Quote: Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 16 07:51:08 UTC 2010

The quote "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own
facts" is widely attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. One person who
had a big hand in spreading this belief is George Will, who included the
comment in his turn-of-the-century book. But he is not alone--there are
multiple references in the Congressional Record and other associated
papers that attribute the quote to Moynihan. It even appears in Audacity
of Hope, where the comment is uttered by Moynihan in an exchange with
another Senator who had claimed entitlement to his own opinion.

Yet, in Moynihan's own words, the quote is not his:

In Came the Revolution (1988), Moynihan wrote: "/Alan Greenspan/, who
chaired the commission, adopted a simple rule: Each member was entitled
to his own opinion but not his own facts."

Well, at least, the quote has not been attributed to Mark Twain or
Dorothy Parker.

But a 1998 publication cited (with a dead link) in Wikiquote, attributed
the same line to James R. Schlesinger in a 1973 Congressional testimony.
The latter should be checkable. And, in fact, Barry Popik appears to
have checked it, as of July 30, 2009:

"Each of us is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

OK, the ever-so-slight variation--does that entitle anyone to credit
Moynihan? As for Schlesinger, was the 1973 hearing his confirmation
hearing in the Senate? Or did this come up in some other grilling he got
in Congress?

Popik takes it back further:

> "Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to
> be wrong in his facts” is credited to American financier Bernard M.
> Baruch (1870-1965), who probably said it in the 1940s.

Popik also lists a number of citations with all three
attributions--Baruch, going back to 1950 through 1965; Schlesinger to
1977-1984; Moynihan to 1987 (indirectly, through a 1994 volume), with
most (caveat 1998 mentioned in Wikiquote) recent attributions going to
Moynihan. I don't doubt that Moynihan loved the line--it appeals to a
pragmatist of Moynihan's caliber.

I find it interesting that most of the 1990s and forward attributions
are to Moynihan and Schlesinger and Baruch were quickly forgotten, but,
in particular, no one mentions Moynihan's /own/ attribution of the
wisecrack to Alan Greenspan.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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