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Alternative Facts” Will Be Kellyanne Conway’s PR Legacy


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Kellyanne Conway’s “altern­at­ive facts” will be her PR legacy.

The term “altern­at­ive facts” was coined by US President Donald Trump’s coun­sel­lor Kellyanne Conway. 

Kellyanne Conway and her "alternative facts."
Kellyanne Conway and her “altern­at­ive facts.”

Conway was attempt­ing to explain why a lie was­n’t a lie — when told by the Trump administration.

It’s a große Lüge.

Here we go:

A Dangerous Turn of Phrase

Anyone can utter a stu­pid phrase in pub­lic, espe­cially under pres­sure from tough report­ers. As PR pro­fes­sion­als, should­n’t we cut a fel­low prac­ti­tion­er some slack?

Conway did more than say some­thing wrong on one occasion:

After Trump’s inaug­ur­a­tion, Conway was embroiled in a series of con­tro­ver­sies: using the phrase “altern­at­ive facts” to describe fic­ti­tious and dis­proven attend­ance num­bers for Trump’s inaug­ur­a­tion; speak­ing mul­tiple times of a “Bowling Green mas­sacre” that nev­er occurred; and claim­ing that Michael Flynn had the full con­fid­ence of the pres­id­ent hours before he was dis­missed. Members of Congress from both parties called for an invest­ig­a­tion of an appar­ent eth­ics viol­a­tion after she pub­licly endorsed com­mer­cial products asso­ci­ated with the pres­id­ent’s daugh­ter, Ivanka Trump. In June 2019, the US Office of Special Counsel recom­men­ded that Conway be fired for “unpre­ced­en­ted” mul­tiple viol­a­tions of the Hatch Act of 1939.“
Source: Wikipedia 1Kellyanne Conway. (2023, December 14). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​K​e​l​l​y​a​n​n​e​_​C​o​n​way

It’s not like we’re mak­ing a hen from a feath­er here. Conway’s beha­viour is deliberate. 

Alternative facts” is a dan­ger­ous turn of phrase — bor­der­ing on fascism.

Read also: How To Fight Populism

Alternative Facts” is Newspeak

In his fam­ous nov­el Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a new lan­guage favoured by the min­ions of total­it­ari­an powers. 

Orwell named it Newspeak.

Newspeak is the fic­tion­al lan­guage of Oceania, a total­it­ari­an super­state that is the set­ting of the 1949 dysto­pi­an nov­el Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. In the nov­el, the Party cre­ated Newspeak  to meet the ideo­lo­gic­al require­ments of Ingsoc (English Socialism) in Oceania. Newspeak is a con­trolled lan­guage of sim­pli­fied gram­mar and restric­ted vocab­u­lary designed to lim­it the indi­vidu­al’s abil­ity to think and artic­u­late “sub­vers­ive” con­cepts such as per­son­al iden­tity, self-expres­sion and free will. Such con­cepts are crim­in­al­ized as thoughtcrime since they con­tra­dict the pre­vail­ing Ingsoc ortho­doxy.“
Source: Wikipedia 2Newspeak. (2023, December 8). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​N​e​w​s​p​eak

It does­n’t mat­ter if someone tries to shut down the oppos­i­tion by scream­ing “fake news” or “words are viol­ence.” They’re extrem­ist battle cries of totalitarians.

Such con­cepts are man­u­fac­tured by fac­tions who can­not stom­ach being ques­tioned, thus enfor­cing can­cel cul­ture, which seems to be the new black in today’s media landscape. 

Oxford Dictionaries even named “post-truth” Word of the Year in 2016.

The Hostile Media Effect

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The Hostile Media Effect

Fake news! Alternative facts! Do you think that the news media is biased against your beliefs? Well, they might be. And they might also not be.

Researchers have found that indi­vidu­als tend to see the news media as biased against them — even when it’s not:

The hos­tile media effect […] is a per­cep­tu­al the­ory of mass com­mu­nic­a­tion that refers to the tend­ency for indi­vidu­als with a strong preex­ist­ing atti­tude on an issue to per­ceive media cov­er­age as biased against their side and in favour of their ant­ag­on­ists’ point of view.”
Source: Wikipedia 3Hostile media effect. (2022, October 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​H​o​s​t​i​l​e​_​m​e​d​i​a​_​e​f​f​ect

Are we para­noid? Do we see bias in the news media that isn’t there? In short: Yes.

