An inside guide to spin doctors’ wily ways
Like the proverbial frog dropped into cold water and boiled slowly, we have grown accustomed to paying people to twist the truth.
Every now and then we have a little skirmish and a little outrage at just how much government spin doctors are paid, but overall it has become an intrinsic part of how information flows (or doesn’t flow) to the public.
Last week we saw the SA State Government, when all eyes, hearts and minds were on Christchurch, drop the news of cancer-causing chemicals in underground water - an issue the Environment Protection Authority knew about for a year and a half.
The timing could all be coincidence. Due process must be followed. A threat to public safety had to be ascertained (wouldn’t want to cause ``undue panic’’ by warning people before you have to). It has to go to Cabinet.
But people rightly questioned the timing because there is plenty of precedent for governments dropping bad news in the midst of disaster.
It happens on a smaller scale - damning reports get tabled after the Budget’s just been handed down, the last line of a press release on a busy news day contains a devastating statistic.
And on a larger scale - such as the famous incident after September 11 when a UK Labour spin doctor sent a memo saying it was a good day to bury bad news.
Coincidences happen. But more importantly and more insidiously, there are myriad everyday ways the Government is waging a war on the public’s access to information. These include:
- Discrediting the journalists who are giving them the hardest time. Whispers start to do the rounds that this or that reporter is unstable, has lost the plot, has gone rogue, is making stuff up. It works. Rumours spread. That person then faces a constant battle to be taken seriously.
- Discrediting the media outlet. In a recent radio interview Premier Mike Rann insinuated that the Sunday Mail had sent him some poll results - for a poll that hadn’t been conducted yet. It wasn’t true.
- Bullying and verbal abuse are rife. Of course it is supposed to be a fairly robust atmosphere. But taxpayer money should not be spent on people who spend an inordinate amount of time spewing vitriol at journalists.
- Making reporters doubt their stories. This can be as simple as ``That’s not a story. You’re going to look like an idiot’’ to the more complicated - ``The source of that story has a mental illness.’‘. For young reporters, it can be a tough call.
Then there are the misleading background briefings, the run around between departments and ministerial offices, the long wait for any kind of anodyne comment to be approved, the refusals to be interviewed, the blacklisting, the endless obfuscation and blocking people at every turn.
There’s the refusal to answer questions, the tactic of not answering questions from newspaper journalists then going on radio with new information to savage them with the next day.
Not all spinners act like this - in fact it’s a minority. And not all journalists get the bullyboy treatment, and some say they’ve never even been verballed. But it’s a common experience for many.
We, the media, can be insular. But this point needs to be stressed: Spin is propaganda. The Governments - all of them - spend millions of your dollars trying to stop you from getting facts that do not agree with their sanctioned version.
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@paulwiggins Ha. Actually, I like hiding away with a quality read. The internet used to be a guilty pleasure, now it's the other way round.
@paulwiggins noted. To Buzzfeed!
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