How Politicians and Policy makers Spin The Media To Manipulate The Public
Ishola Ayodele (Effective Communication Coach)
The phrase ‘fig leaf’ has it origin from the Biblical Book of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover their nudity after eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Today, fig leaf is widely used figuratively to convey the covering up of an act of malfeasance or something that is shameful or distasteful.
The term ‘spin’ according to Wikipedia originated from an old American expression "to spin a yarn". In the 18th and 19th century, sailors were known for using their spare time on board ship to make thread or string (yarn). Sailors were also well known for telling incredible tales about their exploits when they were back on shore. When someone fooled someone, it was said that "he spun her, an amazing yarn".
In public relations and politics, ‘spin’ is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against a country, an organization or a public figure using disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.
Many PR Gurus and Communication experts like Prof. Timothy Coombs, Prof. Paul Argenti, Prof. Fred Helio Garcia, Dr. Kathleen Fearn-Banks and many others have written extensively on effective public relation strategies and tactics while warning against the danger of ‘spin’. Notwithstanding, ‘Spin’ is commonly used now in local and world politics.
A case in point is the current imbroglio between America and Russia.
According to the UK Independent the Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed he has evidence that US-led coalition has given support to ISIS (The deadliest terrorist group in the world). He was quoted as saying “Now they (America) give support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD. It's very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos.”
According to Reuters, The Russian government also accused the US of backing Syrian rebels who use poison gas and anti-aircraft missile.
According to the UK Express, the US air strike on the Syrian military personnel and vehicles in north-eastern Syria led to the capture of the outpost by ISIS.
Off course, the US government refuted that allegation saying their air strike played right into ISIS hand.
In my opinion, it looks like the argument didn’t hold water and the American government needed to do something drastic. They need a ‘fig leaf’ so they decided to spin the media to distract the public from making their malfeasance the subject of media discussion.
Firstly, the US government officially accuses Russia of hacking the computers of Democratic National Committee and other Political Organizations in an attempt to interfere in the US 2016 election according to the Washington post.
As if that was not enough the US government expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Russian compounds. Al Jazeera quoted Barack Obama saying that was "necessary and appropriate” against "efforts to harm US interests". Although, Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington DC, said that the US administration had not provided any proof of Russia's involvement other than the flat accusations that 17 US intelligence agencies say so.
This has sparked public outcry in Russia and many Russians want their government to retaliate but according to the CNN the Russian President Vladimir Putin opted to delay his reaction till the new US president-elect Donald Trump assumes office. A move Trump himself tweeted to be a very smart decision.
Has the American tactics worked? The answer is a capital ‘YES’. The discussion around the world now is the degeneration of US-Russia relationship. Not many are talking about the US support for rebels or ISIS.
Here are some of the tactics used in spinning the media, though some Communication experts especially Brad Phillips opined that these tactics can also be used constructively for positive purpose.
1) Create a Distraction:
One of the major strategy used in ‘spinning the media’ in order to cover up misdeed or a shameful act is to bring up another controversial event and if there no story big enough to distract the media create one with the aid of propaganda.
When the Nigerian government was caught pants down committing the shameful act of money laundering in 2014 when a jet carrying Nigerian government agents was caught with brief cases full of dollars. There was public outrage, the media was awashed with all sort of headlines and stories.
Although at first the Nigerian government did the right thing by owning up and admitting its guilt but The then former President Jonathan and his media team decided to spin the media by inaugurating ‘the National Conference’ with about 492 delegates to discuss the problem of Nigeria and the way forward. From the time it started till it ended all the Nigerian media were so busy reporting this event that not many Nigerians remembered we had $15 million hanging in South Africa.
This was a spin because the Jonathan’s administration didn’t implemented any part of the resolution reached at the 2014 National Conference before it left office in 2015 and the succeeding administration is not even giving the resolution any attention. In addition, Some Senior Lawyers argued that the conference was doomed to fail from the onset because it was not backed up by any legislation which could have made its implementation binding on the government.
For distraction to work the event has to be
a) National eg (America) Russia interfered in our Presidential election, (Nigeria) National Conference to discuss our differences, problems and solutions.
b) Very Important to the public eg (America) deciding who shapes our destiny as a nation through his/her policies, (Nigeria) deliberation on how we want our country to operate.
c) Emotional eg (America) we can’t believe Trump won the election we want a recount, (Nigeria) Our region produce the wealth of the nation yet our region is under developed.
This is another way the media can be spun. George Orwell, the author of the evergreen novel ‘Animal Farm’ captured this masterfully when he said, “Language makes humans easy to control, control their language and you control the people”. This is one of the reasons Africa is backward in development and technology. In all the technologically advanced countries of the world the children are taught in school with their mother-tongue not foreign language.
