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

“Alternative Facts” Will Be Kellyanne Conway’s PR Legacy


Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

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 U.S. 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 out of a feather here. Conway’s behaviour is deliberate and intentional. “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: Hostile media effect 1Hostile media effect. (2022, October 25). In Wikipedia.

Are we paranoid? Are we seeing 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

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 it 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.

1 Hostile media effect. (2022, October 25). In Wikipedia.
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.


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