16 November 2008

‘Reliable sources' on where Obama’s 'Yes we can' came from?

On 8th November, the following appeared in the Guardian by Allegra Stratton, who had phoned me the previous day:

Strangest of all, there is a British political scientist who claims he has proof that the actual inspiration for the slogan is Bob the Builder (theme tune: "Can We Fix It?" Answer: "Yes We Can"). Max Atkinson, expert on political rhetoric and author of Lend Me Your Ears, said: "What's so mad about that? I have it on the authority of two very reliable sources."

Er, no. What I actually said when Ms Stratton phoned me about Yes we can and Bob the Builder was that I’d come across two other people who'd made the same connection and that, if true, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine how Mr Obama might have come across it or why he might have had a good reason to use it.

But word must have got around the Guardian offices, because my two allegedly "reliable sources" reappeard on 12th November in another article in the same paper by Alice Wignall:

At least one expert in political rhetoric is convinced: at the weekend, British speechwriter Max Atkinson said that "two very reliable sources" had confirmed that Bob inspired the slogan.

And at least one journalist working for the Sunday Sun in Newcastle must be a Guardian reader, as the same story was recycled again in today's edition:

Max Atkinson, former speech writer for Paddy Ashdown, said that “two very reliable sources” had confirmed to him that Bob was the inspiration for the slogan.

So, to put the record straight, I never said that I had either "proof" or "two reliable sources who had "confirmed" the possible link they were so obsessed with.

To the journalists, who turned this molehill of a comment (“two other people who’d made the same connection”) into a bit of a mountain (“two very reliable sources" and/or "proof"), and anyone else who might have read their misleading articles, all I would say is that I'm not particularly interested in where Mr Obama got the line from.

Much more interesting is the way he used it to prompt audience responses in some of his speeches and how both it and the responses are significantly different from the choruses that regularly peppered the speeches of Martin Luther-King.

And, if you want to keep an eye on what others might be writing about you, I'd recommend signing up with Google Alerts - without which none of these rather annoying articles would have come to my attention.

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