There is no nation that has mastered this act than the United State of America. George. W. Bush during the Iraq war told the US media, "The war in Iraq is really about peace." The assault on Iraq was continually referred to as "liberation", and the US military called it "Operation Iraqi Freedom". Whereas, liberation and freedom had little to do with why the US and UK invaded Iraq but the use of these language allows concerned citizens an excuse to deceive themselves into supporting US and UK’s imperialism. Whenever the US invades a country the process is always describe as “peace mission”.
If you observed closely the language used by Obama was Russia not ‘Russia secret service’.
Almost all the media reported it just like that.
“US intelligence report concludes ‘Russia’ ordered hacking” the UK independent
“US spies just briefed Trump on the ‘Russian’ Hack” vox.com
“Trump election: US identifies agents behind ‘Russian’ hack” BBC
“Adviser contradicts Trump: ‘Russians’ hacked the US” CNN
This is a spin because when ‘Wikileak’ exposed the news that the phone call of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 35 other world leaders were tapped by United States’ Security Agencies. No US or UK media reported it has “US tapped German chancellor’s phone calls” Rather the headlines were
“NSA tapped German Chancellery for decades” The guardian.
“Angela Merkel’s phone hacked by American Spies” the UK mirror
“Germany drops probe into NSA’s Merkel Phone-hacking” the UK register
“NSA spying scandal: Merkel and Hollande demand talks” the UK independent
“Latest NSA hack might reveal ugly side of US” CNN
“Germany’s Merkel calls Obama: Did NSA monitor my cellphone” nbcnews
Note how all the media avoid mentioning the US government, this was achieved by the language ‘autonomy’. The United State for long has made the world believe that government agencies in US are autonomous so they can’t be manipulated by the Presidency or legislature. So, when the CIA supported a coup d’etat to remove a duly elected president of Guatemala in 1954, the world only condemned CIA not USA.
Imagine the Nigerian DSS supporting the removal of Ghanaian President and the Nigerian President knows nothing of it. This is what Professor Noam Chomsky called “Plausible denial” which means whatever any secret service does anywhere in the world can’t be link to the American government, why?
They are autonomous and can act independent of the government whereas the presidency not the public appoints the directors of those agencies. (That is what they want the world to believe)
For more insight about language control read 'George Orwell and Language Control' by Duff Brenna
3) Repeat A Lie:
It is said that you believe what you hear repeatedly, this is why company bombard people with different kind of advertisement at every nooks and crannies. The US and UK propaganda machine kept repeating the presence of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq till the public begin to see it as a "good thing" to illegally invade a sovereign state. In the end there were no WMD in Iraq, according to the UK independent, “the CIA officer who interrogated Saddam Hussein confessed that there were clearly no WMD in Iraq” and President Bush himself later admitted the same.
So, why was Iraq invaded? In my opinion the US needed a military base in the Middle East to be able to police that region but I don't think they would have garnered public support through the media to invade Iraq if that is the story they told the media.
Besides, the Arabs will never allow the US or any non Muslim country to set up a military base on their land. To cover up this intent the lie about WMD existing in Iraq was repeatedly repeated in the Media until the American public believed it.
Today the US has military bases in virtually all the Arab countries in the Middle East. Based on information contained in the US Department of Defense’s latest Base Structure Report (BSR), the US has bases in at least 74 countries and troops practically all over the world and In his book ‘Base Nation: How US Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World’, David Vine, associate professor of anthropology at American University said, “According to the most recent publicized count, the U.S. military currently still occupies 686 ‘base sites’ outside the fifty states and Washington, DC”.
For further reading on the US military base map visit
My aim is not to promote ‘spin’ but to provoke a discussion that will lead to a better understanding of this strategy and how we as professional communicators can separate 'Spin' from effective PR communication.
In addendum, We can rework and restructure this powerful tool for constructive purpose (like Brad Phillips is currently doing) so it will further enhance our ability to deal with our clients’ stakeholders especially winning the customers heart in Marketing campaign and retaining good reputation during crises.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar and coffee, he can pay anything under the sun to get it”.
Please share your thoughts with me by clicking on the post a comment box below.
Ishola Ayodele is a Public Relations practitioner and a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.
He offers the following services to Large Corporations, SMEs and Individuals.
Result Oriented Communication,
Effective Crisis Communication,
Effectual Political Communication,
Reputation and Image management,
And Impactful Presentation Coaching.
He can be reached on
twitter @ishopr and via