Culturally Challenging and
Incredibly Brilliant, Culturally Challenging and Stupendously Rational
What is Spin?
By Roberto Diego
Copyright 2004 by Roberto Diego. All rights reserved. The reader is allowed to print and distribute this document provided the copyright notation and Mr. Diego's web site address are visible on the front page. http://www.insmkt.com/myhome.htm.
To a great extent, we Americans of the current generations have grown up with spin and are oblivious to its negative impact on our lives. I, for one, have finally figured out that the goal of spin is nothing less than tyranny.
After years of watching news through my television window on the world, I have marveled at the ability of television to present the modern human drama. Within the confines of this little box, we are shown both the limitless universe and the intricacies of human emotion. The pictures and concepts shown to us have reflected the thinking of the best and worst minds of our culture. We watch because this box gives us facts about the world that enable us to make profound decisions about our lives; such as whom we will select to run our government and how we will change our own personal lives. Television has a profound impact on our age and because of this it is vital that the information we gain from television is real and fact-based, not deception or spin. This means that the networks we choose and the news agencies we patronize should understand the profound importance to our lives of the information they give. If they are intent on giving us their view of the world, rather than a factual view, they are manipulating us for their agenda, not our own. If they think that a particular story should be slanted, through careful selection of words, images and ideas, in a way that does not accurately reflect the real situation, they are not doing their jobs and offering a disservice to those who place their trust in their reporting.
I say this, because I believe that presently we are being given such a distorted view of the world, a negative slant the likes of which we have never experienced before. Freed of the constraints of the "Fairness Doctrine," our major media, at least that portion of it that is unscrupulous, is distorting the reality that we need to understand in order to make informed political decisions. At the present time, it is virtually impossible for us to gain real facts about the world, real news and truth. The major media of our time want us to see the world as they see it, primarily from the standpoint of socialism, welfare statism and social engineering. Their goal is to point us in the direction of dictatorship, to establish an ideologically left/socialist group in power and never to give that power up again. An informed public must be informed about facts, not the goals and wishes of a media that wants to create a "utopia" of socialist myths.
When I was a child, television was just coming to the forefront as a cultural phenomenon and we thought of it as an amazing device that gave us, not only drama and laughs, but education and truth. Now, after years of intelligently watching, I have learned that television is merely a window on the world like its precursors, movies and radio. In fact, television has become another vehicle for the dissemination of the culturally dominant philosophies that have been filtered to us from Europe.
In my view, the venue for philosophical and political change (or lack of it) continues to be the university. The media is nothing more than the mediathe means of dissemination. The ideas that dominate our culture merely come through the media from the university directly to the citizenry. I will defer comment on this for another time but will only state that the power of the media is only a reflection of the influence of the universities on our talking heads and political leaders.
My first Presidential debates were those between Senator John F. Kennedy, a creation of Harvard University, and Vice President Nixon. During this debate, I was shocked to learn that we were in mortal danger because of a missile gap between the United States and the feared Soviet Union. I looked at Nixon on the black and white television screen and felt that the American people had been betrayed by the administration of which he was part. If I could have voted, well, it would have been for that younger Kennedy rather than Nixon.
Years later, after hearing about the cynical pragmatism of so many politicians, after learning what pragmatism meant, I discovered that the missile gap was a myth used by Mr. Kennedy to cast doubt on the Eisenhower administration and Mr. Nixon. I learned that Mr. Kennedy had lied in order to gain votes.
We must understand the nature of the betrayal and the nature of my response to learning that Kennedy had lied. First of all, John F. Kennedy, to a young man like myself, was an idol, a hero and a man of principle. Like so many others, I admired this man to the point of deep respect. I felt he was a true leader and an example of what a man was supposed to be. I was moved to emulation. When knowledge of the missile gap betrayal came, I had already come to recognize that most politicians were liars and charlatans and that a lot of my opinions about Kennedy had been formed as a result of careful image making. I had been duped.
