Observers suggest.

Observers make a wonderful source for reporters. But did you ever wonder who these observers are? People standing around looking at guys digging up a street for the third time in a month? A couple of guys at the Press Club bar? Hacks at City Hall having a smoke under the sign outside that says “No Smoking?” An academic ready to give an opinion to a reporter as long as you spell his or her name right? The world is full of observers, and all of them are quoted by the media. A quick check of The New York Times gets “about” 147,860 hits for observers, going back to October 1851.

What brings this up a page one story in The Boston Globe, Jan. 15, 2018, with the headline: “Fake news, real impact, observers say.” The sub-head reveals who the observers may be: “Maine Democrats suggest website, GOP misled voters.” The story is about the November election for mayor of Lewiston in which a Republican beat a Democrat by 145 votes. The story does quote several professors and others, so there definitely were observers. Of course, they did not say or state or claim something definite, they “suggested” it, which is classic journalese, which I’ll take up some other time.

File under: See our dictionary chapter, Source Sorcery.

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