Putting the right spin on things

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 23, 2020, Palestinians participate in a big rally to protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Jericho. - International condemnation of possible Israeli annexations has mounted ahead of July 1, when the Jewish state could take its first steps toward implementing part of a US-proposed Middle East peace plan. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 23, 2020, Palestinians participate in a big rally to protest against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Jericho. – International condemnation of possible Israeli annexations has mounted ahead of July 1, when the Jewish state could take its first steps toward implementing part of a US-proposed Middle East peace plan. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

BRITISH novelist Aldous Huxley once wrote: “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in-between are the doors of perception.” But, for many of us it is these doors of perception that forever colour our thinking and judgment on things.

Admit it — we are all guilty of forming lasting first impressions. How many of us actually wait until the whole sordid scandal unfolds before we form our judgment? That’s why rebuttals and counter-arguments that come a day or two after a news piece is out are rarely effective. This is why people rarely believe the authorities — because it takes bureaucracy at least two days to draft a rebuttal.

This is also why, in this age of social media, Internet and immediate news, “spin doctors” are more important than ever. These are teams of individuals who know what will tug at the heartstrings of the ordinary man, what will stir people to action, and what will capture the interest of the reader.

A good public relations expert will be able to predict what will be sensational newsworthy story, and either head it off first, or capitalise on it. But a spin doctor is one who can twist and turn the facts in such a way that a different angle is seen, without actually telling an all-out lie.

Last week, a particularly disturbing tweet went viral. The Twitter feed of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spoke of how Malaysia had donated a million masks and 500,000 disposable gloves. At first glance, it seemed as if Malaysia had made the donation to Israel, which would have been ludicrous since Malaysia does not recognise Israel nor do we have any diplomatic relations with it.

Then I remembered a small article in our newspapers a month ago, where the foreign minister had informed the Malaysian media that as part of its global effort in combating Covid-19, it would be sending a million masks and half a million gloves to the people of Palestine.

Re-reading the tweet, you can see how well-placed words can give the casual reader the wrong impression — that Malaysia was joining forces with Israel in its fight against Covid-19. Extraordinary. Spin doctor at work.

If you missed that previous information about the nature of the donation that Malaysia sent to the Occupied Palestinian Territories more than four weeks ago, the tweet by the IDF would have had us question just what Malaysia was up to, and if Malaysia’s foreign policy had fallen so far beyond the pale.

To be fair, the tweet did not lie, but it did attempt to mislead. I am reminded of a particular incident in Washington DC almost 20 years ago. My senior, who was a very distinguished person with an impressive stature in the organisation, had sent a report to headquarters.

The report referred to a private breakfast with Senator John McCain, an important man in Congress. Those who have had dealings with people on the Hill know how difficult it is to get a congressman out to lunch, much less breakfast, and much less a very senior congressman at that.

Needless to say, everyone was very impressed. I thought it was especially elegant how my senior took it in stride and did not make a big deal out of what was essentially a coup of the century. My admiration for such a person grew. A few months later, I was speaking to a friend about McCain. Imagine my surprise when my friend said that he had also attended the breakfast meeting my boss wrote about.

A few interrogative questions later yielded the truth – the “breakfast meeting” was actually a breakfast event where McCain was guest speaker. There were about 200 people in the room listening to the Senator’s speech and he did not dally after the event to speak to anyone privately.

Ha! The spin was in the omission. Yes, it was a private breakfast because all guests were there upon invitation of the organisers, but the report did not refer to this. Neither did it say there were 199 other people in the room. My admiration grew even more.

This is why spin doctors are so valued — they put out the “right” image of even the most mundane of events. People will still believe what they want, so the skill is in making them believe what we want them to believe. Let the reader beware!

By Dr Shazelina Zainul Abidin.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/06/604377/putting-right-spin-things

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