I dont have a perspective before Kennedy and I have little recollection of the FDR and Truman years. I have read that Nixon, who was un-affectionately nicknamed tricky Dickie, was a master of dirty tricks, and I never developed a sense of respect for him. He had called himself a pragmatist and, in my mind, that was code for cynical compromiser. When a politician talks about being pragmatic, or "practical," he means to say that he is politically expedient, that politics is the art of the possible, that ideals and principles take a back seat to deals and compromise.
This reveals a false premise that I held then and one that bothers me today as I watch news about politics and politicians, especially the overwhelming effort to unseat George W. Bush that is engaged by the mainstream media, liberals and far far left extremists. To a great extent, the unwitting culprit here is Kennedy himself. It was he who popularized politics (from the perspective of my generation). It was he whom we admired, whose every move we watched and whose principles we espoused. When he came into conflict with the Steel industry, we marveled at his determination, not at the productive ability of the Steel industry and of the difficulty of maintaining profitability. When he admitted failure in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, it was his honesty we admired, not the bravery of the freedom fighters whose bodies littered the shores of Cuba. Kennedy popularized politics and thereby moved us to focus on politics as the arbiter of our social problems rather than the freedom that is inherent in our society. Yet, if we look closely, we will find that most of the problems we have attempted to solve through political means over the years have been solved, not by politics, but by economic freedom---to the extent that we have economic freedom.
Politicians, on the other hand, have conducted themselves like flimflam artists, moving with the wind, saying what needs to be said to get elected and giving us little to admire in the way we admired Kennedy. Democrats, who have ruled our educational system for decades, promise to fix the problems of the educational system. Republicans who have advocated free markets for decades do nothing about welfare programs for corporations and massive amounts of pork schemes attached to "needed" legislation. On virtually every issue that government promises solutions, government has been the problem. Yet, we keep listening and hoping for results. It is as if we are seeking the disease as a cure.
For instance, productivity and employment worldwide have been greatly increased by computers and (Microsoft) software--creating more effective economic systems and many jobs. Networking technologies and B2B e-commerce, just-in-time production and inventory management systems, to name a few, have meant greatly improved profit margins. Automobile safety and longevity have been enhanced by new production technologies. New medical advances have increased our life spans. These significant improvements were not created by government, yet our focus over the last 40 years has been on the activities of government that have brought us failed welfare programs, failed housing programs, failed farming programs, corrupt loan programs and lies, lies, lies. And it should be no surprise that the government, on our behalf, has engaged in campaigns of misinformation and even litigation against Microsoft, automotive manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry, the very industries that have brought about the most significant advances in our society. Why is that not a surprise?
Today, we are faced not only with lies, but also with a seemingly innocent concept called spin. Spin is believed to be a very modern concept, almost invented by President Clinton. I propose that Clinton did not invent spin, though he is a very efficient practitioner of it--and a most dangerous proponent of it.
Over the last few weeks, Ive spent hundreds of hours listening to talking heads, otherwise known as pundits, who have invested countless words in telling us who won the 2000 election and who did not, who is legitimate and who is not, who was disenfranchised and who did the disenfranchising, who was a war hero and who was not. I realize that what we have experienced here is the "unmaking" of a president and the "making" of political dissent for the next 4 years and beyond. I had not expected that this dissent would consist of refusing to cooperate with Bush and with ad hominem character assassination. The point is that the today's spinners have learned from Clinton, Stalin and Hitler how to obfuscate, deceive and create their own political "reality." Ask them for analysis and they give you spin, ask them to help us understand and they give you spin, try to understand them and you can figure out only one thing: they want you to accept their agenda, their opinion, their perspective, their spin---as if it were truth.
What is spin? At the risk of sounding naive, I believe that in order to get a true perspective on the concept we must go back to the days when dictatorship was omnipresent. Men like Hitler and his propagandists used devices such as the big lie and double speak to advance their goals and disenfranchise their opposition--before they sent them to the concentration camps and death. Dictatorship requires that the ideas held by the citizenry should serve the "social goals of the ruling authorities. When social truth is a lie those who would dominate our choices gain the advantage. Spin is based upon the same principle. It is a form of lying, the clever use of words and ideas to achieve, not truth, but a particular political (social) end. Lets look at some examples.
