This past week Chuck Todd, the eminently brainy political director at NBC News, posited that McCain campaign was so far behind in the polls that there was a chance of a Bullworth moment. The idea was that, with nothing more to lose, the campaign would suddenly, like Warren Beatty’s 1998 fictional politician, become bluntly honest and eschew the traditional political artifice. In other words, stop the spin.
First, this is not a political position. I have no predictions on the election and if I did I would keep them to myself. This is Todd’s premise. But it seems odd to me that it takes a lost cause to invite truth into the process. Many talk about PR as spin and the marriage between PR and political positioning is well known. Hillary Clinton’s former chief strategist, Mark Penn, is the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest PR firm. But I always bristle when someone refers to my profession as a spin doctor. It seems diminishing. It diminishes the value of what we do, as if we can just re-shape the truth into a more palatable form. It diminishes the audience, either the press or some stakeholder, as if they can be duped that easily. And it diminishes the client, as if whatever blemish exists can be buffed away with cosmetics.
We have a common phrase we employ when a client has a touchy issue. “What’s the truth. Let’s start there.” Now, sometimes the response we get is not unlike the look a dog gives you when you hide his ball. You know the one: a slight turn of the head, ears perked up and eyes seemingly saying, “huh?” But more often clients are relieved at the simplicity of the approach and happy they won’t have to architect some series of artificial talking points.
In this election season, we get to see the high discipline of political campaigns’ communications efforts and people are exposed to a lot of ‘spin.’ It gives communications a bad rap. So the prospect of a Bullworth moment might be very welcome. It is troubling that many would consider that the exception and not the rule, however.