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Spin phrases in the news: Footwork edition

Sidestepping, slow-walking and taking a big step forward. These terms aren’t describing a dance class — they’re in the news. This spin list addresses metaphors and idioms related to footwork that gave subjective renditions of recent news events. Check out our top picks.


#1. Walk back his walk-backs

Spun version: “The president appeared Wednesday to walk back his walk-backs on Kremlin interference in the 2016 election.” (Politico)

Un-spun version: At the end of a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, a reporter asked Trump whether Russia is still targeting the U.S. government. Trump responded “no.” The White House said the “no” was the president declining to answer the question.

Before that, Trump said of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia. On Tuesday, he said he used “the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” and the sentence should have been “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”

Why does it matter? To walk back is defined as “to retreat from or distance oneself from (a previously stated opinion or position),” and the president did appear to change his position on the issue. Still, the phrase implies he was insincere in his “clarifications” on Tuesday, although there isn’t concrete evidence of this. The metaphor also dramatizes Trump’s apparent contradictions.


#2. Limped

Spun: “There were a few reassuring cheers and pats on the shoulder from his handful of friends when [Boris Johnson] finally limped to the end of his speech, but they were more of sympathy than acclaim.” (The Guardian)

Un-spun version: After resigning his post as foreign secretary, Boris Johnson gave a 12 minute farewell speech in the House of Commons. Some friends cheered and patted him on the shoulder at the end of the speech.

Why does it matter? Characterizing Johnson as limping during his speech suggests he’s lame, unsteady or incompetent.


#3. Caught flat-footed

Spun: “Amazon was caught flat-footed by the site’s failure on Prime Day.” (The Atlantic)

Un-spun version: On July 16, Amazon held a promotional sale called “Prime Day.” When the sale started, some shoppers couldn’t access web pages or make purchases because the site was crashing.


Why does it matter? Used in this way, the phrase means “not ready” or “unprepared,” but it may connote clumsiness. The expression (along with the article as a whole, which is critical of Amazon) could disparage the online retail company. For contrast, consider another way of spinning the news — that the site’s brief crash was testament to Prime’s popularity and high demand.


#4. Stumbled

Spun: Goldman Sachs “stumbled in the public eye after being labeled a ‘vampire squid’ by Rolling Stone magazine.” (CNBC)

Un-spun version: In 2009, Rolling Stone magazine called Goldman Sachs a “vampire squid” and other news outlets repeated this characterization. (A vampire squid is a type of cephalopod found in temperate and tropical oceans.)

Why does it matter? “Stumbled” isn’t fact-based. The word suggests the company was faltering or blundering, but doesn’t specify how.


#5. Hit his stride

Spun: “18 months into the job,” Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm has “hit his stride.” (Bloomberg)


Un-spun version: Ekholm has been Ericsson’s CEO for 18 months. The company’s gross margin, the portion of sales remaining after deducting production costs, increased to 36.7 percent in the second quarter on an adjusted basis, from 30.9 percent a year ago. Analysts had predicted 35.2 percent.


Why does it matter? Obviously the CEO isn’t really running a race here. Yet the idiom implies Ekholm is performing well, without really saying how. Providing facts and figures would be more informative.


#6. One toe over the line


Spun: “The entire plane was pretty rowdy, but the barefoot man was one toe over the line” for AirAsia passenger Jade Thomas. (Fox News)

Un-spun version: Air Asia passenger Jade Thomas said on her flight from Malaysia to Vietnam, “There was shouting, loud burping [and] not following requests of airline staff – for example everybody stood up and started getting their hand luggage before the seatbelt sign had been switched off” and “then of course, there were some people not wearing shoes.”

Why does it matter? The pun may be amusing since the article describes passengers with bare feet, but it dramatizes Thomas’ reaction and implies the barefoot man is what she frowned upon most (although she wasn’t quoted saying that).


#7. Big step forward

Spun: “The [visa] ruling was indeed a big step forward.”  (TIME)

Un-spun version: Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal unanimously decided to grant anonymous plaintiff QT the right to a dependent visa, which she applied for on the basis of her same-sex partner’s employment in the country.

Why does it matter? Sounds significant, but why? The term is vague. (It also shows a positive judgment, when objective news would be impartial.)


#8. Dragging her feet

Spun: Anthony Bourdain, the late celebrity chef, criticized Hillary Clinton “for dragging her feet in coming out to criticize Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a huge Hillary campaign donor.” (Breitbart)


Un-spun version: On Oct. 11, 2017, Bourdain tweeted that he thought Clinton’s response to the Weinstein allegations in an interview was “shameful in its deflection and its disingenuousness.” Minutes later, he tweeted, “know what Hillary Clinton is NOT? She's not stupid. Or unsophisticated about the world. The Weinstein stories had been out there for years.”


Why does it matter? The term dragging one’s feet, which is defined as acting “in a deliberately slow or dilatory manner,” could mischaracterize Bourdain’s criticism as primarily about the time it took Clinton to criticize Weinstein. It also implies criticizing Weinstein was the right thing to do, which is a judgment on the part of the outlet.


#9. Slow-walk

Spun: “Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt had his staff slow-walk ‘politically charged’ public information requests, according to a letter written by House Oversight Democrats on Friday, which cites excerpts of testimony with Pruitt's chief of staff Ryan Jackson.” (CNN)


Un-spun version: Pruitt's chief of staff Ryan Jackson said he was involved in hand-selecting requests to be processed ahead of others under the federal Freedom of Information Act, according to House Oversight Democrats.


Why does it matter? While the meaning of “slow-walk” is fairly clear here (to intentionally delay a request), the use of metaphoric language dramatizes and isn’t fact-based.


#10. Sidestep

Spun: “The [discussion of a referendum] may be seen as an effort to sidestep European peace efforts for Ukraine and increase the pressure on the Ukrainian government in its protracted conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas (sic) region.” (NBC News)

Un-spun version: A Russian-backed insurgency in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine is ongoing and has killed more than 10,000 people. Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said “this issue [of a referendum] was discussed" at a meeting between Trump and Putin.

(Context: Russia considers its annexation of Crimea in 2014 to be legal due to the results of a referendum that year, in which Russia says 96.77% voters in the Republic of Crimea supported “reunification.” The U.N. condemned the annexation as illegal.)

Why does it matter? Skip the metaphor and say it with facts.


Writers: Leah Lim Mottishaw, Julia Berry Lopez

Editor: Jens Erik Gould

Published July 22, 2018 online at The Knife Media

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