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September 10, 2008

Taking SpinSpotter for a Spin

The SpinSpotter, a new toolbar currently available in beta for Firefox, claims to be able to detect bias and bullshit in the media by highlighting phrases indicative of spin and explaining them. A worthy concept, sure, but can it be done? Gelf put on the spinoculars and took a look around.

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Our first stop was the famously unfair and imbalanced Fox News. We checked a few pieces of election coverage, fully expecting them to be chock full o' spin. The result? The spinoculars saw nothing—is it possible that Fox really is the "no-spin zone"?

Not quite. Our spinoculars did not detect any spin in the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune. Unbelievably, the acceptance speeches of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Sarah Palin all came out bias-free, as did John McCain's press releases. Apparently the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull really is lipstick.

John McCain's acceptance speech, however, was another matter—the SpinSpotter recorded two instances of spin. And no, it was not McCain's claim that his health-care plan "will make it easier for Americans to find and keep good health insurance," or that his "tax cuts will create jobs" (Republican solution for all economic malaise: cut taxes!). It was the phrase "no doubt," which SpinSpotter seemed to think was a biased source, and "some Republicans," which it believes to be selective disclosure (Rules of Spin here). It also found some spin in the very first phrase of a Washington Post article on Sarah Palin's liberal use of a state expense account. That phrase? The rather innocuous "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has."

While we like the idea of using technology to filter out bullshit, we're glad that the SpinSpotter is still in beta.

Photo from littledan77's Flickr.

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