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Archive for June 10th, 2008

“Make me sound smart”

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Every reporter has gotten to the point in a conversation with a source, usually as your interview is wrapping up, where the person makes the cringe-worthy comment: “Make me sound smart.”

How do you reply to that?

“Well, sir, I was going to make you sound like an idiot. But since you insist, I’ll rework it instead.”

Usually I simply reply, “You haven’t said anything stupid, so I wouldn’t be concerned.” If it’s been a lengthy interview or a particularly touchy subject, I offer to call back with any concerns or double-check quotes. [Side note: The few times I’ve actually been outright asked to see advanced copies of the stories and I’ve offered to double-check quotes, those sources after the story ran have actually commended me. One told me I “restored (his) faith in journalists.”]

Along similar lines, I’ve actually had people say this to me, “Well, you know what I mean, just re-work it so it makes sense.”

Um. You can re-state it. I might paraphrase if your wording is too convoluted, but I’m not going to reword your quote. Sorry?

But here’s a new one that actually caught me off guard. Yesterday, as I was finishing a conversation with someone I’d never spoken with before he made this disclaimer:

“What I always tell reporters when I talk to them is, I don’t care if you get it right or wrong, but make me sound smart.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I mean, “WHAT?”

So I simply and truthfully replied, “Well, I care if it’s wrong.”

What else do you say to that?