Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Out-of-control 'spin'

Time was when the word "spin" meant an aircraft's spiraling, diving motion or a child's whirling toy top.

Today "spin" has taken on the meaning of mind games, manipulation, propaganda, blowing political smoke.

The Bush administration has perfected "spin" to an art form, although it surely isn't the first political machine to employ it to create favorable public opinion.

Happily, the non-partisan congressional oversight agency, the Government Accountability Office, has come down hard on the Bush White House for illegally disseminating "covert propaganda."

Various gimmicks were used. It hired a public relations firm to plant newspaper commentaries hailing the administration's education policies. It paid a syndicated newspaper columnist, Armstrong Williams, to propagandize administration policies without revealing his fees. It produced videotapes that appeared to be legitimate news, for distribution to local TV stations that used them without attribution to their political roots.

This is the technique of Banana Republic governments: buying and passing off political claptrap as legitimate news.

Bush aides say the practice has been abandoned. Let's hope so. However, the burden is on the Bush White House to prove it's been chastened.

Too many moves of this administration have been preceded by fiction and dressed up to look like fact for the purpose of bamboozling members of Congress and the unsuspecting public.

That said, it also falls to the Washington press corps, until now sluggish and deferential to the right-wing juggernaut, to be more of an auditor of White House activities and not allow itself to be "spun" into believing that criticizing the administration is unpatriotic.

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