What is spin, exactly?
At one level, “spin” is nothing more than perspective – it’s the writer’s take on the subject. So why is spin so controversial? Simple. Because the real difference between spin and perspective is that spinning is an attempt to cloak the writer’s bias (or perspective) with a veneer of impartiality.
We presume that certain kinds of communication are supposed to be devoid of spin. In a newspaper, the editorial (and op-ed) pages are reserved for opinion. The rest of the paper is supposed to offer news that is straight reporting – and devoid of spin. While that is virtually an impossible standard, few media outlets seem interested in doing anything more than to pretend to be without bias.
Every news story we read or see on TV is there because someone thought it was important. The problem today is that most media outlets look to one source – the New York Times – to determine if a (national) story is important. I doubt anyone would argue that the NYT is without bias. In fact, it’s hard to argue that all the mainstream media is without bias, simply because a vast majority of reporters admit to being far more liberal than conservative in their personal political views. When you write, you write from your own point of view. It’s inevitable. It’s almost impossible to write any other way. So we have 80% of our news media reporting from a liberal point of view. That’s a problem, because when you agree with a point of view, it’s hard to see spin when it happens.
Case in point – Mary Mapes (the 60 Minutes producer who lost her job over the forged documents story concerning President Bush and his Texas Air National Guard service record) has a new book out telling “her side” of the story. She comes across in interviews as bitter, defensive, and unwilling to believe the documents were forgeries. Her attitude is that even if the documents were forged, the story still must be true. She is unappologetic, and insists that she is still digging into the story. What story? The story of Bush’s military record, or the story of how a desire to embarass a President and influence an election drove journalists to cut corners and publicize fake documents in order to make their point?
Here’s my question…why are we even hearing about this book? Who decided that this book is worthy of air time? It was written by someone willing to overlook obvious problems with the credibility of a source and who ignored experts who questioned the authenticity of the documents before the story aired. She has been thoroughly discredited by her own (former) employers and an outside review. Yet, she’s making the rounds of the morning shows, and getting talked about. Why? Again, simple. Because the people that control what you see on the network have a personal bias against the President, and will give air time to those that believe what they do – even if it is proven that this person has manipulated the truth for their own purposes.
Here’s a suggestion. The next time you watch the news, ask yourself “why do they think this story is important?” Then ask, “what do they have to gain from pushing this story.”
I think the answers might surprise you.