The Truth on Government Spin

The lowdown on government spin child's spinning toy top press PR public relations news CBS/AP

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano is getting hammered because her first response to the "Undie-bomber" fiasco was that "the system worked."

We shouldn't have been surprised. Sure, she looks a little silly now that the facts are dribbling out. But she was just following the modern bipartisan, public relations template in this age of information management.

First, play down the problem. Second, emphasize what did not go wrong, assure us that those in charge are "investigating," and most important; emphasize no one in any position of responsibility is at fault.

It's not lying, but it's not exactly the whole truth - certainly not the whole story. All she left out was that part about asking us to respect the privacy of those involved.

[Oh, I'm sorry. I got the government spin mixed up with the Tiger spin.]

Here is the difference: Tiger can hire as many people as he wants to make his excuses. It may do him no good, but it's his money to spend as he wishes.

When government officials insult us with spin, they are doing it on our dime, which is supposed to be used to operate the government, not to hold news conferences to tell us what a fine job people on the public payroll are doing.

As we learned during Katrina, self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation; it makes it worse, because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says.

Real security is built on trust in the government. That requires truth, which should be the beginning of government presentations, not the fallback position.
  • Bob Schieffer On Twitter»

    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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