SNL’s Kate McKinnon Nails Political Spin

This blog was originally published on Forbes as ‘SNL’s Kate McKinnon Nails Political Spin on Wednesday, October 26, 2016.

Saturday Night Live’s parodies of the three presidential debates have provided gales of laughter across America, if not the world (according to The Washington Post) for their comic content and for the unerring impressions that Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon created of the candidates. But in their wildly-popular (nearly 12 million views on YouTube) spoof of the third debate, Ms. McKinnon’s character also provided an object lesson in political spin. To paraphrase an aphorism widely attributed to Mark Twain, everybody talks about spin, but nobody does anything about it.

Well, Kate McKinnon did. When Tom Hanks playing moderator Chris Wallace asked Ms. McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton about her controversial emails, she replied, “Thank you for bringing up my emails Chris, and I am very happy to clarify what was in some of them.”

Suddenly, she stopped, looked offstage and said, “I’m sorry, what, Carol?”

Then she turned back to look at Mr. Hanks and said, “I am sorry, I thought I heard my friend, Carol. Anyway, back to your question about the way that Donald treats women.”

Once again, she turned, looked directly into the camera, and said, “And that is how ya’ pivot!” She accompanied her words with a broad pantomime of lifting a heavy object from one side of her lectern to the other.

“Pivot” is the most recent synonym for “spin,” but both are euphemisms for the ducking the question. Ms. McKinnon’s very next line underscored that. After Mr. Hanks asked “So you’re just never going to answer a question about your emails,” she replied, “No but it was very cute to watch you try!”

Regardless of whether it’s called pivoting or spinning, or even the less elegant, “putting lipstick on a pig,” ducking is not answering. During this election year—and for countless election years past—the nation has become inured to campaigning politicians doing just that. In no other segment of our society does this tolerance exist: in business, in science, in academia, in the military, failure to respond results in failure to succeed.

This is not to say that business people, academics, soldiers, or even politicians should not be able to change subjects or toot their own horns, but they must first answer the question asked of them. Where politicians abuse the privilege is when they pivot or spin as blatantly as Kate McKinnon did comically.

All it takes is a brief prepared statement that addresses the issue in the question—or even a valid reason for not answering—and then shift topics.

Readers of my books will recognize this technique as Topspin, where the presenter earns the right to pivot by first answering the question.

Mark Twain would be pleased.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as ‘SNL’s Kate McKinnon Nails Political Spin on Wednesday, October 26, 2016.