From The Publisher’s Desk: Let’s pause for a moment, while my spokesman explains what I meant to say

9:21 am | September 17, 2012

Since I started my journalism career, I’ve had the opportunity to interview a lot of people.

Mothers and fathers, teenagers and octogenarians, victims and perpetrators, politicians and activists, the famous and wannabes — I’ve interviewed them all.

I once interviewed country music superstar Garth Brooks a few months before the words “country music superstar” preceded his name. He was playing at a concert inside a tobacco warehouse in Southwest Virginia. At the time, Brooks was sort-of, almost, nearly famous.

A few months later, he was the biggest music star around. (Do you think it was my probing questions and subsequent published article that propelled Brooks to multi-platinum status? Me neither.)

In the span of a few weeks, I wouldn’t have been able hold Brooks’ Stetson, let alone sit down for an interview.

No, after Brooks became a multi-platinum artist, I would have been lucky to get a quote from his spokesperson.

And it seems these days everyone has a spokesperson. Just last week, I noticed that the wire services had quoted a Taliban spokesman. Terrorists, it seems, have spokespeople. It’s not enough to cause destruction around the globe, but, apparently, terrorists need someone to be the point man for all those willing to hear their side of the story.

Of course, politicians are surrounded by “official” spokespeople. Politicians need a lot of people to explain what they really meant to say when they put their big ol’ foot in their mouth — again. (See any day on the presidential election trail on either side for examples.)

Reporters have grown accustomed to quoting a spokesperson in place of the person they really want to talk to for the story.

If there’s a disaster at the local plant, for example, you won’t get to talk to the chief executive officer — you’ll get the spokesperson.

If you want to interview the manager at the local national department store chain, you’ll have to get permission from corporate headquarters in Kalamazoo, Mich., or some faraway place.

Today, everyone who’s anyone has a spokesman, a spokeswoman or, if you’re being perfectly safe and politically correct, a spokesperson.

In fact, you really don’t have to be anyone to have a spokesmouth.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised about the Taliban spokesman, since I remember being shocked a few years back when reading about the Somalia pirates that were taking hostages off the coast of Africa.

In an Associated Press story about the captured Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina, Sugule Ali was identified as a “pirate spokesman.”

I assume Johnny Depp, who plays a pirate in the movies, has a spokesperson, but I couldn’t believe that real outlaws were afforded such luxuries.

Perhaps in the future, we will all have a spokesperson to tell others what we think, what we mean and what we meant when we forgot and spoke for ourselves.

It could be a useful tool.

If I had a disagreement with my wife, Amy, which is just crazy talk, of course, my designated spokesmouth might say something like, “When Mr. Stevens said he’d stop by Food City on his way home to pick up milk, he didn’t mean to imply it would be on his way home today. He simply meant to say that on any given day, it would be possible, if time permits and necessity dictates, that he would be able to consider the possibility that, for his health and well being, stopping at Food City would certainly be something he’d be amenable to doing so.”

If I were stopped for speeding, my spokesman, speaking from the backseat, would offer a reasonable excuse.

“Mr. Stevens was unaware,” my spokesman would say, “he was exceeding the posted speed limit, because, I, as his voice of reason, failed to point out that he had moved into a 45- mph zone but was still traveling at 62 mph.”

We could pretty much put all the blame on our designated spokesperson.

Made the boss unhappy?

“There’s no one he respects more than you,” suck-up spokesman would say. “He’s as disappointed in himself as you are in him. It will never happen again.”

Failed to do your homework at school?

“The dog really did eat his homework,” the spokesman would offer. “Trust me, I’m tasked with walking the furry little beast. He’s a menace — the dog, not the kid, of course.”

Missed church?

“The Devil made him do it,” the spokesman would say.

I don’t think terrorists need a spokesman, because I’m really not interested in what they have to say. But I can see how the rest of us could benefit from having a spokesperson.

Besides, if pirates have a spokesperson, I want one, too. It’s only fair.

-Mark Stevens, Publisher The Elizabethton Star

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