Spin Versus Authenticity and Credibility

Written by: Terry Gault

“Dishonesty is sanitized in a world of spin.”

This is the title of a Leonard Pitts’ column, written for the Miami-Herald in 2007. It tells us what we probably already know: that what we see — and what we hear — in today’s world is not necessarily what we get. And that is because on the other side of honesty we often find spin. When you decide on which words and facts to use to communicate with others, do you make a practice of incorporating the techniques of spin? Most likely not — unless you want to be known as a spin doctor. Spin: Not conveying blatantly dishonest information but communicating information with a very strong bias; a bias that favors the speaker or the situation. It’s a manipulative technique that no doubt most of us are familiar with today — and one which seldom involves authenticity. When spin is used, some facts may be correct but placed outside the original context and inside a presentation meant to sway the public. The result is not necessarily authentic or credible. Liz Kelly spelled it out in a column for the Washington Post, “Pay close attention to what comes out of the mouths of celebrities. They may not always mean what they say. They probably didn’t actually come up with these words (remember, most are paid performers) and in most cases their utterances — whether on Entertainment Tonight or surrounded by salt-of-the-earth villagers in Namibia — are calculated to add value to their brand. Imagine them henceforth very carefully manipulated by an able band of helpers.”

So when did spin begin?

Since the early 1800s, “spinning a yarn” has simply meant telling a story. Then around the 1980s, American publicists found a need to create sound bites. From The New York Times, October 1984: “A dozen men in good suits and women in silk dresses will circulate smoothly among the reporters, spouting confident opinions. They won’t be just press agents trying to impart a favorable spin to a routine release. They’ll be the Spin Doctors, senior advisers to the candidates.” And, as we certainly know by now, the White House spin doctors are the best at weaving the political fantasies they want us to hear and creating responses with “sincere” solutions to enemies and disasters to allay our concerns. Why is spin so predominant in today’s political and celebrity-obsessed climate? Is there a cadre of diabolical public relations people, strategically placing euphemisms, non-denial denials, and other intricately placed band-aids (to cover mistakes) and bits in their candidate’s or client’s speech? Is it the media’s fault, with the press constantly shoving microphones into the faces of politicians and celebrities, and demanding answers? Or should we, the public, take partial responsibility — due to an attention span that grows shorter and shorter as excess information spills in and out of our already-cluttered minds. How would we even recognize authenticity and credibility today if we met it? Or, knowing that spin is so often woven through speeches and press releases, have we become cynical, world-weary, and believe nothing? In business, at least, we find a growing trend of honesty today, called transparency, largely due to today’s technology. It has just simply become more and more difficult to put one over on the public. Mistakes revealed in social media, on the internet, or on TV can place corporations in jeopardy. This public exposure forces them to own up, apologize and improve. Gilmore and Pine, in their book, Authenticity: What Customers Really Want, put forth the thesis that "people increasingly make purchase decisions based on how real or fake they perceive offerings.” So maybe instead of world-weary and cynical, we the public are becoming wiser and beginning to crave authenticity instead of spin. Wanting to believe but still remaining cautious before buying into the message or the product. An AdWeek review of the Authenticity book concurs: “people crave genuine and authentic product experiences in a world that is increasingly commercialized and fake.” It’s almost heartwarming to believe that what we see and hear may just be more and more what we get. Since spin is so evident to so many, maybe it will just fade away or become so blatantly obvious that no one will buy the message of the spinner. We can always hope.