After a political debate, the advocates of both candidates wait in spin rooms to tell us that their candidate won the debatewhether they believe he won or not. If their candidate made a few blunders and got a few facts wrong or even insulted a particular voting block, his/her spin masters engage in damage control in order to minimize the voter reaction, claiming there were really no blunders, that no mistake was made, and with more eloquence than the debater, tell us what he meant. Certainly, their livelihoods depend on their candidate being elected. But this is not a reason to lie. Spin Principle Number 1 is Truth and reality have nothing to do with what a spin master says. Tip: If they have an economic interest in a political result, scrutinize their every word carefully.
A politician writes a new bill that will unnecessarily regulate a particular industry. When industry executives defend themselves, the politician, who obtains much more airtime than the industry executives, calls them corrupt exploiters of the American people. In fact, the politician, wants the bill because it will enable him to obtain campaign donations from others in the same industry who will benefit from the governments controlling of the industry leaders. Spin Principle Number 2 is Never reveal your true motives but always claim an altruistic one. Tip: If they claim to be representing a disenfranchised minority, they are probably engaged in a shakedown or legalized theft of some sort.
Imagine a politician who has encouraged his partisans to engage in character assassination in order to win an election. When the activities of his partisans are objected to, the politician states that he cannot control the enthusiasm of his workers and that he is not responsible for their actions. Spin Principle Number 3 is Never take responsibility for the actions of those you have directed. In fact, today's campaign finance laws make a connection between so called 527 groups and political campaigns illegal. Tip: Judge the veracity of what is said by "outside groups," not the connections to candidates.
When a politician is caught doing something illegal or scandalous, he begins accusing his accusers of having a conspiracy against him or of being guilty of worse crimes (usually without proof or with trumped up proof). Spin Principle Number 4 is When you are caught, verbally attack and destroy your opponents by accusing them of doing what you are doing. Tip: If a candidate complains about unfairness, look into his own activities as well.
When a politician receives strong opposition to a questionable policy or activity, he begins to distort the position of his opponent so many times that people actually begin to believe that it is his opponent who has the questionable policy. Spin Principle Number 5 is Use the big lie or distort your opponents positions repeatedly. The big lie can also be used effectively to destroy an opponent's character and honesty. Tip: If a particular point that has been refuted by competent debate continues to be repeated by a candidate, don't believe it.
When a candidate loses an election and is repudiated by the electorate, the candidate says that the loss was really a victory, making it appear that he had an altruistic motive all along. Spin Principle Number 6 is Call any defeat a victory. Tip: look at the ideological principles of the candidate to an indication of what the voters repudiated.
In a debate of talking heads on television, a truth seeking interviewer asks a straight question. The talking head will answer, not the question asked, but another question, the answer to which achieves the political agenda of the talking head. Most often, the answer given is not based upon fact but upon a distortion that deceives by casting unfair aspersions against political opponents. The talking head has gained a free platform to deceive and achieves a political goal in spite of reality. The answering of a proxy question, is one of the most common methods of deception today. Spin Principle Number 7 is "Never answer a question that you don't want to answer." Tip: If a talking head refuses to answer a question, he/she has something to hide.
Im sure we could go on and on with examples of spin, and these are only a few of the ugly examples of what has become an art, if you can call deception an art. The book on spin has already been written by Aristotle and a good course in logic a study of logical fallacy will reveal a host of clear thinking principles that spin masters disavow. The key questions are: What does spin accomplish? Does it accomplish good? Do the ends justify the means? Is spin a good thing? If politicians and lawyers deceive us for our own good, should we be appreciative?
To a great extent, I believe the American public is amused by spin. Many think that a spinner is clever to the extent that he is able to frustrate his partisan opposition. It is a game, they think, and fun to watchkind of like laughing at a bumbling comedian. I submit that it is a lethal game.
Many Americans (and I think they are few) dont know how to recognize spin when they see it. They have been taught to trust their elected officials to always tell the truth. They believe that the elected official they like always tells the truth as I once believed Kennedy had always told the truth. Some Americans believe in the constitution and the rule of law and are vigilant against anyone using spin to undermine the constitution. Extreme liberals, on the other hand, believe that the goal of social justice is so important that they are justified in distorting the pronouncements and motives of anyone who opposes them. The presumption is that anyone who opposes a welfare scheme is an evil person that deserves to be ridiculed. The politics of personal destruction is their stock in trade.
