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What is a Spin Doctor?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term "spin doctor" became a common addition to the English language in the 1980s. Its exact origin is uncertain, but the word is often used to describe public relations experts as well as political or corporate representatives whose job it is to put a "positive spin" on events or situations. The verb "spin doctoring" is also commonly used to describe the work that this person does.

If someone controls the spin, or direction, of an object, he is showing the sides of it that he wants to show while not shedding light on the rest. A spin doctor uses spin control to emphasize or exaggerate the most positive aspect of something. For example, cigarette companies sell products known to be harmful and can make them look bad. If they also provide funding for charitable events, or build community playgrounds, however this can make them look good. Such examples of "corporate social responsibility" can sometimes put a positive spin on companies that might otherwise be considered bad.

Some public relations firms list spin doctoring outright as one of the services they offer, while others use terms such as "transformation strategy" or "image transformation." This is comparable to the "rebranding" that is done with products that are not selling well in order to make them more appealing. Companies and political organizations also often hire professionals to "sell" their mission and ideas to the public. For example, when the US Department of Homeland Security, which was created after the events of 11 September 2001, was not receiving as much positive public reaction as originally hoped, the same corporate branders behind the FedEx name were hired to revamp the department.

Spin doctoring is not propaganda. Propaganda campaigns do not simply seek to convince through rebranding, but add the deceptive element of "psychological warfare." Black propaganda is propaganda that is made to look like it came from the enemy and so protects its sources if and when the lie ever becomes exposed. Grey propaganda occurs when the true source is omitted, as in the example of Radio Free Europe. Radio Free Europe was introduced to the public as a platform run by free democratic voices against communist propaganda, and many people believed that. New Jersey senator Clifford P. Case later admitted Radio Free Europe was actually a propaganda program run by the CIA.

A spin doctor must keep track of all publicity, such as newspaper articles, of the organization he or she is representing. Information about public trends and perceptions is helpful to a professional in assessing the potential public reaction to an event. Time management is absolutely crucial, as an event must be publicized in a positive way before someone else can get to it first and report any information that the public could consider negative.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Moldova — On Sep 23, 2010

Icecream17-I know that spin doctors are very persuasive in political campaigns. But celebrities also use spin doctors in order to get out of a public relations mess.

Often following a public relations misstep, a celebrity will suddenly do an act of charity in order to gain goodwill again.

Spin doctors will often point this out and state that they are really sorry for the action. Many times the spin doctors will actually have the celebrity apologize in a controlled public forum, but advise them not to take questions.

This way the celebrity does not suffer further embarrassment with a volitle questions that they may not be prepared to answer.

By icecream17 — On Sep 23, 2010

Sunny27-I think the spin doctors did a great job with Obama when he initially became president. It seemed that all of the negative aspects of his background were suppressed and people believed the spin.

For example, when it was reported that his pastor of over twenty years went on an angry tirade against the United States, the spin doctors immediately stated that he no longer went to that church and has since disassociated himself with the pastor.

Although this association was troubling, many people ignored it and voted for him anyway. When his lack of experience and minimal resume was reported the spin doctors focused on his rhetoric and built him up to be a transformational character.

Although his speeches were all about generalities and really did not say anything, people bought the spin and voted for him anyway even though they knew little about him.

By Sunny27 — On Sep 23, 2010

Celebrities and politicians that get into a public relations problem use spin doctors.

Spin doctors are experts in explaining a turn of events in a more flattering light. For example, recently it was reported that the recession was over, yet in my city unemployment is over 14% and foreclosures are up 20%.

Although the news is an attempt to spin truly dismal economic news into positive news, few people actually believe it.

Some people that have lost their jobs have given up looking because most companies are not hiring. Most businesses say that the uncertainty and the negative policies against businesses is really the culprit.

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