To those not in PR, spin doctor is both a nickname and a label for stereotyping purposes. It helps the public figure out what exactly we do. But it's inaccurate. The mythological spin doctor swoops in at the behest of some big corporation to sweep under the rug any messes (messi?) that may pollute the company's image to the public. Sex scandals, law suits, embezzlement; all of these things get tackled with efficiency by the spin M.D., and like the Jedi, he waves his mystic hand of persuasion and everything is good and no one remembers bad things. This idea more than likely came from the crisis management element of public relations, but really that is not all PR can do. Big case studies like Tylenol, A.I.G. and Phillip Morris are all examples of great crisis communications that some might simply label "spin." But you have to keep in mind, that people who do these jobs are not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes, they are just ensuring that their client's bottom line does not unjustly suffer from mistakes or miscommunication.
Those inside PR cringe when they hear the word "spin." Calling a practitioner a spin doctor is like telling them they have swine flu (too soon?). No one wants to be called that and no one wants to be associated with anyone labeled a "spin doctor." In fact, I still recall quite clearly when Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk told about 3,000+ PR pros to "Do what you do best; Spin it!" at the PRSA International Conference in Detroit. Luckily, Michael Chrenenson was there to correct her on the organization's stance on "spin" after the gasps, tweets and a few boos.
As PR pros and future pros, we have to be aware of what others think of our industry. We have to be proactive in debunking myths about our practices and be vigilant in communicating to the public what we are and what we do. Sometimes it's better to say something before it becomes an issue, than to try to explain after it already is an issue.