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Defining the Essence of Spin Doctoring

Our blog maven Lisa Stone has been providing some wonderful reading over at NYU's PressThink. She blogged about "Spin Alley" - the practice of politicians spin doctoring (be careful with this link - it's career advice) presidential debates.

Her piece traced the development of spinning in recent journalism.

She had this to say about spin, "In other words, 'superstars' who performed at peak level in spin situations were admired for their skills. They could 'win' the spin, and winning was admired. Spinning for the press pack was a designated, accepted part of the debate ritual. Those who worked the system well—Messrs. Atwater and Baker—were considered worthy adversaries by journalists. Note: The better the spinner, the better the reporter (listener) you have to be to 'catch' the master."

The current perception of spinning is that it is a technique by political handlers to cast their candidate in the best possible light. The career link above makes the case that Moses, Machiavelli and Rasputin were the original spin doctors. OK, maybe Adam was, as Lisa notes in her post.

Even so, I'd add to that list Cardozo, Patrick Henry, Lord Melbourne, Blackstone and perhaps Daniel Webster.

My list is all lawyers. In fact, after I read Lisa's piece, my theory was that the spin doctors she identified were also lawyers. Indeed, many lawyers are politicians. You see, I thought that lawyers were the essence of the art of spin.

But, I was wrong. Only Jim Baker was a lawyer. Turns out that the other spinners, Lyn Nofziger and Lee Atwater were not.

Now that's not to say that lawyers aren't spin doctors; I dare say as a group, we're certainly some of the most practiced. Even lawyer bloggers claim to be spin doctors. Whether lawyers actually qualify as spin doctors or adversarial advocates is a matter of degree, I think.

At some point, Lisa's post notes that "Spinning is lying." Well, certainly lawyers have been accused of that, so perhaps we qualify by default. But really, we take the factual situation where we find our clients and take those facts and analogize them to the existing law, or reframe either or both the facts and the law to a legal or equitable result - the desired result - needed by our clients, all the time spinning our side and "de"-spinning the opponent.

Advocacy has an element of spin to it, but more important, it frames the issues first. A famous legal writer once commented that all he had to do was put this line at the beginning of his brief, and he'd win: "Defendant should not be approved as a foster parent because he is a convicted child molester."

Correctly framing the issue often not only defeats your opponent, but also dictates the outcome.

Isn't that the essence of spin doctoring?

Posted by J. Craig Williams on 12/17/2004 at 02:25 Comments (0)


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