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Spin Meister

Hartford Courant Editorial

July 13, 2008

As the original Gospel writers were well aware, when you want to spread good news, it helps to have good news. Otherwise, you risk the loss of trust. It's a point the authors of "Spreading the Gospel of Perez" might want to consider.

The "Perez Gospel" title was the first bullet point in a seven-page media strategy prepared at Hartford city hall last year to buff and burnish the administration of Mayor Eddie A. Perez. The PowerPoint document was made public as part of a freedom of information request by The Courant.

Most government and corporate entities have media strategies, and they often tell us something about the organization. This one tells us that the Perez administration is arrogant. It makes reference to television coverage of the mayor's accomplishments for people with "short attention spans." Is that what the Perez people think of the citizens they work for?

Another enumerated strategy is to "Develop more 'spin' opportunities." They've done this, but not always to their benefit. For example, Mr. Perez held a press conference in January to announce that in 2007, crime in the city had fallen to its lowest level in 30 years. This was technically true but hugely misleading. The reduction was mostly due to fewer stolen license plates, thanks to a change in state law requiring that motor vehicle registration stickers be put inside windshields instead of on license plates.

In the area of violent crime, robberies and aggravated assaults were down in 2007, but rapes and murders were up. The 33 homicides were the most since the gang violence of the mid-1990s. Mr. Perez's protestations that crime is down ring hollow, yet he keeps beating the same drum. In what might have set the record for ill-timed, tone-deaf spin-doctoring, the press release following the brutal mugging of former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Carbone last month stressed that crime was down.

It continues. Earlier this month, city hall issued a press release saying Mr. Perez had signed, sealed and delivered a lease giving control of the Old State House to the state for 99 years. That was fine, except the version of the lease he signed was one the state had not agreed to.

Even to those of us with short attention spans, this is an odd way to do business.

There's a fine line between presenting something in its best light or in a false light. Mr. Perez and some other government officials would be well advised to adopt a media strategy of telling the simple, unvarnished truth. It may seem radical, but it will work better than the Perez gospel has.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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