Spin doctors amuse me with their take on issues

Published 12:53 pm Friday, July 5, 2002

By By Brian Blackley, Publisher
Press releases have always been sources of amusement to me on several levels. Some are extremely well written and provide excellent information. Typically those that come from the military, colleges and universities, large financial institutions and state agencies are among those that have a good deal of merit.
Generally these seek to tell people "back home" what some of their neighbors accomplished, or inform us about some relevant issue to our area.
But never - and I mean NEVER - trust information contained in a press release that comes from The Republican National Committee or The Alabama Democratic Party, or other politically-driven groups who are seeking to influence popular opinion.
The following is the opening of an emailed press release I received from one of these kinds of groups early this week:
MONTGOMERY - Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Redding Pitt today questioned why Republican congressional candidate Mike Rogers would host a fundraiser on the campus of Auburn University with House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a long-time opponent of higher education. "I know that Mike is from the opposite end of the Third District, but surely he has to know that higher education is the engine that drives Lee County's economy," Pitt said. Auburn University's financial aid office currently distributes more than $60 million dollars per year in Stafford Loans and more than 60% of Auburn students receive some form of financial aid.
My favorite phrase in this excerpt is "Dick Armey, a long-time opponent of higher education."
Talk about loaded words.
I have said in columns and in editorials I have contributed to at this and other newspapers in the past that I don't support a lottery to support HOPE-style scholarships such as those being handed out in Georgia.
I have also said that I don't support the state taking funding away from K-12, while not imposing greater levels of cuts on the higher education level during times of proration.
My point has been that we owe our children access to a K-12 education. They need to take it from there and take on responsibility for pursuing it further. Certainly we should assist in making their access as easy as is reasonably possible - which we do through state colleges and universities - but at some point and time you have to figure they are quasi-adults and they need to take on much of this responsibility themselves. This may mean working harder to get scholarships, borrowing money to pursue education through loan programs or getting a part-time job to help pay for school.
So does that mean that I am an opponent of higher education?
I hope not. In fact, I think higher education plays a critical role in our society and I plan on encouraging my daughters to work hard in school, to make their grades and to pursue higher education degrees.
But I don't necessarily believe throwing more tax dollars at it is the best use of money when other areas are facing cuts. It comes down to prioritizing, not to opposing.
Armey's record follows the same ideology: that he has favored cuts in higher education when he felt other issues were more in need of America's tax dollars. And I don't always agree with his priorities.
Still, that doesn't mean he is an "opponent" of higher education and that he doesn't deserve to step foot on the campus of a state university. After all, he is the Majority Leader for the U.S. House of Representatives, making him one of the most powerful elected officials in the U.S., and even if he plans to visit Auburn as part of a fundraiser, it does bring his attention to our state.
But saying it this way doesn't inflame people quite as much and reporting both sides of the issues are not the responsibility of the public relations folks who work for these political, agenda-focused, spin machines.
So be careful what you read and who you believe. Just because some newspaper somewhere in the state will likely publish such garbage doesn't mean that the premise is true. It simply means someone had a hole to fill and found an easy way out, or that (giving them the benefit of the doubt) an editor decided that such information would spark some debate about an important topic.
As an old college friend of mine said to his girlfriend when she confronted him with second-hand news that he had been seen on a date with someone else, "Don't believe anything you hear - and only half of what you see."
Brian Blackley is publisher of The Advance.

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