Politico has a new contest challenging readers to come up with the best spin on the latest political tragedy. It's what the ecosystem has been waiting for, a chance to prove itself adept at Washington's most important skill.
Here's how the game works. Every Friday, Politico's Mike Allen includes SPIN THIS! (in the outlet's typically caps-heavy formulation) in his daily email among the dozens of important news items he's carefully culled (today's top three: a good sentence, Gabby Giffords' skydiving, an invitation to a Robert Gates book event). You send in your "take" on the "spin," and, ideally, are rewarded with seeing your title and, secondarily, name in the magazine and Playbook email.
For those unfamiliar, those emails are read everywhere in Washington. They serve as an actual guide for what the city (and its ancillary outposts around TV cameras in New York) will be dealing with for the next 12 hours. It is the country club newsletter of the establishment, though it's mostly read by ambitious visitors and surly waitstaff (like yours truly): lobbyists, staffers, lawyers, reporters, and so on.
Which is what makes SPIN THIS! (patent pending, probably) so skeevy. In some circles, the idea of "spinning" bad things to make them sound good is considered kind of tacky, a representation of what's wrong with D.C. Around the country club, though, it's a fun game! Let's see who is best at doing that thing that most Americans use as a pejorative shorthand for what makes Washington terrible.
So let's see who is. There have been four contests so far, not including today's "flash" SPIN THIS asking "what precise words" Governor Christie should have said "at the top of his 11 a.m. presser."
December 6: If you were Martin Bashir's PR adviser, what would you tell him to say to Sarah Palin?
Winning spin idea: Apologize.
Bashir, you may remember, indirectly suggested that something gross should happen to the former Alaska governor after she compared the national debt to slavery. The best spinner of that was Gene Grabowski, the executive vice president of … a crisis management firm. Which kind of seems like cheating.
Grabowski's advice: "[I]t’s important that an apology be followed by action. For example, volunteering time or giving a sizable donation to a project or cause related to the error." Give a big donation to a slavery project, Martin. The runner-up was a staffer from the Natural Resources Defense Council who suggested Bashir "cook a gourmet 12-course meal for Palin." Bashir's troublesome comments involved Palin eating human feces.
December 13: Should the White House have said anything about that selfie at Nelson Mandela's funeral?
Winning spin idea: Embrace it.
"Aren’t there REAL world events that need coverage?," Alan DeBaugh (with no occupation listed!) asked. Heather Sabharwal ("special adviser, U.S. Mint Office of Corporate Communications") suggested that White House spokesman Jay Carney compare the taking of a selfie to Mandela himself, who "engendered the best qualities of humanism: compassion, trust, respect. In the same vein, the President shared a moment with his fellow humans."
The winner was a "Playbook reader" named Jeff Bridges who recommended a White House Tumblr of selfies. He won, Mike Allen wrote, "for creativity."
December 20: What should Christie say about the bridge thing?
Winning spin idea: Make a fat joke.
Here was the joke that Rick Kronberg, the no-title guy who won, suggested Christie tell: "I was kind of enjoying this whole imbroglio. For the first time in my political career, I look small." (Christie is overweight.) He continued: "Once he says that, he should be honest." But the actual best answer was this one, from Steve Cohen in West Virginia (with typo left uncorrected):
The gvernor should paint the two Port Authority appointees as his Halderman and Erlichman, then have a bonfire of highway cones on the lawn of Drumthwacket!
Show that to anyone under 30 and ask them to translate it.
January 6: Rep. Trey Radel is back in Washington. What should he say?
Winning spin idea: Talk about coke.
Take it away, Rick Heiken:
Tell the whole story: No spin … just the bare-assed truth. No family portrait scene. Him in a chair in the home he almost wrecked telling how it all happened.
The winning spin is not to spin at all. Very War Games. Heiken also suggested that Radel focus on several key points, leading with "how was he introduced or attracted to the drug?" ("Well, I was at this club.")
Sarah Meyers, the federal affairs manager at Hallmark (yes, that Hallmark) offered the DC-est idea: "Recommend Rep. Trey Radel lobby Netflix for an appearance on House of Cards."
So. What do we learn from this? One, that "spin" is loosely enough defined in SPIN THIS! to include dad jokes. Two, that when you SPIN THIS you are basically just offering obvious advice. And three, that people who are good enough at spin to win a spin contest held by the voice of the Washington establishment are also smart enough to regularly withhold their titles from publication. Or that those titles don't merit inclusion because they aren't very "D.C." Fun game.