I dont want to give the impression that I believe conservatives do not practice spin. They certainly do, but presently, they do not seem to be the more effective practitioners of it. Their most consistent practice of it is found in their double-talk when it comes to abortion and their desire to outlaw it and on their effort to break down the separation of church and state. However, I think, for the most part, in the present environment, liberals are the most consistent practitioners of spin. I think this is an outgrowth of the fact that many of todays suit-and-tie liberals were the disheveled 60s radicals who waged revolution and riot against anyone over 35. Their early philosophy (Marxism via Marcuse) distrusted anyone that was part of the establishment. And even though they are now the establishment (and hide their Marxist underpinnings), they still hate and want to destroy the conservatives.
Spin is designed to accomplish a political, social end. This means that the listener expects that the spin master is trying to speak truth and since the spinner is lying, he takes advantage of the listeners gullibility. The spinners statements have the weight of truth and the listener changes an opinion or an action because of it. The opinion is usually a political decision. The action is a political action having to do with a vote or an expression of agreement with a particular bill or proposal.
Consider the implication here: If the listener is expecting truth, and if the spinner is making statements designed to be taken as truth, but which are, in fact, spin, obfuscation, deception, the listener will make a flawed political judgment---and this is the key issue: spin leads to an improper understanding and improper political action. The victim of spin is not only the political opponent or scapegoat---but especially the person who makes the flawed political judgment. Indeed, the problem with spin is that it sabotages the relationship between facts and their relevance for man's life. If a man cannot be sure of the truth, he has no basis for understanding and therefore no basis for appropriate political action. Those who attempt to use their personal political capital in an effort to establish this sort of uncertainty over the electoral process, one the the most profound and serious processes of our Republic, must be assumed to have a cynical view of the voter and an agenda that would destroy freedom - since freedom is the basis of our political process.
Who is most likely to be the best spin master? Who is likely to use spin most effectively? Here we have history on our side. As with the best liar, the best spinner is the person who is the most ruthless charlatan. Today, in a time of daily faxed talking points and public opinion polls and focus groups and talking heads trying to shout louder than their opponents, we are witnessing the art of spin, the emergence of politicians who are using science, polling statistics and focus groups in order to get the mood of the people and then use that mood to obtain their political ends at any cost. The next effective spinner will most likely produce a political coup (that can only be done with the cooperation of the media)---and don't think that was not the goal of the goings-on in Florida in November 2000.
More importantly, if spin is deception, why doesnt spin diminish the reputation of the spinner? Why do spinners have the right to deceive us and gain from that act? Why do truth-tellers smile at spinners and accept their spinning as just another opposing statement? This is because, to a great extent, we don't realize what is at stake when we enfranchise, through the media, those who are effective spinners. As a society, we are still under the belief that those who oppose us are just disagreeing with us, that we are still in a time when we can trust political opposition to play by the rules. I believe that this is not the case. Our political climate is much more dangerous and precarious than that. Today, there are politicians who will stop at nothing to win an election.
I believe that dictatorships and would-be dictatorships are characterized by ineptitude and are always doomed to fail. Look at the regimes run by the dictatorships of the 20th Century for an indication. It is usually during the convergence of chance events, cowardice and broken down political systems where thugs who would rule with guns take the lead. That field is being developed today and the fertilizer is spin. The art of spin has been developed to such a point that those who would use it most effectively are now in a position to undermine the entire framework of our society, and finally to unravel our constitutionally protected freedoms.
The enemies of freedom are close to making us accept dictatorship and all they need is an electoral event that will provide the opportunity for them to destroy the constitutional checks against mob rule. That event will be an electoral victory accomplished when politicians and the media rob the people of an informed decision. They are so good at spin that once that victory is won, they will have established the the tools of deception that will enable them to disenfranchise political opposition and maintain their power. Spin has been around longer than you think but, as happens before the birth of every dictatorship, someone refines it to an art.
