Edward R. Murrow? Knute Rockne? William James? William Fitzjames Oldham? Josh Billings? George Craig Stewart? Luther Burbank? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Changing deeply help opinions is very difficult. A brilliant and forceful quotation expresses this idea:
Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.
These words have been attributed to the prominent journalist Edward R. Murrow, the famous football coach Knute Rockne, and the influential psychologist William James. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in 1906 in the religious periodical “Zion’s Herald” based in Boston, Massachusetts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Bishop Oldham scored with his audience with a bon mot to the effect that some people “think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
The name “Bishop Oldham” was ambiguous, but his first name and middle initial were given in the August 24, 1904 issue of “Zion’s Herald”. 2 William Fitzjames Oldham served in the Methodist Episcopal Church and performed missionary work around the globe.
Knute Rockne used the expression in a newspaper column in 1926, but he disclaimed credit. William James received credit by 1946, and he did write a thematically similar passage in 1907 before his death in 1910. Yet, QI has found no direct evidence that James made a closely matching statement. Edward R. Murrow received credit by 1949, and he may have used it after it had been circulating for years.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1906 November 7, Zion’s Herald, Volume 84, Number 45, Notes (A miscellaneous collection of short items), Quote Page 1433, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest American Periodicals) ↩
- 1904 August 24, Zion’s Herald, Volume 82, Number 34, Personals, Start Page 1063, Quote Page 1064, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest American Periodicals) ↩