Evaluation need not be problematic, but it is often hidden and abused, most notoriously in spin doctoring. The expression “spin doctor” seems to combine two metaphors. The first concerns putting the right spin on things—that is, presenting things in ways that make them look good or bad, depending on how one wants them to be perceived. The second concerns doctoring things up to accomplish this. Spin doctoring often involves trying to find the right way of labeling something.
A classic example comes from Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar (act III, scene i). After Brutus and others killed Caesar, Brutus announced, “So are we Caesar’s friends that have abridged his time of fearing death.” By re- describing his act in terms of a minor benefit to Caesar, Brutus tries to make people see his treacherous act of killing his friend as a generous act of doing his friend a favor!
Spin doctoring is still rampant in politics today. Referring to the Iraq war, those who favored it spoke of the “liberation” of Iraq, whereas those who opposed it called it an “invasion” or an “occupation.” Each label in- volves evaluation, so the disagreement over what to call it was really about how to evaluate it. This verbal dispute is not purely verbal, because the label can affect attitudes and behaviors by associating the Iraq war with good military actions (liberations) or bad military actions (invasions and occupations).
Often spin doctoring involves attributing questionable views or atti- tudes to opponents. Supporters of President Bush sometimes refer to his de- tractors as “the blame-America-first crowd” and describe their policies for getting out of Iraq as “cut and run.” These negative labels are applied even to policies, such as partial staged redeployment, that are far from cowardly in the way suggested by “cut and run.” Similarly, in 2006, conservative com- mentator David Brooks described opposition to Joe Lieberman’s campaign as a “liberal inquisition.” Stephen Colbert lampooned this label in a segment of “The Word” where he joked that, if incumbents like Lieberman continued to be attacked so harshly, then they would actually be forced to defend their records. Colbert concluded, “There is only one word for that—inquisition.” But the sidebar read “democracy.” Sometimes parody is the most effective response to spin doctoring.
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