February 14, 2005

Getting The Business

Is spin coming unspun?  In other words, is spin starting to draw more attention to itself than to what it’s spinning? 

What suggests this possibility are lead articles in two different sections of Sunday’s NYT.  On the front page of the Business section (maybe I am focusing a little more on business these days), was an article entitled Spinning Frenzy: P.R.’s Bad Press (link).  The story focuses on the recent disclosures about journalists and commentators being paid to shill for the Bush Administration.  At the same time, the lead story in the Sunday Style section was a feature on how Arnold Schwarzenegger markets the California Governorship (If You Can Plug a Film, Why Not a Budget?link).

In both stories, the subject involves the blurring of the lines between news and public relations.  If the P.R. game is starting to wear thin, however, I think someone forgot to tell the Governor of California about it. 

What I found interesting about the Arnold story is how, at the same time it calls attention to the blurring of news and promotion, the article is taken advantage by it.  (If you’ve been following the BAG, you know I like to photograph news photos.  I do this in order to better examine them outside their context.  I never did this with a web page before, but the on-line version of the Schwarzenegger article warrants it.)


A lot of stories in the on-line NYT are accompanied by images, but I’ve rarely seen one (outside the Multimedia section) that occupied the width of the article.  Whatever the editorial rationale, it also demonstrates Arnold’s ability to co-opt high profile news space in the name of self-promotion.  In this shot, Arnold is standing in front of a poster promoting himself promoting California.  This is a textbook example of how Arnold’s P.R. makes news, which just generates more P.R.

Arnold’s cross promotional skill is also demonstrated (and further promoted) by the second image in this article. 


This is a poster promoting Schwarzenegger promoting one of his various politically-related P.R. campaigns. 

Regarding the image itself, I think there are a few things to take note of.  If you look at Arnold, he appears much younger than he is now.  Is it possible this is an old photo?  If so, it it suggests that either a younger face was superimposed on the body or the California flag was superimposed.  Or, the other possibility (because the face might not be exactly in scale with the body, or actually attached to this body) is that this isn’t even Arnold’s body.  If any of these possibilities are true, perhaps we’re the ones being given the business.

I think it’s also worth mentioning what happens when P.R. material crosses into more “respectable” venues.  Of course, when an image is enhanced for a promotional poster, a certain level of tolerance can be seen for that.  When that poster finds its way into a news article, however, that replication can’t help but lend the image more authority, and thus more legitimacy as being real.   

Authenticity aside, there are a few other things worth mentioning about this image.  California may be a massive, but compared to Schwarzenegger, it’s puny.  Apparently, Arnold doesn’t want anyone in the state to forget where the real size and muscle resides.  Also, because Arnold directly addresses the viewer while the map of California faces slightly to the side (and has a fold in it), the Gov lets you know where the attention belongs.

Finally, because the state is on a common t-shirt which has little intrinsic value as a piece of clothing (especially since Arnold is typically seen in hand-made suits costing thousands of dollars), it suggests the governorship is something that Arnold can just “throw on,” get as dirty as he wants, and always change out of for something finer. 

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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