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Spin and how it works

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by Michael Johnson

Title

Spin and how it works

Description
In this lesson, students pick up where they left off in propaganda techniques as well as the concept of “spin” and discuss how politicians use these techniques to sway public opinion. Students will identify propaganda used in past and current ads and create their own advertisement using an assigned propaganda technique. Students will also examine how politicians spin current events to suit their own agendas and will assume the role of a prominent political figure’s communication representative who is responsible for spinning news events.

Objectives

  • Students will identify what is spin and in what ways to politicians employ this technique.
  • Students will be able to explain how a candidate’s party affiliation and agenda inform their public comments.
  • Students will be able to show how spin affect the media and the way it reports news.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate how citizens decipher spin to make an educated decision on issues and reported news.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).

Length

100 minutes

Materials / resources

Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Internet access

Panetta homework

Assessment

Put a political spin on things

Spin reflection chart

Computers/laptops (day 2)

Lesson step-by-step Day 1

Warm-up

Exploring “Spin”

Step 1 — Warm up (2 minutes)

As a warm-up, write the following on the board for students to read as they enter class:

  • As of next month, condom dispensing machines will be installed in both male and female bathrooms.

Step 2 — Small group work and debrief (18 minutes)

Divide students into small groups and tell them to write a short blurb announcing this news in the school newspaper from the perspective of one of the following groups (group assignments can be repeated if you have a larger class):

  • Group 1: School administrators who are concerned with teen pregnancy numbers on the rise among younger-age girls.
  • Group 2: Student health advocacy group called “Making Wiser Choices.”
  • Group 3: A student faith-based organization.
  • Group 4: Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO).
  • Group 5: A group of pregnant teens who favor the installation of the machines in male and female bathrooms.
  • Group 6: A male group of young fathers (Young Fathers Making a Stand) who favor installation of the machines.

Give students 5-10 minutes to compile their news blurb then have each group share their blurb with class. Discuss:

  • In what ways did our blurbs differ?
  • Even though we were all responding to the same topic, why did our blurbs differ? (They were told from people with differing perspectives and agendas).
  • In what ways does this happen in the media today?

Step 3 — Debrief and second practice (20 minutes)

Explain to students that when newsworthy events occur, politicians often utilize “spin,” which is a heavily biased portrayal in one’s own favor of an event or situation. Politicians will provide their point of view or interpretation of the event in a way that is compatible with their own agenda to sway public opinion. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. Politicians are often accused of spin by commentators and political opponents when they produce a counter argument or position.

  1. Give students another scenario to report on, such as:

This year, prom will not be held on the school premises. Rather than a DJ, a band has been hired to play. Ticket prices will cost $50 extra.

  1. Again, in their small groups, students will write a short blurb for their town’s paper regarding prom from their perspective:
  • Group 1: Parent Prom Planning Committee, who likes the changes since they want to make the prom a very exclusive, high-class event in hopes of attracting wealthier families to the school system.
  • Group 2: “Students for Students,” a student lead group who is concerned less wealthy students will not be able to attend prom due to the changes.
  • Group 3: School administrators, who hope cut back on prom cost while charging more; this will create extra revenue for updating the library collection.
  • Group 4: “Rock Till’ You Drop,” the band that has been hired to play the prom.  This is your first gig and you hope it will be the start of a big local career.
  • Group 5: “DJ Jazzy Jake and Company,” the DJ who was not rehired to play this year’s prom.
  1. After a few minutes, again have students share their blurbs and discuss:
  • How did news of the same event change when given by people with different agendas?
  • Can you think of any events, either current or historical, that have been ‘spun’ by politicians?
  • Is it ethical to spin a situation in one’s favor, or towards one’s own agenda?
  • When dealing with politics, do you think it is possible to say something neutral about a political situation?  

Step 4 — Read and discuss (10 minutes)

Have students link to the opinion article “American Political Spin Cycle is Out of Control.” (While the article is from 2001, its subject maintains relevance.) After students have read, discuss as a class:

  • Laura Weiss states, “What politicians write and say dizzies the public’s mind on a grand scale” and that spin has gotten “out of control.”  Do you agree or disagree and why?
  • How can political spin be deceiving?
  • Why do you think Weiss calls the White House (regardless of the party in power) “America’s largest spin producing institution”?
  • Who is responsible for uncovering the validity or underlying truth (if any) beneath spin?
  • Weiss says that the White House attempts to keep “scandalous news” from breaking on the TV. Is this a violation of freedom of the press in your opinion? Should there be limitations to what the press can report on? Explain.
  • What can the public do regarding campaign spin?

Lesson step-by-step Day 2

Practicing Political “Spin”

Step 1 — Brainstorm and assignment overview (10 minutes)

Have students brainstorm recent events that have been in the local, national and/or international news that they think are very susceptible to spin. Then, divide the class into small groups, assigning each group a current political figure. Give the group the attached assignment explanation, “Put a Political Spin on Things.” Go over the assignment sheet together, which explains to students that they are to imagine they are their assigned politician’s communications team. They must first research the views of the political figure assigned to them. Students will need computers with Internet access; sites such as ontheissues.org will help students understand the views and voting records of politicians. Visit one of the following two web pages:

Instructor may have students select their current home state or choose any state they wish. Once students become familiar with their chosen/assigned political figure, they will attempt to spin a recent news event.

