Gini Dietrich

What Alternative Facts Mean to the PR Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | January 24, 2017 | 
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Alternative FactsOn Saturday night, Danny Brown posted on Facebook:

I had a two hour workout at the gym today, followed by a kale salad. #alternativefact

I wrote:

You just made me snort.

He said:

Is that a fact or alternative fact?

I said:

That’s a fact. The alternative fact is you made me spit wine out my nose.

(Which totally would have been awesome, but it did not happen.)

And here we are…alternative facts has become a household phrase, literally overnight (and that is the correct use of literally).

The good news is it gives us so much fodder for Spin Sucks.

You see, Spin Sucks exists because people like Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer spin the truth and end up making the rest of us look bad.

Really bad.

The Spin of Sean Spicer

Here is a quick synopsis of what happened.

On Saturday afternoon, Sean Spicer—the White House press secretary—held an unannounced news conference to talk about a few points:

  • The Trump inauguration attracted “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.”
  • A reporter inaccurately tweeted that the bust of MLK was removed from the Oval Office.
  • As well, “photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall. This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall.  That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past the grass eliminated this visual.”
  • “We know that 420,000 people used the D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last inaugural.”

The Facts…and Alternative Facts

Here are the facts:

  • According to Nielsen data from Bloomberg, Trump’s inauguration drew 31 million viewers nationwide. “While that figure is greater than the TV draw for the inaugurations of Bill Clinton and both George H.W. and George W. Bush, it is still almost 11 million short of the record set by Ronald Reagan in 1981, and seven million short of Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.”
  • The reporter who inaccurately tweeted about the MLK immediately retracted, deleted the tweet, and apologized.
  • The white tarps were used at Obama’s 2013 inauguration because the crowds just four years earlier destroyed the grounds.
  • The Washington Post reports the D.C. Metro shows there were 550,000 total riders this past Friday, with 782,000 on Inauguration Day 2013.
  • Spicer’s figure of 317,000 matches a D.C. Metro tweet, which posted that figure as counted by 11 a.m., not for the entire day.
  • According to CNN, about 250,000 tickets were distributed for Trump’s inauguration.

But, it turns out facts—heck, data—just aren’t enough.

On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway sparred with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press.

Chuck took her to task about Spicer’s comments, to which she replied:

Don’t be so overly dramatic about it about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts about it.

He responded with:

Alternative facts? Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.

Masters of Deflection

Alternative facts are lies. Plain ol’ lies.

The kind of lies we all got in trouble for telling as kids.

The issue is Trump and his team are masters at deflection.

They have everyone in a tizzy about their lies to deflect from appointments and executive orders.

(Which I’m not going to get into because I don’t want to derail this into a political conversation.)

If they weren’t lying to Americans and using their powers for good, I would be super, super impressed.

I liken this to Pablo Escobar. That guy was freaking brilliant.

I mean, to get around the drug-sniffing dogs, he figured out how to get cocaine into paint.

He coated boats with his cocaine paint and steered them right into the U.S., without repercussion.

It’s super impressive…but evil as all get out.

If only he’d used his powers for good.

Likewise, the deflection of the White House is impressive…if only it were used for good.

Spin Sucks

The PR industry has always had a perception issue.

We are immediately thought of as spin doctors and liars.

I can vouch for every, single person who reads this blog.

You are not spin doctors or liars.

I am not a spin doctor or a liar.

No one on my team is a spin doctor or a liar.

But Washington and Hollywood have always made us look bad.

We have movies such as Wag the Dog and TV shows such as Sex & the City.

Those make us look bad and it’s always been a real fight to gain real credibility.

And now we have alternative facts.

Commit to Doing These Five Things

So what do we do?

There are several things we can each commit to doing:

  • Check the facts on anything before we share. Case in point, a friend shared a meme that said Trump copied a portion of his speech from The Bee Movie. As much as I wanted that to be true, I looked it up and it was not.
  • Educate our friends when they post alternative facts or fake news. In the situation above, I let my friend know the meme about The Bee Movie was false.
  • Have a spine and say no. A few years ago, a client whom I adore, asked us to pretend to be a journalist and call a governor’s office to get him to move on something. I have a great relationship with him, so it was easy to make fun of him when I said no, but that might not always be the case. We HAVE to have spines and know how to say no, when we’re asked to do something unethical.
  • Use critical thinking skills. We are all so absorbed with our way being the right way that we forget to use our critical thinking skills. If something seems false, it probably is. Do your due diligence, investigate, and think.
  • Pay for our news. This is something you’ll hear more about from me and others this year. If we pay for our news, the quality of reporting can only go up. Consider that, particularly in the line of work we’re in.

Now it’s your turn.

What would you add to this list of commitments we can each make?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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