Why do I say this? What are the facts that support this? When a free society loses a fundamental principle, it floats for a time on the contradiction between the fundamental and its opposite until the opposite principle (usually force) takes over and replaces the original. After a time, all fundamental principles upon which the free society was originally founded are replaced, until at last freedom is lost. Over the last few decades, we have been bombarded by small steps, small violations of our rights that eventually will lead, once that major event happens, to the total repudiation of the rights of man.
What will be the catalyst to the victory of dictatorship? It is hard to say, but it could be a war, instigated by those in power, an assassination, an economic downturn, anything that can be spun into a crucial point of decisiona decision that will mean the destruction of our political system of checks and balances, the repudiation of the separation of powers, the temporary suspension of the bill of rights and a move toward mob rulethe mob of the leaders, and then toward full control.
To see how far we have gone down the path toward dictatorship, let us look at our present condition. A free society must be founded upon the following principles: freedom of expression, freedom of conviction, freedom of movement, freedom of self-protection and freedom of property. The fundamental principle that provides the underpinning of these freedoms is the idea that the individual has inalienable rights, that is, rights that the government is charged with protecting and is constitutionally forbidden to violate.
Freedom of Speech is the principle that men are able to fight against tyranny and oppression when they are free to express their opinions on any subject, to disagree without the fear of being killed or disenfranchised. As a corollary of this freedom, is the idea that a person has the right to express any thought he/she desires whether the thought is popular or unpopular. It is an axiom in our society that the loss of free expression is the final sign of dictatorship.
Over the last few years, some forms of censorship have arisen. One such threat is the power of government to dictate what is taught in our schools. This has the purpose of molding ideas and opinions in favor of those the government sees as socially acceptable. In other words, the government is suggesting what is proper to say by teaching our children "social" morality and political correctness. Another threat is the effort to create a climate of self-censorship among certain sectors in our society. The movie and audio industries are an example. Though I hate much of what they produce, the effort to have the government nudge these people to self-control will lead to the government nudging every individual into acceptance of politically correct entertainment. The war against pornography is another example. Here, where the government thinks it has an evil enemy, many efforts are made to restrict or limit access to this material. This is a form of censorship. Eventually, the government will decide, not only what to outlaw, but also what is "indecent," what is pornography and what isnt pornography (and watch the definition of pornography expand).
Most often in our society, freedom of conviction has been called freedom of religion and this, in itself, is a restriction on freedom of conviction. The appropriate principle should be that every person has the right to develop and accept his/her own set of ideas or philosophy. The idea of Freedom of Religion is an establishment of religion. In our society, anyone who does not believe in religion is ostracized and ridiculed to the point that they are depicted as advocates of dictatorship. Freedom of religion means, to many, the establishment of religion and can lead to the establishment of a religious dictatorship. Watch the conservative spinners on this issue.
Freedom of movement means that the individual has a right to be and/or live anywhere within the society. This means that there are no restrictions on the individual in terms of where he/she will work, live and travel. There are no institutions that monitor or control the individuals choice of home, provided the choice does not violate the property rights of others. Eventually, the numbering and finger printing or DNAing of every citizen means that the government will know at any time, where an individual is. Once this happens a step will be taken to identify why the individual is there and what he/she is doing.
The freedom of self-protection means that the individual has the right to repel and restrict the activities of any individual who would use force against him. When an individual is no longer justified in protecting himself, especially against the intrusions of the government into his/her life, we will have taken the first step toward a destruction of rights. When guns are licensed completely, the government will know every individual who has a gun and will therefore know whom to target, legally and politically, when enforcing its social goals.
The freedom of property holds that whatever belongs to an individual is his by right and that no other person or institution has the right to take or otherwise dispose of this property without the consent and agreement of the owner. This principle gives rise to the creation of governments who are instituted around the principle of the protection of property rights and includes courts, police and armies. When the government is the instrument for the enforcement of social laws where the government decides what is the proper goal and the proper use of property, we will have established the same principle that enabled the most brutal activities of men like Stalin and Hitler. Today, income taxes are a violation of this right and have been for decades. Earnings are property and the government has no moral right to confiscate them.
