Trust, but Verify Who Actually Said It.

Here are some of the more than one million pages of news media, books and websites on the Internet that cite Ronald Reagan as having said, “Trust, but verify.” Many of the citers are writing about politics or foreign policy, but the sample of links below show that the citation of Reagan as having said this slogan is far-reaching, and includes articles or documents about investments, the urban lifestyle, campus facilities management, auto dealerships and even web design:

The problem is, while Reagan said “Trust, but verify,” he was not the first to say it as most of these sources state or imply.

“Trust, but verify” is an old Russian proverb, as a New York Times editorial in 1987 and the Wikipedia article both point out.

Why would we have a collective failure of memory of who said it?  In this case, I think there are two causes:

  • The desire of our society in general to glorify presidents, and of the right-wing to glorify this particular president.
  • A cultural reluctance to cite not just alien sources, but our recent enemies, the communists. 

In my view, writers of non-fiction have an ethical responsibility to check their facts and write the truth.  If you want to say that it was a favorite Russian proverb of Reagan’s, fine, but makes sure you let us know that it was originally Russian, for the sake of truth.

3 thoughts on “Trust, but Verify Who Actually Said It.

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