Yes, I have a “do not quote” list – here’s who’s on it

Who do I trust?

The answer may matter to you more than you think, because the folks I call my sources become your sources. They add credibility and context to the customer service stories that you read on my consumer advocacy site.

Last week, you’ll recall, I mentioned some of the “do not mediate” cases, and let it slip that I also have a “do not quote” list comprised of characters I’d never knowingly include in my stories.

Admit it, you’ve waited a whole week for me to reveal that list.

Let’s get right to it, then. Here’s who I try to avoid quoting:

The overexposed.
Is it just me, or does it seem as if the same dozen sources are recycled over and over in mainstream media? This lazy Rolodex syndrome, which no journalist is immune to, infects news coverage no matter where you look. (Try searching for the next quoted source you recognize and watch that person’s name pop up under everyone’s byline.) In the travel world, airline and frequent flier program expertise seems to be limited to the same five people. I refuse to participate in that game. They’re banned.

The apologists.
Among consumer advocates, an “apologist” is code for someone who supports a company no matter what it does, and no matter how awful the consequences are for customers. Many industry apologists run blogs or consultancy companies, rarely revealing their close ties to the businesses they supposedly cover. Apologists love to take media calls because it means they’ll be presented in a publication or on TV as an objective source, when in fact they would defend a company regardless of its actions. Some even write for media outlets on a regular basis, when in fact they should be handling the company’s PR. For your convenience, I’ve blacklisted them.

The fakers.
I’ll admit, I’m not very good at spotting a faker. I have a few notable corrections to prove it. It took me several years to figure out that one well-known consumer advocate was not interested in advocating for anyone. By then, it was too late — I’d already endorsed her and supported her issues, until one day, after failing to take the side of consumers in an important debate, I realized that she only had one cause: herself. The world is full of fakers, and I do my best to leave them alone. But quote them in one of my stories? No, thanks. I have a duty to protect you, my readers, from the phonies who would distort the facts and mislead you.

The ignorant.
Sources who claim to know a lot about a subject but actually don’t are probably the most difficult to ferret out. Why? Because they can come across as authoritative and educated. Often, you don’t discover you’ve quoted an ignoramus until you watch that source get picked apart in the comments, and by then it’s too late. I’ve eliminated several know-nothing sources from my database after discovering that they could very eloquently articulate a half-truth, if not an outright falsehood.

OK, but who are these people?

Ah, you want me to name names, don’t you? Well, in my younger days I would have called out these incognito PR operatives, shills and posers, but I find that’s highly counter-productive. Sure, I slip up a time or two and call someone an apologist, but that hardly ever happens. Besides, they know who they are, and I imagine they’re breathing a sigh of relief right about now. By the way, you’re welcome.

If you’re really curious, I’d urge you to read my stories and notice who isn’t cited. For example, the next time I write about airline fees, compare my article to another mainstream media story on the same topic. See who I quote. See who they quote. Some names will match up, others will not.

Aha! Chances are, they’re on my list.

It’s a long list, and I make no apologies for it.

Should I have a "do not quote" list?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I voted yes, but with a caveat. If a quote by someone in one or more of the categories is useful then I don’t see the point in automatically rejecting the quote.

  • BillCCC

    I voted yes but identifying the sources that you should not quote will not be easy. It would be interesting to see the list but that would turn into a circus.

  • Cybrsk8r

    But it would be entertaining.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Strangely, I’ve already received a comment or two from people who think I was writing about them. I’m going to stay quiet on this issue.

  • SoBeSparky

    Sometimes the best expertise is overexposed. Goes with the territory on occasion. In any field there are a handful of knowledgeable and articulate people. You ban them just because other people quote them? Poor reason. Like saying, let’s not read the Bible cause it’s the best selling book of all time, overexposed. Irrational and arbitrary.

  • omgstfualready

    True. We shouldn’t read the bible for many other reasons! The rape, incest, etc – not children friendly!

  • SoBeSparky

    It’s the original reality show.

  • omgstfualready

    True, it is about as real as any of the other shows. Imaginary voices, ghosts, the condoning of slavery.

  • Christopher Elliott

    This is not a theology website. Though I sometimes wish it were.

  • Cam

    Yes, you should. It is part of keeping your integrity intact.

  • Kairho

    Somebody start a list of everyone who Chris does quote for the next year. Whoever’s not on that list may be on the banned list.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Perhaps not coincidentally, some travel industry “authorities” refuse to quote me because I’m biased toward the consumer, and bad for advertisers. Also, many newspapers refuse to carry my syndicated column because it’s not advertiser-friendly. I’m happy to go on tilting at my populist windmills, though.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Good for you, Chris. I wish everybody followed your advice. Too many journalists blindly borrow from each other, which just leads to misinformation being spread. One of the early articles on the Costa Concordia accident goofed and took the amount the ship had cost in Euros and labeled it as dollars, which naturally made the ship sound far cheaper than it really was. And you still see that error cropping up in articles because nobody bothers to check and correct.

  • omgstfualready

    Fair enough!

  • emanon256

    I have never seen Chris quote Peter Greenberg and he is all over in the media talking about travel. Hmmm.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Unbelievable, the number of emails I’m getting from people, asking if they’re on the list! I’ve actually had to assure some friends that they are not on my “do not quote” list this morning.

  • AJPeabody

    But how do you reply to those that ARE on your list?
    By the way, do you have a list of those you can’t quote because they have to be protected as secret sources?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Yes, I have some sources who prefer to remain anonymous. I go to great lengths to protect their identity.

  • pauletteb

    The less-than-aboveboard also tend to be paranoid that someone will recognize them for what they are.

  • BMG4ME

    You used to quote me but don’t any more :-)

  • Christopher Elliott

    “You used to quote me but don’t any more.”

    I just did! You’re off the list.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Chris, Am I on the list? :-)

    (You can quote me on that)

  • Christopher Elliott

    “Chris, Am I on the list?”

    Uh … no?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Someone has flagged this comment as inappropriate. It is, but only in the sense that it’s off-topic and that this isn’t a theology blog.

  • omgstfualready

    You’re right Chris, it’s not the appropriate forum.

  • BMG4ME


  • Nikki

    People are so paranoid. lol