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“Make me sound smart”

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?

2 Responses to ““Make me sound smart””

  1. Kate Martin Says:

    I totally feel for you. I had a school board member come up to me today and say “Thanks for making me sound smarter.”

    At first I was horrified because I thought it was one of those rare instances when you misquote people and it makes them sound better. But no, he actually said all of those things, but maybe it sounded different in his head?

  2. Jaclyn Says:

    Ha! Aw, honey, you laugh and say “Yes, sir!” and then you treat it as you would any other quote. It cracks me up when people say that. Of course they’re worried about sounding stupid. I usually assure the source that everything he or she has said makes perfect sense and, again, offer to read them back their quotes if they like. It’s funny — people only take me up on that occasionally.