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12 April 2006


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Philip Young

The first recorded use of the term 'spin doctor' is normally identified as appearing in an article written by William Safire in the New York Times of October 21, 1984 peviewing a Reagan-Mondale US Presidential debate.
"Tonight at about 9.30, seconds after the ... debate ends a bazaar will suddenly materialise in the press room. A dozen men in good suits and women in silkdresses will circulate smoothly among reporters, spouting confident opinions. They won't be just press agents trying to import a favourable spin to a routine release. They'll be spin doctors, senior advisers to the candidates."
My source here was Key Concepts in Journalism Studies, by Bob Franklin et al (Sage, 2006).

Steven Noble

It would be very interesting to find an academic history of the origin of the term "spin" (Paul's concern) and of the term "spin doctor" (Philip's concern). I tried an Ebsco search, but nothing.

Personally, although it's often considered a taboo word in our industry, I find myself using the term "spin" to describe the actitivites of anyone (PR, journalist, politician, activitist, CEO...) whom I personally believe is being selective with the facts.

(Philip, if your text also discusses the origin of the term "spin", please sing out.)

Trevor Cook

Philip, could that mean that spin doctors are people who try to correct the media spin

Simon Collister

Trevor's explanation of Spin and Spin Doctor seems to make pefect logical sense... funny how for years we have had a negative connotation of SD when in fact simply looking closely at the term would have given us a fairly obvious explanation.

Philip Young

Bill Press in his book, Spin This!, suggests two origins - the long established usage that has its roots in weaving, spinning a yarn, and a relatively recent (US) one drawn from the idea of putting spin on a baseball pitch. As I said earlier, the first person to couple this with the word doctor was, apparently, Safire, and the application was initially limited to those who try to influence and reinterpret political messages. In some UK readings 'spin doctor' seems to be synonymous with the 'special advisers' (Jo Moore, Alastair Campbell) that characterised the rise of New Labour. From an academic perpective, Prof Betteke van Ruler of the University of Amsterdam prefers the term 'frame dctors', not as snappy but this conception certainly does apply equally to journalists as PRs. Maybe I will develop this idea on Mediations...

Trevor Cook

Yes Philip it would be good to tease this out some more.


You guys are probably immune, but this thread is hilarious. Really.
"Philip, could that mean that spin doctors are people who try to correct the media spin."

Trevor Cook

Well, James, from the point of the view of anyone who is regularly subject to the willful inaccuracies and just plain stupidity and incompetence of most journalists, its simply true. The main role of any PR person is to try and get their client's view into the media rather than the journalist's interpretation (spin) of that view.


"The main role of any PR person is to try and get their client's view into the media rather than the journalist's interpretation (spin) of that view."

trevor!!! you gotta be on Chaser!

Trevor Cook

Chaser - no way - they're not even funny. Norman Gunston was sooo much better. The chaser's 'jokes' are so obvious. BTW do you have any ideas to contribute?

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  • Trevorcook
  • I have worked in politics, public policy and strategic communications for over 30 years. I was recently awarded a doctorate in Australian politics at the University of Sydney. My thesis was on the (changing) relationship between the ALP and unions. I have been blogging since November 2003 and over the past decade I have written many articles on politics, public relations and social media for newspapers, magazines and websites. I love literature particularly John McGahern and James Joyce. The header photo is of the Clarence River taken before dawn at Ulmarra in 2012.


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