Spin. Substance. Strategy.


(Listen to the latest Dick Staub podcast today: Where was God: On 911?

In contemporary life influence is achieved through spin not substance.

People who spin well are influential, but are either hypocritical, in that they know the truth but obfuscate it, or are stupid, in that they believe their own untruths.

People who are spun easily are either cynical, in that they know the truth, but are entertained by obfuscation of truth instead of outraged by it, or they are stupid, in that they believe the spin.

Spin is what makes today’s world go around.

It is more likely the human race will die of the internal corrosion caused by spin then by external threats like war or natural disaster.

These thoughts occurred to me as I read a fascinating analysis of Osama Bin Ladens PR victory over President Bush, and as I reflected on a meeting in New York planning a gathering for the “influential” in the media.

In John Tierney’s piece, Osama’s Spin Lessons, he reports that:

1) Osama is winning the spin war: “Somewhere, Osama bin Laden must be smiling. Or at least he will be whenever his couriers deliver the next batch of press clippings. Once again he has beaten America at an American game: public relations. He may be sitting powerlessly in a cave, but his image is as scary as ever. He doesn’t even have to cut a new video. He released an old one last week, the equivalent of a fading musician putting out a greatest-hits album, only this one’s getting played every hour.”

2) Osama is winning the spin war despite his strategic blunders and actual losses and setbacks: “As an act of war, the attack on Sept. 11 was a blunder by Al Qaeda, and not merely because of the counterattack that destroyed Al Qaeda’s training camps and ousted the Taliban. It also alienated former jihadist allies in the Arab world, and caused a rift within Al Qaeda.”

3) Osama is winning the spin war for two reasons:

First, “bin Laden knows something the Bush administration hasn’t figured out: You don’t actually have to be the strong horse. You just have to look stronger. You can be weak, you can be pummeled in a fight, but as long as your opponent looks more scared than you, you can save face by simply declaring victory¢â‚¬¦ bin Laden knew his P.R. Al Qaeda wasn’t a serious military threat to America, but it could play one on television. As Al Qaeda’s losses mounted and America recovered from the attack, bin Laden and his cohorts didn’t let the facts get in the way of their campaign to promote fear (and themselves). They hid in caves and proclaimed themselves champions.”

Second, “America, meanwhile, accentuated the negative. Instead of declaring victory against terrorists after routing the Taliban and sending bin Laden into hiding, it invaded Iraq, reinvigorating Al Qaeda with a new tool for recruiting. Instead of putting the terrorist risk in perspective, Bush (with the full cooperation of Democrats and the press) set an impossible standard for making America safe. “We’re on the offense against the terrorists on every battlefront,” Bush said last week, “and we’ll accept nothing less than complete victory.” When you define victory that way, when you treat one attack from a disorganized band of fanatics as a menace to civilization, you’ve doomed yourself to defeat and caused more damage than they could.

Now about my meeting in New York. There is a wonderful movement sweeping through the media arts world that focuses on “unity-humility-prayer.” Starting in London with a group called Artisan, it has spread to NYC, San Francisco, Hollywood, Johannesburg and other media centers. I support this movement, but it will succeed only to the extent it recognizes the subtle “spin” factor woven into the predominant current premise about contemporary media culture.

The premise is that the media and entertainment arts are the most important and influential global forces on the planet and that the people in them are therefore, the most important and influential global forces on the planet.

This view is widely shared and is of course, spin, spun by the media itself.

There is built into this premise, by implication, the notion that if Jesus wanted to influence the world today, he would, almost of necessity, enter the media. However, there is nothing in the story of Jesus that indicates God’s dependence on our notions of power. Jesus was born in a non-strategic, powerless city in a country similarly unimportant by the world’s standards. He concentrated his efforts provincially, locally and personally. By message and example Jesus called his followers to change themselves not the world and while he called a few to leave their nets and follow him, he encouraged most new converts to stay put–to “bloom where they were” planted. Global influence would come as every disciple lived out their faith in daily life, as their travels took them into the world, and through apostles, specifically sent outside their local region and into the broader world.

We should pray for people in the media and God knows they need more unity-humility and prayer. But telling people who need humility that they are” the most important and influential global forces on the planet,” hardly seems like a good opener if the aim is humility. And it is not true. They are no more strategically important to God than the mother of six in Bangladesh, the baker on Lopez Island Washington, the public school teacher in Red Hook Brooklyn, the Maasai tribesman in Africa, the refugee in a UN camp in Sudan or the fisherman in Laos or a Jewish carpenter in Nazareth.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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