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May 25th 2009 print

John Izzard

Spin, spun, splat!

If there were such a thing as the Eurovision Spin Contest, Australia’s Kevin Rudd would have won it hands down. Nobody in Australia, but nobody, does a wall-of-sound like our Kevin Rudd.

About 285,000 viewers watched Kevin Rudd’s now famous interview with Tony Jones on the ABC’s Lateline programme on Monday the 18th of May, whereby the Prime Minister of Australia spun himself truly senseless. If there were such a thing as the Eurovision Spin Contest, Australia’s Kevin Rudd would have won it hands down. Nobody in Australia, but nobody, does a wall-of-sound like our Kevin Rudd. 

What with Kevin as lead singer; his press chief, Lachlan Harris on drums; his youthful chief of staff, Alister Jordan on guitar and Labor’s Hawker Britton (Spin Inc.) as the back-up chorus, this is a spin-band that would have beaten the UK’s Tony Blair for the world-of-spin championship. 

Exactly who came up with the breathtaking notion that an Australian Treasurer could deliver a Budget speech without uttering the dreaded words “deficit” or “billion” in the same paragraph — let alone the same night— needs a hearty round of applause. Very, very clever. 

But the really clever performance was left to the PM. Now his was the black-art of spin — presented to perfection. Tony Jones tried five times to get our leader to utter the words “billion”. The best he could get was “300”. The nation laughed. Kevin Rudd just looked stupid. 

There was a moment when Tony Blair’s spin turned the British public against him and terminal decay set in. That was the official “spin” surrounding the Weapons of Mass Destruction episode whereby Blair and his spin doctor-in-chief, Alistair Campbell, attempted to destroy the reputation of Dr Kelly, a leading WMD expert. This exercise in political spin resulted in Dr Kelly taking his own life. Blair never recovered, politically. 

Kevin Rudd’s moment might just have been 18th of May 2009. 

The 285,000 ABC viewers that saw Rudd’s spin, live-to-air, was nothing to the massive media coverage that the little interview generated. On a later Lateline programme, Michael Costello attempted to “spin” the PM’s spin as just “media spin” and brushed off the whole event as unimportant, but his fellow guest on the Tony Jones show, Michael Kroger, would have none of it. Michael Costello was Kim Beazley’s former chief of staff. (Now there’s a successful political team for you.) 

Just how Kevin Rudd restores his creditability is going to be interesting, as the next federal election is on the horizon. Honesty and believability may just become the election issue. Lying by omission, is lying, which ever way you look at it, and the omission of the words “billion” and “deficit” was a dirty big fib. And this fib became worse as the flustered looks on the faces of Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan appeared on TV screens around the country. 

One of the problems with the old non-digital TV studio cameras of the past, was the difficulty of the dreaded “red face” look. Studio make-up could not always hide the blush when politicians were cornered by an awkward question. This week even the highly controllable digital studio-cameras of the ABC revealed the discomfort of Rudd and Swan as they took off in full spin. 

One definition of “spin”, as against PR, is that “spin” involves disingenuous, deceptive tactics that are highly manipulative. This definition may get PR off the hook, but only just. Another “spin” activity involves the manipulation of the media in the delay of bad news or awkward information (for the politicians) so the story gets “buried” until a day when more sensational news will hide its impact. Not a good look when exposed in the press. 

Today Tony Blair, with his spin doctors Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson well gone, is an international “statesman” with little credibility. Kevin Rudd may well ponder on this. Spin has become an ugly word and the public are on to it.