kasper Juul in Borgen
- Olivia Pope in Scandal
- Squealer in Animal Farm
- The Courtier in The Courtier's Reply
- Russ Duritz in The Kid
- Tim Wattley in The Campaign
- Tony in The Hollowmen
- William Safire, "The Spinner Spun", New York Times, December 22, 1996.
- Michael, Powell. "Tit for Tat on a Night Where Spin Is Master," New York Times. February 22, 2008.
- Stauber, John and Sheldon Rampton. "Book Review: The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & The Birth of PR by Larry Tye," PR Watch (Second Quarter 1999). Vol. 6, No. 2.
- Branigan, Tania, "Internet spells end for political spin, says US web guru", The Guardian. 12 June 2007.
- Staff. "Are these examples of political spin?". BBC Learning Zone. Clip 7265. 2013.
- Weissman, Jerry. "Spin vs. Topspin". The Huffington Post. 19 June 2009.
- Roberts, Alasdair S. (2005). "Spin Control and Freedom of Information: Lessons for the United Kingdom from Canada". Public Administration 83: 1–23. doi:10.1111/j.0033-3298.2005.00435.x.
- Christian Science Monitor: The spin room – oily engine of the political meat grinder
- Outfoxed: OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
- Spinwatch monitors spin and propaganda
- SPIN (documentary): 
- Booknotes interview with Bill Press on Spin This! All The Ways We Don’t Tell the Truth, January 6, 2002.