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. Hiking blocks to an office after fighting traffic is not logical. Having office buildings around the loop, 465 and in cities in surrounding counties is logical. In other words, counties around Indianapolis need office buildings like Keystone, Meridian, Michigan Road/College Park and then no need to go downtown. Financial, legal, professional businesses don't need the downtown when Carmel, Fishers, North Indy are building their own central office buildings close to the professionals. The more Hamilton, Boone county attract professionals, the less downtown is relevant. Highrises have no meaning if they don't have adequate parking for professionals and clients. Great for show, but not exactly downtown Chicago, no lakefront, no river to speak of, and no view from highrises of lake Michigan and the magnificent mile. Indianapolis has no view.

  2. "The car count, THE SERIES, THE RACING, THE RATINGS, THE ATTENDANCE< AND THE MANAGEMENT, EVERY season is sub-par." ______________ You're welcome!

  3. that it actually looked a lot like Sato v Franchitti @Houston. And judging from Dario's marble mouthed presentation providing "color", I'd say that he still suffers from his Dallara inflicted head injury._______Considering that the Formula E cars weren't going that quickly at that exact moment, that was impressive air time. But I guess we shouldn't be surprised, as Dallara is the only car builder that needs an FAA certification for their cars. But flying Dallaras aren't new. Just ask Dan Wheldon.

  4. Does anyone know how and where I can get involved and included?

  5. While the data supporting the success of educating our preschoolers is significant, the method of reaching this age group should be multi-faceted. Getting business involved in support of early childhood education is needed. But the ways for businesses to be involved are not just giving money to programs and services. Corporations and businesses educating their own workforce in the importance of sending a child to kindergarten prepared to learn is an alternative way that needs to be addressed. Helping parents prepare their children for school and be involved is a proven method for success. However, many parents are not sure how to help their children. The public is often led to think that preschool education happens only in schools, daycare, or learning centers but parents and other family members along with pediatricians, librarians, museums, etc. are valuable resources in educating our youngsters. When parents are informed through work lunch hour workshops in educating a young child, website exposure to exceptional teaching ideas that illustrate how to encourage learning for fun, media input, and directed community focus on early childhood that is when a difference will be seen. As a society we all need to look outside the normal paths of educating and reaching preschoolers. It is when methods of involving the most important adult in a child's life - a parent, that real success in educating our future workers will occur. The website www.ifnotyouwho.org is free and illustrates activities that are research-based, easy to follow and fun! Businesses should be encouraging their workers to tackle this issue and this website makes it easy for parents to be involved. The focus of preschool education should be to inspire all the adults in a preschooler's life to be aware of what they can do to prepare a child for their future life. Fortunately we now know best practices to prepare a child for a successful start to school. Is the business community ready to be involved in educating preschoolers when it becomes more than a donation but a challenge to their own workers?

ADVERTISEMENT