Crying wolf?

中国日报网 2013-10-29 11:50



Crying wolf?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: British Sunday newspapers have a tendency for crying wolf to help copy sales.

My comments:

Sunday newspapers are Sunday editions. Many British newspapers have Sunday editions, i.e. special enlarged versions of the same paper sold on Sunday, when more people are staying at home for the weekend and are therefore more likely to read the paper for leisure or, right, information.

Sunday newspapers tend to be even more sensational reading than their weekday siblings – in order to grab readers attention – to increase sales.

And they are often caught crying wolf when there is none.

Crying wolf?

The Sunday newspapers are inspired by the boy in Aesop’s Fables, of course. The boy, you know, was asked to shepherd a flock of sheep and was told to cry “Wolf!” when he saw wolves coming to pounce on the sheep. And so the boy cried “Wolf!” out loud and often – when there weren’t any wolves to be seen. Perhaps he was just happy to see the way villagers rush in, brandishing sticks and knives, to help. He was lonely and this must have been good fun for him. The long and short of it is, villagers soon grew tired of his antics and no-one responded to his cries when wolves did arrive.

I heard more than one adult tell me this story, or a very similar one at any rate, while growing up in Henan Province. I don’t think all or any of them actually read Aesop because the way they told the tale, it felt like it’s a Chinese legend story through and through.

Indeed, the spirit of the story is universal, and certainly identifiable to anyone from any race or culture.

Anyways, today, crying wolf has become synonymous with anyone raising a false alarm, especially to attract attention.

Let’s use the British Sunday newspapers as an example. If, for instance, a big storm is forecast for this coming weekend, a Sunday newspaper may not mind calling for, say, 10,000 residents to be evacuated, you know, quoting some expert or other as saying the storm is going to be the biggest in 40 years, or such like.

They might be forced to retract and apologize later to the public that they cried wolf – exaggerated its danger – but at the time of publishing a story, they would never hesitate to sensationalize it in order to sell the copy.

Alright? Oh, one more thing. If you ever use this expression, make sure you use it on people who are prone to commit the deed more than once. People who cry wolf, you see, tend to cry wolf a lot. In other words, they usually are recidivists – if, that is, wolf-crying is a serious crime.

All right. Here are media examples:

1. The White House and congressional Democrats are back to their old tricks—squabbling and insulting each other. This time, it’s over legislation designed to modernize techniques used to keep track of suspected terrorists. President Bush is demanding immediate updating of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, arguing that further delay might allow dire threats to go undetected.

At his news conference last week, he said Congress needs to close “a dangerous intelligence gap” caused by technological advances that terrorists can now exploit. But Democratic leaders, including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, argue that the administration “has resorted to scare tactics and political games” in making its case. The Democrats say that Bush is just crying wolf and that they need more time to work out a decent bill. In a big sticking point, Democrats say there is no need for retroactive liability protection for telecommunications companies and other firms that in the past helped monitor what the administration calls suspected terrorists. Those efforts might have involved invasions of privacy best addressed in court, the critics say. But to the administration, those companies were protecting American lives and should not be penalized by “abusive lawsuits” designed to “line the pockets of class-action trial lawyers.” The outlook is for an eventual compromise but lasting recriminations.

- The Fight Over Domestic Eavesdropping,, February 28, 2008.

2. A senior marine researcher has accused Australian scientists of “crying wolf” over the threat of climate change to the Great Barrier Reef, exposing deep division about its vulnerability.

Peter Ridd’s rejection of the consensus position that the reef is doomed unless greenhouse emissions are checked comes as new research on the Keppel group, hugging Queensland’s central coast, reveals its resilience after coral bleaching. Professor Ridd, a physicist with Townsville’s James Cook University who has spent 25 years investigating the impact of coastal runoff and other problems for the reef, challenged the widely accepted notion that coral bleaching would wipe it out if climate change continued to increase sea surface temperatures. Instead of dying, the reef could expand south towards Brisbane as waters below it became warmer and more tolerable for corals, he said.

