The Dark Art of “Spin”


Republicans are famous – almost infamous – for claiming that media bias consistently puts them on the back foot. Democrats, by the same token, call out talk radio for being one-sidedly conservative. But have you ever noticed that the mouthpieces for both sides are talking about the same news, just in two totally different ways? 

Let me illustrate with an example. Here are two articles on the last debate, one from a liberal author and the other from a conservative one. I’ll let you decide which is which:

“Last night’s performance by Biden – capering, giggling, near-maniacal opera buffa – was targeted in one place: a dispirited, demoralized Democratic base on the edge of panic.

Paul Ryan was businesslike, steady, and on-point. He hit solid doubles all night, and that’s all he needed to do. If he’d been as amped and manic as Biden, it would have been a political and imaging disaster.”

And from the opposition:

“[I]nstead of the score being Team Obama 0-2, it is now Team Obama 1-1.

“Where did the recession come from?” Biden asked. “It came from this man’s voting!” And he stabbed his forefinger at Ryan like a dagger. “Their ideas are old, and their ideas are bad!”

Moderator Martha Raddatz did an admirable job of keeping the debate moving, even if she could not keep Biden from interrupting Ryan. Biden would interrupt the Devil himself, and one got the impression that Biden sometimes thought Ryan was the Devil himself.”

Both of these stories are over the same event, but they paint completely different pictures. I took a composition class in high school that was all about improving your writing style. One of the things we really focused on was the idea of connotation – that the words we associate with other words effect their definition. For example, the words “obscure” and “uncommon” have similar definitions, but they have totally different connotations.

Pundits and politicos love using connotation to spin a story – that is, to tell their version of it. You can see pretty clearly that the first author isn’t a fan of Joe Biden, and the second one definitely is. This difference in reporting is what we in the political world call “spin.” It’s becoming more and more common to have professional “spin doctors” on a campaign staff exclusively to make the story work for your side. Dirty? Probably, but that’s the game both sides play.

Where you put the adjectives, which ones you pick, and what you decide to highlight are just some of the factors that influence your side’s spin on a story. That spin in turn manipulates readers to feel a certain way. To paraphrase my dad, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference.

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One comment on “The Dark Art of “Spin”
  1. […] Dark Art of “Spin” by DYNAMOpolitics The Dark Art of “Spin”. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Read more from Election […]

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