THE BLOG
10/22/2012 02:18 pm ET | Updated Dec 22, 2012

Politics, Presidential Debates, and Spin

During this election season we hear much about "spin." In fact, at the locations of the presidential debates a special place is provided for the media and the political pundits from both sides of the aisle to gather. These political pundits have been well trained and are eagerly seeking out receptive media that will pay attention to their biased comments. They are there before the debates to talk about what is going to happen during the debate. And after the debates they are quick to interpret what their own candidate and their candidate's opponent have said and how they handled themselves, and what kind of a job the moderator has done. And, yes, the media are eager participants in the midst of all this talk and interpretation, providing them with fodder for several days or, in some cases, several weeks.

This special gathering place is routinely called "the spin room." Spin, as defined by Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, has several different meanings depending on how it is used. Here are the ones I think apply to the spin room: "to draw out and twist"; "to spin into yarns"; "to move swiftly"; and, of course, as used of a spider "to spin a web."

Let's go to the first one. Again, according to Merriam-Webster's, "twist" means "to alter the meaning of: distort or pervert the facts." Well, there is certainly a lot of that that goes on in the spin room.

How about "to spin into yarns"? The same dictionary describes a "yarn" as being a "tall tale" and gives as an example "a roaring good yarn." Oh, yes, we hear many of those stories, don't we!

And "to move swiftly" is an absolute necessity: get to those eager members of the media as quickly as possible so you can get your tall tale or perverted facts heard by the gullible listeners watching on TV or listening on radio. It's important to influence their thinking as quickly as possible so what they actually have heard during the debate will become tainted and twisted from the outset.

Oh, yes, don't forget about the spider that spins a web. There are those cagy members of the media who know just how to introduce a subject that the eager candidate or his spokespersons will quickly jump into discussing, not realizing that a trap is being set for the perfect sound bite that the reporter can use again and again to put the candidate in a unfavorably light. Reporters love to spin that kind of a web; it makes them feel so important, and it's amazing how many politicians get caught.

Now I'll be guilty of some spin of my own. The first thing members of the media from all the networks do immediately after a debate is to tell their listeners what they have just heard each of the candidates and the moderator say. I do not need them telling tell me what I have just heard. Furthermore, I do not want to hear the tall tales being spoon from both the right and the left, whether from the candidates, the candidates' spokespersons, or biased media who take this opportunity to editorialize or, when possible, to put that sound bite out there for everyone to hear.

In my opinion the entire framework of current presidential debates is out of whack. I think it is ridiculous for the moderator to bring up serious issues and ask pointed questions and expect the candidates to give informed answers in two minutes. Let's give the candidates time to go into some detail about the specifics of what they are proposing without interrupting them so we can truly understand where they stand on the issues. But when they get off point by reciting their stump-speech talking points, the moderator needs to step in and bring them back on the subject. But let's let the candidates truly debate the subjects.

I don't know who is responsible for setting up these spin rooms--the Commission on Presidential Debates, the media, the political parties, or a combination of all of them. But it's amazing to me that so many people would tune into to an organized format for perverted political facts and tall tales. But even more amazing is that reputable media would be engaged in such shameful and deceitful nonsense.

Do I favor limiting freedom of speech or discussion of politics by qualified people? Of course not! There is a real need for our being exposed to people who--by virtue of their education, training, skill, experience, and specialized knowledge--truly have the expertise to discuss political issues in an unbiased an informative way that will be beneficial for all of us to hear. But this needs to be done in a reputable format from which we can truly learn.

We voters want to learn as much as possible about the two presidential candidates and what they really stand for, and we look to the presidential debates and their accompanying spin rooms to provide us with this information.

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