IBJOpinion

HETRICK: Spouting off about the all-too-common art of spin

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Bruce Hetrick

Last year, my wife and I were planning a business trip to Manhattan. Some friends suggested we beg, borrow or steal to get tickets to “The Book of Mormon,” a musical by the creators of “South Park.”

Our friends also advised that we visit the theater rest rooms immediately before curtain. They found the show so funny that bladder control was a problem.

The show was hilarious—fully deserving of our friends’ warning and the nine Tony awards it garnered in 2011.

One of our favorite songs from the show, “Making Things Up,” might as well be a treatise on current events.

The song is sung by one of the show’s lead characters—a John Belushi-like Mormon missionary named Elder (Arnold) Cunningham with support from Cunningham’s father, LDS founder Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni and others in the Ugandan village where Cunningham has been a missionary.

Elder Cunningham has never actually read The Book of Mormon. So he concocts stories that combine church doctrine with bits from “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Lord of the Rings” and other unlikely sources.

After sharing this “holy” hodgepodge with Ugandan villagers, Cunningham is found out by his father and church officials.

“I just told a lie,” sings Cunningham. “No, wait, I didn’t lie. I just used my imagination, and it worked!”

“You’re making things up again, Arnold,” sings his father.

“But it worked, Dad!” sings Cunningham.

“Don’t be a Fibbing Fran, Arnold,” sings Joseph Smith. “Because a lie is a lie.”

“It’s not a lie!” sings Cunningham.

“Be careful how you proceed, Arnold,” sing his father, Joseph Smith, Angel Moroni and others. “When you fib, there’s a price.”

“I’m making things up again … kind of,” Cunningham finally admits. “But this time, it’s helping a dozen people! I’m talking, they’re listening. My stories are glistening. I’m gonna save them all with this stuff!”

Thus, justification for “making things up.”

––––––––

I’m a public relations professional.

At its best, my profession uses credible two-way communication to build relationships with people who are vital to our clients’ success.

At its worst, PR pretenders are spin doctors—manipulating, distorting, fabricating and otherwise “making things up.”

And in the theater of politics, sports and other arenas, the rationalization is often: “That’s how you help people. That’s how you win.”

Spinning is nothing new. Back in October 1984, when former Vice President Walter Mondale was debating incumbent President Ronald Reagan, a New York Times editorial predicted: “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.”

“The spin room” has been alive ever since.

But what’s getting spun these days cuts deeper and wider than debates.

On Oct. 17, for example, cycling’s Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong cancer-fighting foundation he established. His tainted image as a doper, cheater, liar and fraud was simply too much risk for any cause, no matter how worthy.

Moments later, news broke that Nike had severed its long-standing sponsorship of Armstrong.

I went upstairs and tossed my last “Livestrong” bracelet.

For years, I’ve been spun.

That same day, I learned that Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (or, more likely, his spin doctors) had been caught faking empathy for the homeless.

An image of Ryan and family allegedly performing public service at a St. Vincent DePaul soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio, turned out to be Ryan and family “cleaning” already-clean cookware at an empty facility.

With a phony photo op, we’d been spun.

In a presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney answered a question about equal pay for women by boasting about the “binders full of women” he’d requested when considering cabinet members and department heads for Massachusetts state government.

Only problem: A story in the Boston Phoenix revealed that the women’s resumes were not, in fact, requested by Romney. They had been assembled before that year’s election by women’s organizations, of their own volition, for presentation to whichever candidate won the governor’s race.

Taking credit for others’ effort and ideas is spin of the lowest order.

Whether you wax Republican or Democrat, are a cycling fan or an office gossip, you’ll have your own examples of spin.

The problem, of course, is that too many citizens aren’t sufficiently educated, aren’t paying attention, lack the historical context, see only what they want to see, or simply don’t care enough to discern fact from fiction.

And were it not for the Internet, the spinners would get away with even more than they already do.

They say ignorance is bliss—especially to those willing to make things up in some self-delusional quest to help others.•

__________

•Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I am a Lyft driver who is a licensed CDL professional driver. ALL Lyft drivers take pride in providing quality service to the Indianapolis and surrounding areas, and we take the safety of our passengers and the public seriously.(passengers are required to put seat belts on when they get in our cars) We do go through background checks, driving records are checked as are the personal cars we drive, (these are OUR private cars we use) Unlike taxi cabs and their drivers Lyft (and yes Uber) provide passengers with a clean car inside and out, a friendly and courteous driver, and who is dressed appropriately and is groomed appropriately. I go so far as to offer mints, candy and/or small bottle of water to the my customers. It's a mutual respect between driver and passenger. With Best Regards

  2. to be the big fish in the little pond of IRL midwest racin' when yer up against Racin' Gardner

  3. In the first sentance "As a resident of one of these new Carmel Apartments the issue the local governments need to discuss are build quality & price." need a way to edit

  4. As a resident of one of these new Carmel Apartments the issue the local governments need to discuss is build quality & price. First none of these places is worth $1100 for a one bedroom. Downtown Carmel or Keystone at the Crossing in Indy. It doesn't matter. All require you to get in your car to get just about anywhere you need to go. I'm in one of the Carmel apartments now where after just 2.5 short years one of the kitchen cabinet doors is crooked and lawn and property maintenance seems to be lacking my old Indianapolis apartment which cost $300 less. This is one of the new star apartments. As they keep building throughout the area "deals" will start popping up creating shoppers. If your property is falling apart after year 3 what will it look like after year 5 or 10??? Why would one stay here if they could move to a new Broad Ripple in 2 to 3 years or another part of the Far Northside?? The complexes aren't going to let the "poor" move in without local permission so that's not that problem, but it the occupancy rate drops suddenly because the "Young" people moved back to Indy then look out.

  5. Why are you so concerned about Ace hardware? I don't understand why anyone goes there! Every time ive gone in the past, they don't have what I need and I end up going to the big box stores. I understand the service aspect and that they try to be helpful but if they are going to survive I think they might need to carry more specialty parts.

ADVERTISEMENT