Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

'The Mentioner' Moves News Along

The media often asserts — without real basis — that groups of people have specific ideas or feelings about issues and events in the news. What is the source of those assertions so often made by the media?

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The late Art Buchwald used to talk about the Great Mentioner - some unnamed person who told pundits and reporters a lot of people say this, a lot of people say that. Art said that if you trace back exactly who said this and that, it was usually just the reporters and analysts themselves that tried to splash a coat of credibility over sheer speculation by putting it in the mouth of the Great Mentioner.

I think the Great Mentioner is already active in the 2008 campaign. He says a lot of people wonder if Americans will vote for an African-American or woman. A lot of people wonder if voters will accept John Edwards running when his wife is sick. A lot of people wonder if evangelicals will accept Mayor Giuliani's multiple marriages. Really?

Now, if you set reporters loose in the streets like wild dogs, they can slurp up enough quotes to support almost any assertion you want to make about the American public. Will Americans vote for an African-American or woman president? Well, voters in New York and Illinois, which are two huge demographically varied states, have already elected Senators Clinton and Obama, knowing that one day they would run for president.

It would be silly to underestimate the persistence of bigotry. But it sounds ridiculous to hear reporters asking that question when women hold public office in record numbers and Senator Obama is the second African-American senator from his state in recent years. The first, in fact, was a woman.

Several months ago pundits insisted that Republicans would never accept Mayor Giuliani's positions on gun control or gay rights. Now that he leads Republican opinion polls, the same people say they hear that Republican evangelicals will never accept his marital history. Has any evangelical leader actually said that?

Our researcher found exactly one - Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. News accounts have to quote him over and over again, which may be a sign that they can't find anyone else to express the same thought. But even Mr. Land told the New York Times that he had heard that some evangelical women have disdain for Mr. Giuliani. The Great Mentioner again.

Over the past ten days reporters have fanned out to ask people if they would vote for John Edwards now that his wife is living with cancer. Would such a coarse and witless idea occur to anybody on their own if a reporter hadn't asked them?

Politicians often make themselves figures of fun, but so far the presidential candidates seem to be serious about real issues. Who's dragging the campaign down into muddy speculations about a candidate's race, religion, marital life or family illness? You know, the Great Mentioner.

(Soundbite of song)

MILLS BROTHERS: (Singing) Yes I am, no it wasn't told to me, I only heard. Oh I heard, yes I heard. No, it wasn't buzzed to me, I only heard. Now he said that she said that she didn't know where she got it but he said that she said that the law was gonna stop it. Oh I heard.

SIMON: The Mills Brothers. This is NPR News.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small