The taxing authority of the government is crucial to the success of social goals and it is one that can be used to great effect by the potential dictator. To be able to harass political opposition, to destroy lives and protect political friends by means of the taxing authority is a power that must be controlled if we are to remain free. Today, the situation regarding the political use of taxation is very serious.
Are we to take these freedoms and the principles they represent at their word? Do we mean freedom when we talk about being a free society, or do we mean free to a certain extent? Are we in a time of Big Brother where every word has been spun into its opposite? For it is certainly true that not all these freedoms exist today as they were originally intended. What are we to think, and how is it that we can no longer recognize that our freedoms are being violated? We have been spun for decades and many are not able to recognize just how deeply and for how long the effort to destroy our rights has been going on.
As a society, we need a whole new approach in our acceptance of the pronouncements of politicians and cultural leaders. We need to demand, expect and settle for nothing less than truth. We must do this before the few lone voices crying for truth are snuffed out by the politics of personal destruction. Spinners spin because we have allowed them to get away with it and we have rewarded them for it. We have become so uncritical of our leaders, because of their celebrity, that they believe they can get away with anything---and in todays climate they can. We are being lied to while we marvel at how clever they are in lying to us.
So what is the answer to spin? What should we not accept? How can we regain the freedoms that are embedded in our constitution?
1. Truth is a correct description of reality. A person of principle and a good leader will count ONLY on truth. We must find these people.
2. Honesty has nothing to do with spin. Honesty is a respect for the clarity of ones mind and especially for the clarity of the minds of others. Honesty is a recognition that just as we would like to be told the truth, we should tell others the truth.3. Never allow a leader to parse the meaning of such a fundamental concept as what "is" is. Is in social and political discourse means truth. When someone attempts to parse this in front of us they have abrogated their authority.
4. Never accept the leadership of a person who practices the politics of personal destruction. Personal destruction is accomplished by demonstrable lies and by political spin.
5. Conversely, never accept the leadership of a person who lies. If telling demonstrable truth destroys an opponent, that means the opponent was depending on lies and deception and should not be trusted. The truthfulness of a candidate is a legitimate political issue.
6. Always be vigilant against the Big Lie. Only accept as fact pronouncements that are provable. Be wary when you hear the same lines repeated over and over.7. A political issue should be based upon a principle and a principle is a truth that applies to all. Always look for leaders who talk about and support valid principles. Never accept an issue that disregards the rights of some men in favor of the social rights of others. Never accept the politics of division and class warfare.
8. Once a leader lies to us, then he/she should be discredited and removed from office.9. Partisanship is not the desire to destroy your opposition. Partisanship is the elaboration of a principle according to the principles of your party. Partisanship is the acknowledgement that we can disagree about fundamental principles and solutions but we still respect our opponents differences. Do not allow our leaders to practice the I can yell louder and longer than you form of partisanship. Don't accept the idea that each party must repudiate and disenfranchise (destroy) the other party in order to succeed. The party that practices the politics of destruction toward the other party is the party that wants to destroy opposition and deny the rights of all men.
10. Give credit where credit is due. We do not need government to solve social problems. Social problems are always solved by free men dealing with each other through free and open exchange. Government cannot improve this situation and usually makes things worse. If we were to look at the past issues that government has undertaken we will most often see failure and disenfranchisement. We must be wary of a government that tries to destroy the very industries that are giving us our greatest "social" gains. And we must question our government's motives.
The fundamental problem with spin is that it is a precursor, a warning to the emergence of dictatorship and tyranny. Yet, it has been around longer than we think. Spin, the lie, the distortion and the consequent unfairness it unleashes, are the fertile grounds for the demigod, the man who would lead by edict and pronouncement. Spin is not just a method of political discourse. It is a method of political distortion and deception that keeps Americans from informed decisions. We must challenge it and give a strong message to our leaders that spin is not a valid method of argument.
Spin is the fertile ground upon which men like Stalin, Hitler and Franco built their empires of destruction and death. It was not called spin for them, but the lie, and it was used relentlessly to disenfranchise opposition and other honest citizens. Dont believe that those who would use it today are not capable of the atrocities of a Stalin and Hitler---It is only the constitution that now keeps them in check. We must never give the benefit of the doubt to liars.
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