Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Spin Cycle

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald claims that the New South Wales Premier’s Chief Of Staff, Graeme Wedderburn, has criticized the media performance of the Premier, and his Cabinet colleagues. Apparently, Mr. Wedderburn addressed the Ministerial staffers whose job it is to guide their bosses through the jungle of public opinion and make them look good. Or at least, not so bad. It is apparently his opinion that our Premier and his colleagues would benefit in some training in how to handle the media.

He is quoted as saying this: “It's no secret most of cabinet are poor performers and that stays in this room.” That’s an absolute gem which is so contradictory that it borders on being an oxymoron. Really! If “it’s no secret”, why on earth is there a need for it to stay “in this room”? Obviously, the truly hilarious thing is that it didn’t stay in the room, but instead wound up in the pages of the Herald. That is, of course, if the report is accurate.

But wait a minute. If Mr. Wedderburn is such a keen proponent of manipulating public image, controlling the agenda, and influencing exactly what appears in the media, maybe this is part of his plan. Maybe he wants us to think of poor Nathan Rees as being a good bloke who is at the mercy of a hostile press and sadly ill equipped to deal with it. Maybe that’s the image he wants us to have, so that we might be more inclined to be sympathetic towards the Premier who has been handed the poison cup and the impossible challenge of getting re-elected in two years time. Yes, that would be a public relations masterstroke, and something of which any political media advisor could be proud to pull off. It’s positively Machiavellian.

It is all beginning to make sense now. Nathan Rees is seen by many as a nice enough bloke, and his direct manner is appealing. But so often he appears to be caught out by events beyond his reach, such as misbehaving ministers, or embarrassing power failures, or faulty public transport, or… well the list goes on. The Premier always responds with a sincere determination that would be hard to fake, and an increasing sense of frustration at having to pick up the pieces from the mess made by his predecessors. How clever then to manipulate his image this way to portray him as being “bad” at managing spin. If the Premier really is bad at spin, doesn’t that mean he is good at telling the truth? Or is that also just more spin? No wonder nobody believes in anything anymore.

The greatest irony of all is that the best way for the government to enjoy a good public image is and always has been to actually serve the public interest well. Forget about telling everybody how good you are, and just get on with doing the job that is expected of you. Actually deliver better hospitals, better transport, better schools, and the public image will take care of itself. Relying on spin, as the government has for so long, is merely a symptom of a government which is incapable of actually doing anything properly.

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