Spraying perfume on dog turds

Let’s say that you meet people from Margo, the planet made famous by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut in his book “Breakfast of Champions.” The story of Zog from Margo, describes an acute case of miscommunication. It goes like this:

“A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer can be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing. Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golf club. (Vit 3).”

If you wanted to show the Margotians how Earthlings counteract the ravages of miscommunication, you could introduce them to a noble occupation, the type of which does not exist up there, 30 billion light-years from Guantanamo. These noble servants of ruling elites are known as “spin doctors” aka “reputation managers.” Their job is to make sure the Boss looks great, no-matter-what.

Now, it goes without saying that politicians need their spinner as much as any cricket team would — the sneaky, clever, attacking expert is put in place to bamboozle the opposition. Ex-UK PM Tony Blair had a spinner called Alastair Campbell. Remember Alastair? He disappeared once he became noisier than the guy who paid his salary.

Ms Hillary Clinton, now running for the job she once observed as her husband Bill’s sidekick, went all-out to get her reputation managed. She therefore hired an Internet expert (aka Online Political Operative, aka OPO) named Peter Daou– a known blogger who was called on the help save the gracious queen. Her opponent, Barack Obama, has an OPO named Joe Rospars (26), an online strategist. Peter Daou Googles 30300, while Joe Rospars Googles only 6140, but if you have any doubt as to who wins the OPO war, so far, go to YouTube to see the top-notch piece on Obama they punt – it has the Martin Luther king meme, and the JF Kennedy meme, and there’s sexy Scarlett Johansson with her own memes. Then check the Soprano spoof bit done for Hilary  — for me, Obama’s OPO is hands down winner.

History has its share of spin doctors

I had to go check my notes and, eventually, I found the lyrics of an election song sung by Frank Sinatra to the tune of his 1959 hit single, “High Hopes,” but with lyrics changed to cheer on the 1960 Democratic candidate, one JF Kennedy.

Mark Antony was a general, administrator, political and partner close friend of Gaius Julius Caesar. When Caesar took over as total ruler (‘dictator’) Antony became his right hand person, holding the title of ‘Master of the Horse’ (Magister Equitum) Antony served Caesar well, in war and through house-politics. When Caesar was assassinated Antony was forced to fend for himself and join the (very much alive) opposition forces. After leading a failed coup d’état, Antony committed suicide, as did his mistress, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt.

Marshal Michel Ney, aka the duke of Elchingen and Prince of Moskowa, aka “the bravest of the brave,” was Napoleon Bonaparte’s right hand man. Like Antony, Ney was a successful army office and served his country, and Napoleon, well. In another similarity to Antony, Ney was made “commander of the left wing” of Napoleon’s army, a position kept for the Commander in Chief’s most trusted lieutenants.

Ney was made one of the 12 Marshals appointed by Napoleon. While he supported Napoleon’s abdication as emperor, Ney remained a loyal Bonapartist and gave Napoleon his support as the French leader returned from the political limbo to take over France again. When Napoleon was defeated and sent to exile, Ney was executed as a traitor.

Today’s spinners keep their heads attached to their necks because they are professionals who are hired for their services, instead of dedicating their lives (sometimes literally) to the cause, as did Antony and Ney, Tony Blair’s Alastair Campbell, Robert Mugabe’s Jonathan Moyo and George Bush’s (and Bill Clinton’s, and others’) Frank Luntz, get paid for their work and loyalty. If they falter they resign, or get fired.  These days, suicideds and executions aren’t considered valid exit strategies.

Luntz is a fascinating character – maverick, PhD (politics) and business strategist per excellence, he is comfortable in both corporate shark tanks and government shady corridors of influence. His expertise is in “testing language and finding words that will help his clients sell their product or turn public opinion on an issue or a candidate.” Radical opinionsargue that Luntz had “made a brilliant career of spraying perfume on dog turds,” the phenomenon is known today as the “Frank Luntz Effect.”

Luntz is a user and an ardent supporter (some say, chief inventor) of Dial technology – a technology designed to gauge the emotional weight (positive or negative) behind uttered words. Dial technology is based on a group of people who is observed for immediate emotional reaction to video clips, sound-bites and lists of words. The ‘positive’ words (words that were accepted positively, emotionally) are then used in speeches, press releases etc. In an interviewwith PBS’ Frontline (Dec. 2003),  Luntz said: “It’s like an X-ray that gets inside your head, and it picks out every single word, every single phrase [that you hear], and you know what works and what doesn’t… The key to dial technology is that it’s immediate, it’s specific, and it’s anonymous.”

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