Political Spin 101

As I’ve read, listened to, and watched the “news” coverage this week about two issues, it has become glaringly apparent to me that who best recognizes “spin” opportunities and capitalizes on them is the winner in any particular “news” cycle.

The “Issue”

Let’s take a look at two high-visibility items from the last week or so — new border control enforcement policies and the 568-page Inspector General’s report about the conduct of the FBI and James Comey during an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. As usual, the real issues never get widespread coverage in the media — people on the Left [and media outlets on “their side”] extract or formulate bullet points that support the conclusions they feel should be drawn, and people on the Right [and media outlets on “their side”] extract or formulate bullet points that support the conclusions they feel should be drawn. Regardless of the subject matter, the two sets of bullet points are always diametrical opposites.

Recognizing The Spin Opportunity

What I just described is a classic spin opportunity. They are always present, and each “side” is constantly on the lookout for the Mother Lode — the “issue” that can quickly gain traction and almost instantaneously “go viral.” Two spin opportunities in this past week have clearly been front-runners [those mentioned above], but the one that emerged as the Mother Lode was clearly the new border control enforcement policies.

Before going on, let me say that I think this whole matter was handled poorly, and I’m as much opposed as anybody to doing things that make children feel unsafe or insecure — for any reason. I should also “disclose,” however, that I fall into the camp of people who believe we need much better capabilities not only to do everything possible to eliminate illegal immigration, but also to shore up our processes for admitting legal immigrants.

Capitalizing On The Opportunity [AKA Winning The Spin Game]

Once either party has correctly identified a spin opportunity, the question becomes “How do we capitalize on this opportunity?” Let’s take a look at the winning “issue” — new border control enforcement policies —to see how cleverly this was done in that case.

What are the actual facts? … All the Administration has done recently is begin enforcing existing laws that have been on the books since the 1990s — developed under both Democrat and Republican administrations, many with bipartisan support. You have to do two things to ferret out why things suddenly seem so “different” and “inhumane”: 1) get into the weeds of exactly how those laws are worded; and 2) become personally familiar with how those laws are being [yes, are being, not could be] twisted by people like drug smugglers, people involved in human trafficking, people who make good money getting people into the country illegally, … and potentially, terrorists. Of course, 99.9% of the population will never do either of these things.

To get into a full-blown exposé on these two points is far beyond the scope of this or any of my blog posts. Let me just step one foot into the weeds of the laws. Minors cannot be detained in the same detention facilities in which adults are detained. There is a 20-day limit on the amount of time minors can be kept in custody until their cases can be adjudicated, which is far more time than is needed in almost all cases where adults who have children with them are caught entering the country illegally. There are also provisions for special handling of situations in which the adult involved is asking for asylum [e.g., because of persecution in their home country], and for good reasons adjudication of these situations often requires much more time — often considerably more than 20 days.

Again, going through a full exposé on this is beyond the scope of this blog [these are just two details out of hundreds], but if you just think about these two things, and keep them in mind when you watch / listen to / read “news” stories about this, it’s not hard to figure out how 1) malevolent players could manipulate these two laws and 2) scenes of children being separated from parents by agents who are following the law can show up and “go viral.”

What was the Democrat spin strategy? … The Democrat spin strategy in this situation was a no-brainer. Any dummy could have developed and managed it. Simply get video clips that can be captioned “babies being ripped from the arms of their mothers” and perform routine social media procedures for making any particular thing “go viral.” Capitalize on every opportunity for media interviews to say how shameful it is for this heartless administration to do this to children. Send key Democrats to border counties to make speeches and produce clips for the upcoming campaign. … etc.

What was the Republican spin strategy? … The Republican strategy was to bring visibility to the simple fact that our existing immigration laws are far out of date and need to be overhauled — and the equally-at-fault Democrats who caused this dilemma need to come to the table and work with us to get this fixed.

Who Blinks First?

Which strategy “won” [and why]? … Although probably well-intentioned, and generally more factually correct, the Republican strategy started off on the wrong foot because pictures and video clips like those described above constantly flashing across TV screens achieved Mother Lode status and tended to drown out almost all other “news.” It actually doesn’t matter what the facts are because of what I mentioned earlier: 99.9% of the population will never get into this much detail; they’ll simply go with whatever spin strategy is winning.

It’s possible that the Republican spin strategy [“Let’s fix this together while fixing the bigger immigration problem]” could have turned more positive and overcome the Democrat spin strategy [“Shame on you! Quit breaking up these poor families! Have a heart! This is not American!]” I wasn’t among those betting on that one, though.

I do, however, agree with what I’ve heard at least two “panel experts” say in the last 24 hours — that although “Schumer, Pelosi and Company” appear to have “won” in the short term, it is quite possible that they shot themselves in the foot in doing so. That’s another thing beyond the scope of this blog post, but I’m considering it for a future post. As a “teaser” here, though, I’ll simply say that this whole circus was never about “the children,” “families,” or “American values” like compassion — it was about politicians in BOTH parties focused on the upcoming mid-term elections.

Diversion Tactic

There’s something more fundamental going on in situations like this one. Despite his image problems [which he is not the first president to have], President Trump has done two things very successfully: 1) he’s shaken up the “status quo” and caused people in all parties and all countries to think outside of their boxes; and 2) he has taken bold, decisive steps on practically every front [rather than following in the footsteps of almost all — but not all — of his predecessors: throw out small “test balloons” and then gradually turn up the volume if nothing embarrassing happens.]

If he/she so chooses, one could look at this latest Mother Lode spin opportunity [the immigration “issue]” in the context of timing — i.e., amidst several news items about good things going on in America, and the increasing volume of positive statistics that outline a much improved situation — and conclude that any Mother Lode spin opportunity is always needed to divert the public’s attention from positives to negatives.

Thanks for reading this post, and if you regularly follow my Blog, for that, too. Please consider sharing this or other posts with your friends, colleagues and associates.

img_7026 Charles M Jones

Charles M. Jones

Author: Charles M. Jones, PE, CPA

[retired — neither license active]

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