DEAR BILL

An anonymous correspondent offers words of comfort to Dr Beaver

 

Dear Bill,

I HOPE YOU will forgive me for writing to you, but I do so in sympathy for the buffeting you have been receiving in New Directions, simply for doing the job you are paid to do. I know, for I have been there - in fact, without breaking confidentiality, I was actually one of Tone's boys at Number 10. I say 'was' because I am now beginning to face up to my addiction. Yes, I am now a struggling member of SODA, as we call our organisation - Spin-Doctors Anonymous. I don't claim that I'm cured for I know that there is no cure. But I am facing it, as I must, from day to day.

I still feel that old buzz of excitement, the rush of adrenalin, when I read what is clearly a good spin - as I did when I read The Times piece headlined 'Hope tells Church to avoid the "sin of spin".' Bill, I have to say that I thought it was a brilliant touch of yours to put a spin on a story about an Archbishop attacking spin! How dare he call it a sin? Ought not the Church to recognise that we are not sinners, but human beings with a disabling addiction? We need loving support rather than rejection, and I am writing to the Bishop of Edinburgh to urge him to speak up for us. Which brings me to the main reason why I'm writing to you.

In the story, you yourself are quoted as saying, 'I do not consider myself a spin-doctor. It makes me really angry when people refer to me as a spin doctor.' I have to tell you, Bill, that one of the questions we who are members of SODA are encouraged to ask ourselves is this: 'Do I get angry when people call me a spin doctor?' You clearly would answer, 'Yes'. Perhaps I could ask you some of the other questions on our test list. For instance, 'Do I need to spin before breakfast?' No, you think not? Well, what about that early morning phone call, when an eager voice says, 'This is the BBC Today programme. We've just had a report that Bishop So-and-so has said....' Even before she has finished the sentence, are you not phrasing the denial in your mind? You know in your heart that the bishop almost certainly said nothing of the sort because he has been forbidden to make any comment whatsoever on political or moral issues. After all, what is a communications department for if it is not about CONTROL? But would you not admit to just the tiniest nagging hope that the bishop really has said something, something on which there was an opportunity for a delicious spin?

Ask yourself too: 'Do I ever strain the truth for a good story?' And here I must offer you a sincere apology and personal confession. This too is something that we in SODA must do if we are to conquer our addiction. Do you recall a story which The Sunday Times ran claiming that the Prime Minister had turned down both names for the Bishop of Liverpool sent to him by the Crown Appointments Commission? In The Times on the following day, a 'Church House spokesman' was quoted as saying that there was no truth in the story. It then went on to report that a 'Number 10 source' had confirmed the story and embellished it. I have to tell you now: I was that 'Number 10 source'. I had just had a crisis of conscience and knew that I must challenge my addiction head-on. So I risked my career, told the truth, and that evening went to my first SODA gathering - the Odds and Sodas, as we call ourselves.

You really have no idea what a release it was to stand up before that little circle of fellow sufferers and say boldly: 'Yes, brothers and sisters, I am a spin doctor.' I was in tears as first they applauded me and then one by one embraced me. I can hardly put into words the sense of liberation that I felt. After that, it was a long haul and I know that I shall never be cured. But I do have a new life and, believe me, it is worth the effort.

Bill, I cannot tell you what to do, nor is it for me to judge whether or not you really are a spin-doctor. I simply ask you, nay, urge you, to do as I have done, to bite the bullet and to begin to ask the questions. I wish you well.

I am,
Yours very sincerely and anonymously,

Alistair

 

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