The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday February 6th

`Spin Doctor' Tells of Time At White House

Davis, the author of the book "Truth to Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself: Notes From My White House Education," served as special counsel to President Clinton from December 1996 until February 1998.

The book chronicles Davis' interactions with the media during investigations surrounding Clinton's campaign fund-raising tactics.

Davis began his lecture in Carroll Hall by giving audience members a brief explanation of governmental jargon. He said "spin" is a word used to describe information leaked from the White House and that there could be both good and bad spin.

"A bad spin is something that we have all seen," he said. "It happens when a representative for a politician puts out half of the truth to the reporter in order to get a positive story by hiding the bad half."

But Davis acknowledged that sooner or later, reporters are going to find the bad facts.

"There is a bottling-up process to stop the reporter from writing stories -- of course this never works," he said.

Davis said the best way to leak information to the public is to give all the correct facts from the beginning, through what he called a predicate story. "In a predicate story, you get a reporter to write a comprehensive story with all the facts -- good and bad -- in one spot, so there's no new news," he said. "The best way to kill a bad political story is to make it old news."

He admitted that this belief did not make him popular in the White House and that he was often called a traitor for giving information to the press.

When asked if manipulation goes on between the White House and the press, Davis responded with powerful affirmation. "I can manipulate the way a news organization plays, writes and treats a political story," he said. "My job was to keep the story in perspective and away from hype and excess."

Davis said the most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with the media is that you cannot ignore the obvious facts.

Instead, Davis said to create good spin by arguing an interpretation of the facts that will at least make them less negative. "As long as I maintain my dedication to the truth and show all the facts, in the long run my predicate will have balance and fairness," he said. "The public can make their own judgment."

Davis also said the interaction between journalists and informants involves healthy tension. "The fragile relationship between the source and the reporter is based on mutual trust," he said.

Journalism Professor Ruth Walden said it was important for students and the general public to know how the government interacts with the media. "This is a phenomenal opportunity to get insight about what really goes on in the ultimate seat of power."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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