Thomas Sowell

At the heart of all this is the fact that you do not need proof for what people want to believe. And Californians want to believe that their problems were caused by others, not by their own refusal to let power plants be built or by their refusal to pay the cost of buying electricity elsewhere.

The value of Governor Davis' spinmeisters is shown not only by the success of their propaganda campaigns in the media but also by the apparently ineffective attempts of Duke Energy to defend itself. The full-page Duke ad proceeds in classic corporate style by pleading its innocence in an almost whimpering style: "Duke Energy and its employees are working hard to provide Californians with the affordable and reliable energy they need to power their homes and businesses."

The political spinmeisters could have told them that you don't get very far by replying to inflammatory charges by asking people to believe that you are innocent. You counter-attack by denouncing those who made the charges as either ignorant or liars. You tell the public that you don't intend to be used as scapegoats by politicians who bungled the electricity crisis. And you ask why they didn't dare let you tell your side of the story before.

Not only is outrage more credible than whimpering, it is more newsworthy, so that your side of the story is more likely to get mentioned in the media, when it has the spicy ingredient of conflict. Someone once asked General Douglas MacArthur to define defensive warfare. He defined it in one word: "Defeat."

Unfortunately, those who have spent their lives making economic decisions in the real world, leading to productive contributions to the economy and society, are seldom as good at political spin as those who have contributed nothing to the world except spin. Someday the truth about all this may come out but, if it comes out after Governor Davis is re-elected, who will care?

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate