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The popular cable news and commentary program The O’Reilly Factor begins the same way every time it is aired. As the host looks into the camera, he points at the viewer and says, “Caution! You are about to enter the ‘no spin zone’!”
Whether you are a fan of O’Reilly or not, you have to at least be sympathetic to his stated goal, which is to get to the real facts by cutting through all the political rhetoric, canned responses and misinformation that nearly all campaign speeches and most news programs have become.
Wikipedia, the infallible source of information about everything in the whole world (sarcasm = on), lists this definition under the entry for “spin:”
“In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, ‘spin’ often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.”
Again, according to Wikipedia, the techniques of spin include, among other things: “selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one's position (cherry picking);” issuing “non-denial denials;” phrasing things “in a way that assumes unproven truths;” and using “euphemisms to disguise or promote one's agenda.”
Nowhere are miscommunication, misinformation, disingenuousness and “spin” more at home than in the realm of politics. In fact, some cynically say the heart of politics is the art of spin – taking an event or situation or words that clearly seem to have one meaning and “spinning” them so that they appear to mean something totally different.
I heard about a genealogical researcher who was doing a background study of a prominent politician and found that a great-great uncle of the candidate was hanged in 1889 for stealing horses and robbing trains.
The investigation turned up the only known photograph of the politician’s relative, which showed the man standing on the gallows and which bore this inscription on the back: "Remus Rodman; horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1883, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives. Convicted and hanged in 1889.”
The researcher sent the picture to the politician and asked for a comment. After reviewing the photo and its inscription, the politician’s staff of spin doctors sent back the following biographical sketch:
"Remus Rodman was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus Rodman passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."
Now that’s what you call spin.
Unfortunately, as the somewhat humorous example above shows, politicians and their surrogates have become so adept at spin that finding the truth about a given issue is sometimes difficult at best.
There was a time when the press fulfilled one of its expected roles by helping those of us in the general public sort out what was true from what wasn’t, holding politicians accountable whenever they strayed into Pinocchio territory. However, the liberal bias of most major news outlets has become so well-known that it no longer fills this vital role that was assumed by our Founders.
To make matters worse, supposed “fact-checker” sites like politifact.org, though they claim to be non-partisan, are also often (if not usually) distinctly left-leaning.
So, short of some divine magic that caused a politician’s nose to grow whenever they told a lie (and wouldn’t that be nice?), how is one to discern truth from lies and fact from fiction?
The Bible gives us one good way: Don’t listen to what a politician says, look at what he (or she) does. The Bible calls this “examining their fruit.”
Consider this paraphrase of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-23: "Be wary of false teachers or leaders who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off in some way or another. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who leaders are is the main thing, not what they say. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook… Remember, not all people who sound religious are really godly. The decisive issue is whether they obey my father in heaven. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”
Of course, politicians aren’t the only ones guilty of spin. Because it is human nature to want others to see us favorably, we often try to make ourselves look as good as possible in light of any given circumstance. We don’t call it spin, of course; we simply say we are “putting our best foot forward” or “focusing on the positive.”
Certainly putting our best foot forward isn’t necessarily always bad. However, whenever we shade the truth to make ourselves appear better than we really are, or speak in only partial truths with the motive to deceive, we, too, have entered into the land of spin.
Unfortunately, the Bible calls it by a different name – the land of sin. Ephesians 4:25 says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor…”
What would it be like if we all, especially those of us within the body of Christ, began to put off pretense and live honestly with one another? What would happen if we decided to live in our own personal “No Spin Zone” and neither try to impress people nor be overly enthralled by the rhetoric of others? What would happen if everyone’s “yes” meant “yes,” and their “no,” “no?”
I know, I know, now I’m just dreaming. But to quote the well-known Beach Boys song, “Wouldn’t it be nice?”