The PR BlogMedia & PsychologyPublic Affairs & Lobbying"Alternative Facts" Will Be Kellyanne Conway's PR Legacy

Alternative Facts” Will Be Kellyanne Conway’s PR Legacy


Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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

It’s a große Lüge.

Kellyanne Conway - 2018 - Alternative Facts
Keyllyanne Conway’s PR leg­acy — coin­ing the phrase “altern­at­ive facts.”

So, what?

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

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.

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

Read also: How To Fight Populism

It does­n’t mat­ter if someone tries to shut down the oppos­i­tion by scream­ing “fake news” or “words are violence.”

Such con­cepts are man­u­fac­tured by fac­tions who can­not stom­ach being ques­tioned, which seems to be the new black in today’s media land­scape. Oxford Dictionaries even named “post-truth” Word of the Year in 2016.

Fear might also be an under­ly­ing psy­cho­lo­gic­al factor for want­ing to under­mine and blame the news media:

The Hostile Media Effect

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 1Hostile 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 2Gunther, 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, there­fore, be seen as a psy­cho­lo­gic­al defence mechanism.

Read also: The Hostile Media Effect: How We Demonise the News Media

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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 Jason Stanley, a philo­sophy pro­fess­or at Yale University.

Thanks to Kellyanne Conway, we can now add more Newspeak to our post­mod­ern vocabulary.

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

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

1 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
2 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 KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has


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