Step 2 — Small group work clarification and work (35 minutes)

Allow students to ask questions, then instruct them to work on their statement. After groups are finished, bring everyone back together and give each student the attached Spin Reflection Sheet. Have each group present their work, first giving a summary of who they work for (the political figure chosen/assigned to them), their figure’s political party, and the figure’s views/political agenda. Then, groups should share their statements that have been prepared with spin. All students should take notes on their reflection sheet as they listen to each group’s presentation. After all student have presented, discuss:

  • What were the major differences between the talking points of political figures? Did their party affiliation make a difference? Explain.
  • What makes a successful “spin”?
  • For any given event, is there a single truth about what happened or does it always depend on who is telling the story and how they tell it?  Explain.
  • Is spin deceitful in your opinion?  Is it possible to eradicate spin?  Explain.
  • How does a candidate’s political agenda as connected to their party, and the way he/she communicates, shape our political system?
  • Do you use spin when discussing events in your own life? If so, in what ways and why?
  • If you were a politician, is there anything that you would consider to be off-limits to spin? Why or why not?
  • As responsible citizens, how do we make an educated decision on which candidate to vote for when there is so much spin and propaganda at play? What questions do we need to ask ourselves when viewing, hearing, and reading campaign ads or candidate response blurbs?

Step 3 — Homework (5 minutes)

Assign the attached homework assignment in which students respond to Leon E. Panetta’s opinion of spin and how it is affecting America.

Assessment

Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations Revisit
Participation in three classroom activities
Student understands the concept of spin.
Student understands how certain groups use spin for their own benefit/agenda.
Student successfully “spins” a fictional news event that fits his/her candidate’s political agenda/platform.

Resources

Put a Political Spin on Things

  • Your group has been hired as the communications team for a prominent political figure assigned to you.
  • As new employees, you must first learn about the views and political agenda of your politician by reading information from the aforementioned “ontheissues.org” web links.
  • Pay close attention to this person’s political party, current and past positions, and his/her fundamental political beliefs and/or agenda. Together, discuss and summarize this information and be prepared to present to your classmates.
  • Once you are familiar with this figure’s political perspective, your first public relations assignment is to comment on the following situation. Create a 5-10 sentence statement that “spins” the following situation in a way that encompasses your figure’s point of view and supports his/her political agenda:

Ten U.S. soldiers were killed and 14 more were wounded, along with scores of other soldiers from NATO countries, in action during fighting yesterday with ISIS forces in eastern Syria.

  • Remember, the spin you put on the statements you make to the media on behalf of your political employer will affect his/her status in the public eye and could possibly affect his/her election or re-election during the next cycle. In other words, this affects YOUR employment, both current and future prospects.

Spin Reflection Chart

Political figure Party Affiliation Beliefs/Agenda Summary

Name ______________________________________________

 

Homework

Read the following excerpt from Leon Panetta’s article, “The Price of ‘Spin’ Versus the ‘Truth,’” and answer the following questions that follow:

Huey Long—the infamous Louisiana politician of the Thirties—once promised a certain constituency in an election campaign that he would deliver a public works project to them if elected. When he failed to deliver the project after he was elected, he was asked why. His reply: “I lied!”

Long’s admission was brutally frank. It was the kind of honesty that worked well for Long. Why is it so difficult to work for many of those in public office today?

The typical strategy is to tell people what consultants and pollsters say the public wants to hear and when the facts prove differently, to keep repeating the same words in the hope that repetition somehow will make it right. But there is a terrible price to be paid for this political “spin” game—the lost trust of the people.

As our parents did, we try to teach our children to be truthful. Our very democracy is dependent on a strong relationship of trust between the people and their leaders. But in recent years, whether because of lost values or the ease and speed of modern communications, a bad example is being set for future generations by those who tell people the political message rather than what is really happening.

This may provide some short-term political gains, but ultimately, the nation pays a terrible price. Huey Long decided to tell the simple truth when he said he lied in his campaign. It might just be that telling the simple truth can work to restore both our politics and our democracy. Lord knows, it’s worth a try.

From “The Price of ‘Spin’ Versus the ‘Truth,’” by Leon E. Panetta, The Monterrey County Herald, Sept. 9, 2001. http://www.panettainstitute.org/programs/leon-panetta-commentaries/commentaries-from-2001/the-price-of-spin-versus-the-truth/

 

Respond to the following questions with your thoughts (Use the back, if necessary)

  1. Panetta says, “… honesty … worked well for Long. Why is it so difficult to for many of those in public office today?” Do you agree that many people in public office are dishonest? Why do you think public officials find it difficult to be honest?
  2. Do you agree with Panetta when he says that due to the “spin game,” people have lost trust in government and politics? Why? What evidence makes you think this?
  3. Panetta also states, “… a bad message is being set for future generations by those who tell people the political message rather than what is really happening.” How do you interpret this comment? Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
  4. The [spin] may provide some short-term political gains, but ultimately, the nation pays a terrible price.” What terrible price do you think Panetta is implying?

Works Cited

ChangingMinds.org. (2017, May 21). Name-calling. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from ChangingMinds.org: http://changingminds.org/techniques/propaganda/name_calling.htm

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib: http://studylib.net/doc/8877067/spin—database-of-k

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib: http://studylib.net/doc/8877067/spin—database-of-k

Panetta, L. E. (2001, September 9). The Price of ‘Spin’ versus the ‘Truth’. Retrieved from The Monterrey County Herald: http://www.panettainstitute.org/programs/leon-panetta-commentaries/commentaries-from-2001/the-price-of-spin-versus-the-truth/

Weiss, L. (2001, September 10). American Political Spin Cycle Is Out of Control. Retrieved from The Utah Daily Chronicle Archive: http://archive.dailyutahchronicle.com/2001/09/10/american-political-spin-cycle-is-out-of-control/

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