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Fri, May 24

Hed Lines: 'Spin doctors' spinning out of control

Being taken for a 'spin'

A few months ago, I spoke to a citizen who opposes a controversial industry that had been proposed for his community.

He disparaged a press release put out by a group that backed the project, characterizing it, as I recall, as "lies" and "propaganda."

I corrected him, saying he meant to use the more current and diplomatic term: "spin."

I had a similar conversation with County Supervisor Pete Byers, and "spin" has become part of his vocabulary.

County Manager Ron Walker also has used the word spin.

I asked Byers on Tuesday how he defined spin, and this is what he had to say: "I define spin as taking something and changing it into another meaning."

His simple explanation is about as good a definition that I can get.

I have seen and heard the word spin and variations such as "spin control," "spin doctor" and "spinmeister" (but not "spinster") used since the late 1980s.

I recall using the term when I chatted in 1988 with a confidant of Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for president.

Phil Angelides, now California's state treasurer, came to my newsroom shortly before the November general election and tried to take me for a spin.

However, I cannot find spin and its variations in a hard-back dictionary that I bought in 1995.

Perhaps it is like what former U.S.

Supreme Court Justice Byron White said about pornograhy: "I know it when I see it."

Undaunted, I consulted the Internet for Web sites on spin control.

Here is what I found:

• Contrition in the Age of Spin Control

• Council set for spin control

• A New Source of Spin Control

• The Bush Team: Losing Control of the Spin

• A Special Moment in Spin Control

While a dictionary definition may not be readily available, spin has become part of the popular culture, thanks to national political campaigns and television.

ABC airs a sit-com called "Spin City," about the fictional mayor (played by Barry Bostwick) of New York City and his close aides.

I used to be a regular viewer, when Michael J.

Fox played the deputy mayor.

CNN used to air a program called "The Spin Room," featuring liberal commentator Bill Press and conservative counterpart Tucker Carlson.

The duo commented on the day's events, and closed the show with the best spin of the day, usually a comment made by a public figure.

CNN apparently canceled the show.

Spin doctors have become a cottage industry, kind of like bail bondsmen who set up offices near courthouses.

They work – either as staff or consultants – for politicians or candidates, and go into overdrive following debates.

After debates, the doctors spin reporters on how well their candidates performed.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, they served the interests of future president George W.

Bush, a man who thrives on being underestimated by his political opponents, by saying he did "better than expected."

Spin extends far beyond the political realm.

Attorneys, business executives – or the flacks that they hire – and others use spin.

Spin takes place whenever someone is trying to influence public opinion, and not necessarily through the media.

For instance, a defense attorney may use spin to win sympathy and a lenient sentence for a client accused of murder or other heinous offenses.

Speaking to the jury or the judge, the attorney may say, "My client comes from a good family.

He sang in the church choir.

He helped little, old ladies across the street.

He was a top athlete in high school.

He was voted most likely to succeed.

He meant no harm to the victim.

He expresses remorse for his crimes.


Spin, as my first paragraph indicated, also takes place locally.

Elected officials, business executives and others try to spin me and my colleagues, with varying degrees of success.

I will not cite examples, but if you read newspapers closely, you will find spin, or attempts at it.

Spin is image making or damage control, and some people make a living doing it.

Faithful readers, get wise to the ways of the spin doctors.

Don't let them take you for a ride and spin out of control.

Ken Hedler covers county government and politics for the Miner.


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