Rhetorical spinning used to be good sport. Think back on the scenes following Presidential debates, when high-powered advocates for each candidate pounced on reporters to spin every syllable so it seemed to favor their team's point of view. It was unabashedly biased, and usually entertaining.
Nowadays, though, we're stuck in a constant spin cycle, and it's enough to make most of us dizzy.
The Internet, cable-TV, talk radio, all provide forums for differing voices to publish and be heard. In theory, this broadened exposure to wide ranging perspectives makes us better informed and more receptive to opposing points of view. Yet, just the opposite is happening. In many respects, what's referred to as the digital information explosion has proved to be a time bomb.
Say you favor lower taxes for people driving red convertibles. Then you undoubtedly bookmark the Lower Taxes for People Driving Red Convertibles blog. There, every news report, every quote, every snippet of polling data is spun to reinforce your views. Those with opposing beliefs, folks who happen to support higher taxes for people driving red convertibles, are demonized and mocked. Of course, they're too busy to notice, since the spin is quite different on their favorite site: Higher Taxes for People Driving Red Convertibles.
During the hostile health care debate, if you watched Fox News Channel and MSNBC side by side, you'd have thought they were covering entirely different stories. One camp calls the other "socialists"; the other refers to its philosophical opponents as "wackos." Token appearances by weak-kneed guests, who dare spin in the opposite direction, rarely put dents in the dialogue.
It's even worse on radio. Advo-casters, some of whom host both radio and TV shows, tend to spin more recklessly when it's audio only. Radio rants are frequently more outrageous and blatantly biased, yet, despite vast audiences, go largely unheard by those with opposing views.
Rather than stretching our minds with new media, we spend an inordinate amount of time these days doing what is indelicately referred to as drinking our own bath water.
Occasionally the process is thrown a curve - a pitch that is hard to hit precisely because of its spin. Such was the case when the Obama Administration announced a revamped policy to allow some exploration for offshore oil. Anti-Obama spinmeisters, who tend to favor offshore drilling, deemed it too little too late, and probably some sort of socialist ploy. Pro-Obama spinsters proclaimed the move shrewd politics aimed at winning conservative support for more important environmental issues.
The most popular guy on cable-TV, Fox's Bill O'Reilly, decided early on to spin the entire spin situation to his advantage by labeling his show a "No Spin Zone." That's quite clever because it acknowledges the spin problem without actually doing anything about it - much as Fox proclaims itself "Fair and Balanced," while striving for little of either.
When you freeze the frames on our media and our politics, it's difficult to tell which is currently exerting the greatest spin on the other. Media have become more fractionalized and focused on singular points of view. Politicians and their supporters have grown intolerant and less inclined to compromise.
Conventional media whose goals, at least in theory, are to provide generally spin-free perspectives, are suffering. The evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC; the entire CNN cable network; magazines such as Time and Newsweek, and most general-interest newspapers, are losing out to competitors who specialize in spin.
Today, the hottest blogs, radio shows, and cable-TV channels are those for which fact is merely a starting point.
It's worth noting that mainstream news distribution remains huge in the U.S., with as many as 25 million viewers for the three network newscasts; over 40 million newspapers printed each day. And opinion pages, like this one, continue to provide a healthy range of views.
But the nation's spin cycle is gaining speed.
Spinning too fast makes you dizzy, and being dizzy causes you to lose your balance.
Peter Funt may be reached at www.candidcamera.com.
©2010 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail [email protected].
Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.