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Truth sandwich

George Lakoff Twitter
@GeorgeLakoff

Truth Sandwich:
1. Start with the truth. The first frame gets the advantage.
2. Indicate the lie. Avoid amplifying the specific language if possible.
3. Return to the truth. Always repeat truths more than lies.

December 1, 2018[1]

A truth sandwich is a technique in journalism to cover stories involving misinformation without unintentionally furthering the spread of false or misleading clams. It entails presenting the truth about a subject before covering misinformation, then ending a story by again presenting truth. Margaret Sullivan summarized it as "reality, spin, reality — all in one tasty, democracy-nourishing meal".[2]

The idea was developed by linguist George Lakoff, and the name was coined by Brian Stelter of CNN.[3] Lakoff observed media organizations spreading misinformation by quoting politicians or pundits who lie or mislead.

Background

Lakoff was specifically interested in the ways journalists were covering Donald Trump, who made an unprecedented number of false and misleading statements over the course of his term as President of the United States.[4][5][6] Lakoff has written about Trump's effective use of language and framing techniques, understanding the media will cover and repeat his most controversial statements, stereotypes, and pithy mischaracterization, thus turning even his critics into part of his marketing apparatus.[7][3] Standard journalistic practice involves repeating claims made by public figures or quoting them directly, but when the public figure is spreading misinformation or disinformation, repetition of the claims can amplify them and increase their harm. Sometimes lies are too consequential to ignore, however, placing journalists in a difficult position.[1]

According to Lakoff, even if you cover a lie and say afterwards that what was just said was false, the message has still been spread, and "denying a frame, activates the frame".[8] He argues that repetition strengthens "frame-circuits" in the brain that we use to understand the world.[7] A truth sandwich ensures the bad information is not the first thing people read or hear, nor the final impression of a story at the end. Restating false claims can reinforce them through repetition, but adding repetition of their fact-checking and rebuttal can have a similar effect.[2]

Use by news media

PBS published a blog post which explained the principle behind a truth sandwich is already something its editorial standards address: "Accuracy includes more than simply verifying whether information is correct; facts must be placed in sufficient context based on the nature of the piece to ensure that the public is not misled".[9] Roy Peter Clark wrote for Poynter that the idea of a truth sandwich is like the rhetorical concept of "emphatic word order", where someone places "emphatic words" at the beginning and end of a sentence. In journalism, Clark wrote, "the position of least emphasis turns out to be the middle".[1]

Truth sandwiches have been used, advocated, or discussed in the context of a range of topics where misinformation is particularly widespread. A group of scientists writing about the challenge of misinformation about coronavirus vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic advocated truth sandwiches as a communication strategy in their guide to dispelling common myths.[10][11] In an article about truth sandwiches at Journalism.co.uk, Joseph Cummins uses the term "backfire effect" for when "telling people that what they believe in is false [makes] them double down on their beliefs".[12] He urged journalists to utilize the technique, or keep in mind its principles, in not just the main writing about a story involving falsehoods, but also the images, headlines, social media, and other elements of coverage.[12]

Criticism

Crispin Sartwell opined in the Wall Street Journal that using truth sandwiches is manipulative and condescending, and noted that the name is confusing because sandwiches are typically named for what is in the middle, not for the bread.[1][3]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d Clark, Roy Peter (2020-08-18). "How to serve up a tasty 'truth sandwich?'". Poynter. Archived from the original on 2022-02-17. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
  2. ^ a b Sullivan, Margaret (Jun 17, 2018). "Perspective | Instead of Trump's propaganda, how about a nice 'truth sandwich'?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 2022-01-20. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
  3. ^ a b c Sartwell, Crispin (2018-08-05). "'Truth Sandwich'? Baloney!". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Archived from the original on 2022-02-15. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
  4. ^ Kessler, Glenn; Kelly, Meg; Rizzo, Salvador; Lee, Michelle Ye Hee; Shapiro, Leslie (Jan 20, 2021). "Analysis | Tracking all of President Trump's false or misleading claims". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2021-01-20. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  5. ^ Baker, Peter (2018-03-17). "Trump and the Truth: A President Tests His Own Credibility". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2018-10-21. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  6. ^ Finnegan, Michael (2016-09-25). "Scope of Trump's falsehoods unprecedented for a modern presidential candidate". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2019-03-06. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  7. ^ a b Lakoff, George P.; Duran, Gil (2018-06-13). "Trump has turned words into weapons. And he's winning the linguistic war". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2021-11-29. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
  8. ^ "How to make a 'truth sandwich'", CNN Video, archived from the original on 2020-11-29, retrieved 2022-02-16
  9. ^ Apperson, Marcia (April 22, 2020). "What is a 'Truth Sandwich'?". PBS Standards. Archived from the original on 2022-02-15. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  10. ^ Jensen, Elizabeth (2019-03-08). "Injecting NPR's Vaccine Coverage With Respect — And Facts". NPR. Archived from the original on 2022-02-15. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  11. ^ "Scientists create guide to building truth 'sandwich' to combat Covid misinformation". The Independent. 2021-01-07. Archived from the original on 2022-02-13. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
  12. ^ a b Cummins, Joseph (2022-02-02). "The truth sandwich: how to cover falsehoods from official sources | Media news". Journalism.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2022-02-16. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
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Truth sandwich
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