Weaving a tangled web
The sheer quantity of spin can silence the noise of a damaging story
As a keen public relations-watcher I constantly marvel at how the dark craft continually changes. With each new publicity disaster – and I’m not thinking just of the Labour party … but it’s hard not to – the vast canvas used by the PR practitioner to win hearts and minds expands.
In the 21st century, damage limitation has become the ability to overwhelm the gathering pace of a story, defusing it with a huge quantity of information, misinformation and disinformation. It means the truth is harder to find than ever.
The fast-growing constellation of blogs and new media outlets, such as handheld devices and mobile phones, has given spinmeisters a galaxy of new media for their tall tales.
Let’s consider how we are currently being bombarded with the soundbites of a public figure under siege. Battered and befuddled John Prescott demonstrated a good old reputation management exercise when he provided the grateful Independent with an exclusive off-line media interview.
The Bennite class-warrior and old-school bruiser manfully planted the hypothesis that he is a tireless and misunderstood backroom power broker. Like Scotty from Star Trek he has heroically been keeping the New Labour project on course to boldly go where no party has gone before. Before the outing of his tryst (the first one) Prescott was on the point of announcing a shake-up of his office: this was spoilt by his romantic misjudgment.
We were then subjected to the at-first-glance incredible argument that he is the caring therapist calmly sitting between Tony and Gordon, managing their differences over cottage pie. Oh please, a cottage pie! Still, I suppose it’s less dangerous that lasagne. The ploy is both shameless and brilliant.
Simultaneously, blogs have been full of speculation surrounding the story; old material has been rejuvenated, and old interviews have re-surfaced, repackaged for new locations.
Google “Prescott” and you will find the residue of previous spin. “I have close emotional identification with Billy Elliot” – he has seen the film six times – he told one interviewer.
“This lad Billy rose up against the prejudices of his community and against the very structure of that community and said, ‘This is what I am. This is how I want to live my life.’ He had to fight with all the love he had for his family and his community to be true to himself. And yes, that moved me. It made me cry,” said Prescott. Me too.
In the new information war the successful are the ones with the dissemination resources as well as teams that can hone and tweak the messages and constantly feed huge chunks of copy to submerge the news and digital agenda.
Size is all that matters in modern impropaganda – the sheer quantity of the output can silence the noise of damaging copy. Quality research is a budget issue and beleaguered editors – under pressure to keep the newsroom full and to cut down on expensive foreign trips and “entertaining” contacts over long lunches – see staffers turning to search engines for help.
What hope is there when the public has a goldfish-like attention span and the sheer scale and ubiquity of spin compounds and clouds reason? The PR businesses that seem to be growing are those consultancies offering software-rich resources to populate the web not with information, but with disinformation and misinformation.
We should we all question more intently the invisible marionette-maker stringing us all along. If it’s not too late.