They seek to set the news agenda for the next day, meaning that they want their view to be the one adopted by journalists and editorial writers. They believe that if they can have that influence, they can make the news story more positive for their candidate and more negative for the opposing candidate. The spin session is part of the televised debate today, and as Morano (1996) notes, "Behind the scenes at the presidential debates the polemics and posturing are almost ludicrous as touts attempt to hustle the hustlers of the national media" (para. 1).
Hoffman (2005) analyzed a different sort of spin, the spin offered by Karl Rove in the aftermath of the Valerie Plame case in which Rove and others were accused of having leaked the CIA agent's name to the media in order to discredit her husband. Hoffman states,
General semantics applications can be applied to Rove's spin, what Freeman refers to as "Rove's World," and to the spin coming from opponents of the GOP, who would love to see Rove brought down by the Plame case (para. 22).
Hoffman characterizes Rove's approach by noting that "Rove has become a master at putting out images that first strike the viewer or reader at the lower level of abstracting, nearer the sensory level, and then encourage a big semantic leap to a higher level, of political theory, social values, or cultural bias" (para. 23). Hoffman cites another researcher on this same subject with a description that could fit many spinmeisters as he "wrote about how Rove structures the world in extreme Aristotelian, two-valued structure. There is only black and white, no gray. There are good guys and bad guys, who use what Hayakawa referred to as purr and snarl words" (para. 27).
The simplistic level of much spin is why it seems less effective, for it also depicts the world in black and white and is transparent to those who see the world in a more complex manner. For those who do not, though, spin confirms their simpler view of the world and so may have an effect. How effective spin may be can be difficult to determine. For the most part, the winning candidate's supporters may be able to point to his or her victory as proof that their spin was effective, though arguably this may not be the case when the losing side has been responsible for the most energetic spin, as was probably the case with the recent loss of John McCain. After debates with Obama, McCain's supporters could be heard asserting in a variety of ways that McCain had clearly won the debate and that each of his points was also accepted and desired by the American people. Yet, McCain lost the election. At best, supports might claim that he would have lost by an even wider margin if their spin had not swayed many voters, but there is no way to test this for certain. What can be said with certainty is that spin speaks first to the base and bolsters their already-held opinions. Spin also becomes the story the next day, though spin from both sides is reported and so creates a sort of written debate. That debate might sway some voters just as the one on television might. So long as spin is indulged in by both sides, its full impact over and above other events and other debates can only be judged by the final outcome of the election.
A related issue that may affect how much effect spin has is the way the news media treats spin. The media have been criticized for accepting statements of all sorts from campaigns and of not doing the fact checking that would show what is true and what is not. Critics often complain "about the lack of accountability journalism, [with] the press not wanting to inject itself into the presidential race" (Robertson, 2004, p. 38). Robertson (2004) cites Lawrence Schumacher, a politics and government reporter at the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota, on the subject as he states, "If it's not everybody doing it all the time, then the repetition from the campaigns is going to win" (p. 38).
Spin is not necessarily deceptive, but it can become the accepted fact even if it is incorrect if it is repeated often enough. Even debunked "facts" can gain ground with some people, as can be seen from the recent election among those who continue to repeat that Obama is a Muslim (which he is not) or that he cannot be president because he is not an American citizen (also not true). The news media did indeed challenge these statements and provide proof that they were not true, and yet there are still people who believe that these statements are true. Perhaps they simply want to believe these things in order to have a reason to oppose Obama, but in any case, they continue to repeat them in a form of ongoing spin that might influence some impressionable people.
The idea of spin is usually negative, and the view taken by using the word "spin" is that the statement being made has been shaped to give an impression and not to give the truth. One problem is that the news media often does not differentiate between repeated statements that are true and repeated statements that are not true, calling both "spin," as if they were equivalent. They are not equivalent, of course, since one is true and one is false. Both may be deemed "spin" by the news media, though, implying that both sides are lying, which may not be the case. The lack of fact checking is one reason for this, but a form of intellectual laziness is also responsible. It is simply easier to call statements by both sides "son" than to do the fact checking required or to differentiate in each case to show what is true and what is not. Another reason is the one given above, that the news media does not want to inject itself into the campaign process and so just reports on what people said without saying what is true and what is not. News people also want to avoid being labeled liberal or conservative according to whether they say someone is telling the truth or not. Spin remains as effective as it is in part because it is not challenged forcefully by any objective source. If the other side says something is not true, that might be discounted because that side has its own agenda. If an objective and accepted authority says something is not true, the public would likely at least have doubts and might simply reject the statement made as untrue.
So long as the news media in general refuses to make that determination, though, spin will have some power. As noted above, it is not enough for one or two sites or one or two media outlets to do this job; it is a job that has to be done by the media as a whole to be effective. As can be seen by the beliefs about Obama's religion and citizenship, though, it is also apparent that even when the news media as a whole makes the determination that something is not true, that does not mean the public as a whole will accept that determination. Spinners depend on this and hope to reach some people who will be influenced by what they say.
Spin also has a different effect when reported than when delivered. Immediately after a debate, for instance, the people who hear the spin are primarily people interested in politics, or they would not be watching, and are mainly those who just saw the debate, so they will gauge what they hear from supporters against what they heard from the candidates themselves. The reports the next day will each many more people and mainly people who did not see the debate and who are therefore easier to convince about who won and who lost and other issues. Spin has power for this reason as well, and if it becomes the accepted story told about the event, then many people will have the same view as if they had been there themselves.
Hoffman, G. (2005).
Symbol Manipulation and Boomerang Spin. ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Volume 62, Issue 4. Retrieved November 28, 2008 at http://www.questia.com/read/5011745083?title=Symbol%20Manipulation%20and%20Boomerang%20Spin.
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. Packaging the Presidency. New York: Oxford University, 1980.
Morano, M. (1996, November 4). Manipulating the Voters from Inside Spin Alley. Insight on the News, Volume 12, Issue 41. Retrieved November 28, 2008 at http://www.questia.com/read/5001639190?title=Manipulating%20the%20Voters%20from%20Inside%20Spin%20Alley.
The Racine Group (2002). White Paper on Televised Political Campaign Debates. Argumentation and Advocacy, Volume 38, Issue 4. Retrieved November 28, 2008 at http://www.questia.com/read/5000789928?title=White%20Paper%20on%20Televised%20Political%20Campaign%20Debates.
Robertson, L. (2004, December). Campaign Trail Veterans for Truth: As the Election Neared, News Organizations Aggressively Fact-Checked the Assertions of the Presidential Contenders, in Analysis Pieces and Sometimes in Spot…