Spin and the court of public opinion
There's a lot of guff generally spoken about PR and spin and dark arts. Makes for good copy but it's largely because it is entertaining rather than illuminating.
Bringing some level-headedness to things is John Lloyd in last Friday's FT. His article, in part a defence of his decision to join the board of Hobsbawm's Editorial Intelligence.
Thanks to Neville Hobson for the link (he makes some really good points in his post about PRs and journalists both being filters on the truth and how social media will allow direct conversation).
In the article by Mr Lloyd, I particularly liked his use of the analogy of the court of public opinion:
Public relations people are secular barristers. Journalists are the secular juries. They are at least as imperfect in that function as PRs are in the advocacy one, but they are what we have.
Maybe I would like that because being a barrister means you might not get talked about people like Odone as if you were scum as often. I know lawyers get it in the neck a fair bit in the press but not as much as flacks. But lawyers do tend to be on a better whack than we sultans of spin (not least because when they say they charge by the hour they really mean it)..
Mr Lloyd makes the point that it is the spinning by journalists that has created the need for PR in political (and elsewhere) life to be an obscuring, defensive force:
No one in politics or the upper reaches of public life - so goes a ritual complaint - thinks out loud any more. Are you kidding? Did you see what happened to Larry Summers, president of Harvard, when he thought out loud? He became the soon-to-be-ex-president of Harvard [my link]. Care in presentation is now seen by savvy people in public life as the way you achieve your goals. Thinking out loud, or speaking frankly, is seen as an indulgent luxury.
Lastly he adds that spin is human nature:
Most individuals spin themselves - representing themselves as attractive, intelligent, diligent and trustworthy, especially at critical times such as job interviews or seduction opportunities. Spinning would seem to be a necessary attribute of intelligent humanity. And since humans are intelligent, they don’t believe institutions, political parties and other individuals - fully. If they do they are usually disappointed - even if the institution, party or individual is telling the truth. It is a definition of maturity to know where trust should end and scepticism begin, and how both can co-exist even, perhaps especially, with people you respect, or love.