His suggestion is backed up by an Australian Institute of Marine Science research team headed by veteran reef scientist Ray Berkelmans, which has documented astonishing levels of recovery on the Keppel outcrops devastated by bleaching in 2006.

Professor Ridd said scientists who predicted corals would be mostly extinct by mid-century had a credibility problem because the Great Barrier Reef was in “bloody brilliant shape”.

He said the reef had defied predictions that it would be overwhelmed by crown of thorns starfish, smothered in sediment from river runoff or poisoned by sediment and chemicals washed on to corals from the mainland. He accepted that ocean acidification associated with climate change was a genuine danger because it could impede the process of coral calcification, destroying the reef’s building block. Scientists responsible for “crying wolf” over lesser threats had done the research community a disservice, he said.

“Ten years ago, I was told that the coral was going to die from sediment, and we have proved that is complete rubbish,” Professor Ridd told The Weekend Australian.

“They are saying that pesticides are a problem, but when you look at the latest data, that is a load of rubbish. They are saying bleaching is the end of the world, but when you look into it, that is a highly dubious proposition.

“So when something comes along like the calcification problem, you are sort of left with this wolf story . . . they are crying wolf all the time.” …

As The Weekend Australian reports today, some of the corals on the Keppel outcrops are more thickly covered in coral than before bleaching in 2006, raising hope the living heart of the reef can acclimatise to spikes in water temperature through a remarkable process of algal shuffling….

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt, a former AIMS scientist who worked on crown of thorns outbreaks, said Professor Ridd had cherrypicked data to support his thesis that the threat to the reef was exaggerated. “I would liken it to the medical debate around ‘Does smoking cause cancer?’,” Dr Reichelt said.

- Scientists ‘crying wolf’ over coral, The Australian, December 19, 2009.

3. I’d taken the accusations against the Guardian by other newspapers as part of the ritual dog-eat-dog fun of Fleet Street, but now that the prime minister has taken up the charge, I’d like to learn what independent reporting was attempted in this difficult area. More, one would hope, than attempted by the critics of the Guardian during the years it was isolated in challenging the cover-up of the hacking crimes.

Protecting the lives of its citizens is a first, sacred duty of government. No editor in his right mind wants to give aid and comfort to murderous enemies, but every editor is duty-bound to scrutinise the use of power – responsibly but fearlessly – however personally unappealing a leaker may be. Conflict between the conceptions of duty is inevitable, indeed healthy. Reporting often exposes an ill that government has not recognised or been willing to acknowledge. The state is not ominiscient. Nor is it unknown for government to conceal its own mistakes. I have not been impressed by the blather about “freedom of the press” surrounding the narcissistic Edward Snowden, but one point he made on 17 October bears examination: he had to do what he did, he argues, because the National Security Agency hierarchy required him to “report wrongdoing for those most responsible for it”. True or false?

“Freedom of the press” loses its moral force when it is played in aid of reckless conduct: the Washington Times telling Osama bin Laden that the US was able to monitor his mobile phone was indefensible. But there is danger, too, when the respect due to “national security” is diluted by accusations that prove unsubstantiated. From the Pentagon Papers on, there is a whole history of authority crying wolf. I don’t know if this is another. What I do know is that the current attacks on the Guardian echo those levelled at the Sunday Times in a number of investigations. We took national security as seriously as anyone, but over 14 years the barriers erected against legitimate inquiry on grounds of national security – reporting, not document dumps – proved spurious or self-serving. Kim Philby betrayed his country and sent countless people to their deaths. However, when we exposed the full measure of his treacheries the outrage in government and sections of the press was directed not at Philby and those who protected him for years but at our reporters. The diaries of the scholarly cabinet minister Richard Crossman have been recognised as shedding valuable light on the way we are governed, but government made a full-scale attempt to censor their publication. Same yet again in the long ordeal of Northern Ireland. Cheerleading was exalted and real reporting excoriated.

The cautionary maxim of Daily Beast writer Clive Irving’s “Stasi principle” remains valid: “A state’s appetite for collecting intelligence expands in direct relationship to its technical ability to do so.”

- The media has a duty to scrutinise the use of power, By Harold Evans,, October 20, 2013.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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