I published the article below at Huffington Post in 2011 and several after it on the same subject — what I’m calling “some-people-say journalism.”
As predicted in the article, over the last several years sloppy journalism using such phrases as “some-people-say,” “many people think,” “there are those who say,” instead of identified, credible sources lowered the bar in terms of journalistic integrity. Along with the bad habit of journalists interviewing journalists, people became used to not receiving information supported by credible, identified sources. This helped open the door to “fake news” prevalent in the recent U.S. elections.
I’m posting this article again while President Trump is attacking the media, to remind us of our responsibility as information consumers. And to protect responsible media, so important to a free society, from strategic attacks. We should insist that even our favorite media keep the credibility bar high for our sake and their own.
Children do not learn to become wary of sources unless their parents and teachers share the need for that with them — by occasionally asking during advertisements and news shows “Do you think that’s true?” and “What sources did they use?” Without such practice, children grow up gullible and are easily manipulated.
As adults, if you haven’t learned to be wary of sources, to reject “some-people-say” journalism, there’s no time like the present. And likely there is no more important time.
THE HIGH POLITICAL PRICE OF SOME-PEOPLE-SAY JOURNALISM
HUFFINGTON POST — 10/17/2011 Kathleen Reardon, Professor Emerita, USC
On televised news this evening, expect to hear sentences beginning with “some people say” or “many people think” as a means of positioning a question for an interview or providing support for an opinion being advanced. Look for such deceptive phrases on your choice of early evening televised news, CNN and PBS too.
And what’s wrong with this practice? Aren’t we supposed to assume that we’re being led by our noses by the owners of media giants, that journalism is no longer the honorable profession it was, and this is just more evidence of how far it has fallen? Isn’t it our responsibility as viewers to sift through the hype and huckstering to find shreds of objectivity?
Certainly, we are responsible for carefully considering the sources of what we read and view. And yet, from decades of persuasion research, we know that people often process information without engaging in wariness or counterargument. At least when we hear, “According to General Colin Powell or “As Senator Webb described it today,” we know something of the political leanings of the sources. We know whether to consider them credible, intelligent, experienced, and trustworthy.
How do we know the motives of “some” people? Who are they? Where do they come from? How many of them are there? Under what circumstances were their opinions obtained? How old are they? Did anyone pay them? Do they even exist?
When will experts respond to “some people say” with, “Who might they be?” Or, “In fact, recent data indicates quite the opposite.” They could ask one of these questions: “How many people actually say that?” “Who are these people?” “Where did you find them?”
We’re into an important campaign season, one culminating with the election of the next president of the United States. As we’ve seen over and over, it’s an exercise is separating hype from truth, opinions from factual information, and political machinations from admirable political skill.
Slipping “some people say” and “many people think” into “news” is not much different from placing subliminal product messages in grocery store music. It’s deceitful. It takes advantage of consumers.
Change the channel the next time you hear, “some people say,” “many people think,” or vacuous statements in this genre. E-mail the station. Tell them to name their sources. Expect better. Insist on it!