The hos­tile media effect does­n’t imply that the media is nev­er biased. Still, sci­ence shows that oppos­ing groups often regard the same art­icles as against them and favour their opponents.

The exist­ence of the hos­tile media effect is sci­en­tific­ally well-estab­lished, but we still don’t know pre­cisely why it persists:

The hos­tile media per­cep­tion, the tend­ency for par­tis­ans to judge mass media cov­er­age as unfa­vor­able to their own point of view, has been vividly demon­strated but not well explained. This con­trast bias is intriguing because it appears to con­tra­dict a robust lit­er­at­ure on assim­il­a­tion biases — the tend­ency to find inform­a­tion more sup­port­ive, rather than more opposed, to one’s own pos­i­tion. […] con­tent eval­u­ations based on per­ceived influ­ence on one­self vs influ­ence on a broad­er audi­ence sug­ges­ted that the hos­tile media per­cep­tion may be explained by per­ceived reach of the inform­a­tion source.”
Source: Journal of Communication 4Gunther, A.C. and Schmitt, K. (2004), Mapping Boundaries of the Hostile Media Effect. Journal of Communication, 54: 55 – 70.

Research sug­gests that the primary driver could be fear of oppon­ents gain­ing in strength, and the hos­tile media effect could be seen as a psy­cho­lo­gic­al defence mechanism.

Learn more: The Hostile Media Effect: How We Demonise the News Media

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

Kellyanne Conway’s PR Legacy

The US pres­id­ency under Donald Trump sure has made its mark in more than one way:

If you use his­tory and philo­sophy as a guide, it’s easy to see par­al­lels between Trump’s words and those of the most reviled fas­cists in his­tory. That scares me and should scare you too,” says Yale University philo­sophy pro­fess­or Jason Stanley.

Thanks to Kellyanne Conway, we can now add yet anoth­er Newspeak concept to our post­mod­ern vocabulary.

Alternative facts” will become Conway’s defin­it­ive PR legacy.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please con­sider shar­ing my pub­lic rela­tions blog with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. If you have ques­tions (or want to retain my PR ser­vices), please con­tact me at jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: The Stoic PR Professional

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The Stoic PR Professional

I’m inspired by Stoicism — and intrigued by the idea of trans­lat­ing clas­sic­al Stoic vir­tues (wis­dom, cour­age, justice, tem­per­ance) and apply­ing them to pub­lic relations:

The Wisdom Pitch

A Stoic is someone who trans­forms fear into prudence, pain into trans­form­a­tion, mis­takes into ini­ti­ation, and desires into under­tak­ing.”
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Tell PR stor­ies of how organ­isa­tions can be wise and over­come obstacles that have stopped oth­ers in their tracks. Convey PR mes­sages on how to apply wis­dom, know­ledge, and experience.

The Courage Pitch

We can­not choose our cir­cum­stances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
— Epictetus

Tell PR stor­ies of brands that nev­er back down in the face of hard­ships that would lay waste to oth­er organ­isa­tions. Convey PR mes­sages of how an organ­isa­tion can be right­eous even when storms are raging.

The Justice Pitch

Concentrate every minute on doing what’s in front of you with pre­cise and genu­ine ser­i­ous­ness, ten­derly, will­ingly, with justice.”
— Marcus Aurelius

Tell PR stor­ies of how organ­isa­tions relent­lessly can strive for hon­esty and trans­par­ency — even when uncom­fort­able. Convey PR mes­sages about how all brands, without excep­tion, can rid them­selves of dis­hon­esty and incompetence.

The Temperance Pitch

It’s not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”
— Seneca

Tell PR stor­ies of organ­isa­tions that strive for high­er val­ues in a world where all oth­er organ­isa­tions suf­fer short­sighted­ness. Convey PR mes­sages of organ­isa­tions pre­pared to abstain from short-term gains to make the world bet­ter for all.

Learn more: Stoic Philosophy for PR Professionals

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

1 Kellyanne Conway. (2023, December 14). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​K​e​l​l​y​a​n​n​e​_​C​o​n​way
2 Newspeak. (2023, December 8). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​N​e​w​s​p​eak
3 Hostile media effect. (2022, October 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​H​o​s​t​i​l​e​_​m​e​d​i​a​_​e​f​f​ect
4 Gunther, A.C. and Schmitt, K. (2004), Mapping Boundaries of the Hostile Media Effect. Journal of Communication, 54: 55 – 70.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has


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