Propaganda, spin and post-truth: a century of deceit

Like the title? If I ever write a book (or get by PhD sorted) then you can guess what it might be called.

In my Chartered Practitioner paper (I did the classic route, not the new one), I wrote a minor defence of spin.

“And yet… spin lies at the heart of almost all of our communications activity, as individuals and as organisations. Watch Match of the Day; it doesn’t matter what the result was, the role of the manager in the post-match interview is to say how good his /her team were. Even if they weren’t, the best he or she can do is confirm the worst fears of their own fans, but they would still express that in a way that gave cause for hope in the next game.

We don’t think of football managers as evil and manipulative1. We may call it ‘gloss’ or ‘shine’ or ‘putting on a brave face’ but spin is exactly what they are doing.

It’s difficult to say that spin is dead when it is almost instinctively what people do.  But, if it “often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics” then perhaps we should call that what it is: lying? Specifically, lying to gain an advantage where none would naturally accrue?”

I have a similar problem with ‘post-truth’.

The term arises from the belief that mere facts do not convey the depth of passion in an argument. It’s not about accuracy, it’s about emotion. Never mind the quality, feel the width. And if you say it often enough, it must be true, right?

Back in the day, we’d call that propaganda. And I’m sure we can all think of a few famous PR-related names associated with that term – which is why it’s another nail in the coffin as far as public relations is concerned. Even when it’s not the fault of any professional public relations practitioner, we still get the blame.

Of course, the people we associate with ‘post-truth’ would never use the phrase themselves, which might be one reason… and they don’t like us already.

But as an exercise for the reader: next time you see terms like ‘post-truth’ and ‘PR spin’, replace them in your mind as you read. See the difference it makes, and how easy it is to be drawn into the wrong argument.

  1. As a Leeds United supporter, we’ve had a few Chairmen that would fit the bill though. []

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