People Are Entitled To Their Own Opinions But Not To Their Own Facts

Bernard Baruch? Daniel Patrick Moynihan? Rayburn H. Carrell? James R. Schlesinger? Alan Greenspan?

Dear Quote Investigator: A family of popular sayings highlights the difference between opinions and facts. Here are three thematically related expressions:

(1) Everybody has a right to their opinion, but nobody has a right to be wrong in their facts.

(2) You are entitled to your own views, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

(3) People are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.

These sayings do not have identical meanings, but it is helpful to group them together while exploring their provenance. Financier Bernard Baruch and politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan have been given credit for these thoughts. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in an Associated Press article from 1946. Bernard Baruch was quoted when he complained about an opponent’s assertions which he believed were inaccurate. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Every man has the right to an opinion but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts. Nor, above all, to persist in errors as to facts.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The statement was memorable, and a few weeks later it appeared as a filler item in a Wisconsin newspaper with an ascription to Baruch. 2

In March 1948 the remark achieved further distribution when it appeared in the mass-circulation periodical “Reader’s Digest”: 3

Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.
— Bernard Baruch, quoted in Pathfinder

In August 1948 a periodical published by the Texas State Teachers Association called “The Texas Outlook” printed the saying, but a local personality received credit instead of Baruch: 4

“Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”—Rayburn H. Carrell

In 1950 a New Jersey newspaper credited Baruch while acknowledging a Missouri newspaper. Oddly, the quotation was given a significantly earlier date of 1918: 5

Wisdom of Bernard Baruch
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Every man has a right to his own opinion; but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.
—Statement as Chairman, War Industries Board, 1918.

In 1964 the quotation with an ascription to Baruch continued to circulate when it appeared in a compilation titled “Distilled Wisdom” edited by Alfred Armand Montapert. 6

In December 1975 U.S. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger employed an instance of the saying containing the phrase “not entitled to his own facts”: 7

Schlesinger responded by saying that there should be a debate about the facts. He said he thought the greatest problem was self-deception.

“Everybody is entitled to his own views,” Schlesinger said. “Everybody is not entitled to his own facts.”

In January 1976 a version with a slightly different wording was attributed to Schlesinger: 8

As he told his opponents in a recent debate in Washington, “you are entitled to your own views, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

In 1983 U.S Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a member of the National Commission on Social Security Reform. He employed the saying within an op-ed piece in the “Washington Post”: 9

There is a center in American politics. It can govern. The commission is just an example of what can be done. First, get your facts straight. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Second, decide to live with the facts. Third, resolve to surmount them. Because, fourth, what is at stake is our capacity to govern.

In 1984 Moynihan used a version of the saying again, but this time he credited economist Alan Greenspan: 10

During the commission’s deliberations, Alan Greenspan, our chairman and former chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, imposed a simple but crucial rule: Members were entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.

In conclusion, Bernard Baruch should receive credit for the version of the saying with the phrase “no man has a right to be wrong in his facts” in 1946. Based on current evidence, James R. Schlesinger deserves credit for the saying containing the phrase “not entitled to his own facts” in 1975. Daniel Patrick Moynihan helped to popularize this saying in 1983, but he credited Alan Greenspan in 1984.

(Great thanks to Stephen, Richard Dooling, Doug Leigh, and Mardy Grothe whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to previous researchers Barry Popik, Victor Steinbok, Stephen Goranson, Suzy Platt, and the authors of “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”, Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro.)

In Memoriam: For my brother Stephen.

Notes:

  1. 1946 October 9, The Galveston Daily News, (AP article dateline Oct. 8), Baruch Upholds U.S. Atom Plan; Hits at Wallace, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Galveston, Texas (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1946 October 25, The Rhinelander Daily News, Democrats Eye ‘Sure’ Victory in Two State Districts, (Quote is free standing after the end of the article) Quote Page 8, Column 3, Rhinelander, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. March 1948, Reader’s Digest, Volume 52, A Matter of Opinion, Quote Page 61, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  4. 1948 August, The Texas Outlook, Volume 32, Page 7, Quote and Unquote, Quote Page 7, Published by Texas State Teachers Association, Fort Worth, Texas. (Verified with hardcopy)
  5. 1950 June 27, Trenton Evening Times, Wisdom of Bernard Baruch: From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Quote Page 14, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1964, Distilled Wisdom, Compiled and Edited by Alfred Armand Montapert, Topic: Facts, Quote Page 145, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1975 December 4, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colby Says CIA Has Made Contribution To Peace by William K. Wyant Jr. (Washington Correspondent), Quote Page 7A, Column 7, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1976 January 19, The Times and Democrat, Defense Report AUSA, Quote Page 4A, Column 6, Orangeburg, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1983 January 18, The Washington Post, More Than Social Security Was at Stake by Daniel P. Moynihan, Quote Page A17, Column 5, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  10. 1984 July 16, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Moynihan: If it’s fixed, don’t break it by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Page 9A, Column 1, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)