By Kevin Bergsbaken
Journalism plays an incredible role in the media coverage of a presidential debate. When it comes to writing a story on a candidate, journalists need to make sure they don’t take in everything as truth and search for political spin.
The main producers of political spin are the spin doctors who, according to the Merriam Webster definition “are a person (such as a political aide) responsible for ensuring that others interpret an event from a particular point of view”.
These spin doctors rely heavily on the media to spread their political spin, or propaganda, to either help their candidate or hurt the opposition. They work hard to create big news stories so they can attract the attention of journalists and get their message out.
The article Metacommunication about Media Manipulation by Frank Esser, Carsten Reinemann, and David Fann, pages 16-45 in The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, explains how journalists, at major U.S. newspapers, used spin doctors in their stories during the 1996 presidential election between Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
The U.S. newspapers coded to search for spin doctor references in the study include the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post from May 5th to November 5th 1996.
Esser, Reinemann, and Fan also state that “The U.S. coverage was primarily characterized by the literal quotation of spin doctors’ statements” so journalists have been placing spin doctors as “sources of information and commentary” during the election.
This shows us that journalism in the U.S. has become entangled in the entertainment politics of a spin doctor trying to hurt the opposition of their favorite candidate. If journalists want bias free media separated from political spin they must be able to avoid this information even when tempted to make a story out of it in case it is their ticket to fame.
Be sure to always fact check because even spin doctors find their way into major newspapers and if the journalists can’t separate political spin from fact then you can.
Esser, F., Reinemann, C., & Fan, D. (2001). Spin Doctors in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany: Metacommunication about Media Manipulation.The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics Harv Int J Press/pol, 6(1), 16-45. doi:10.1177/108118001129171982