Evading responsibility while looking responsible: another fine mess

Saying “I take responsibility” can help people evade responsibility, as I suggested in an earlier post: something goes wrong, but the person in charge only says “I’m responsible”, without saying what went wrong or what she will do to make things better. I used the example of Jose Mourinho – slightly unfairly, as it turned out, but the basic principle is still right.

And I also suggested that journalists often get taken in by this: they may report that someone has taken responsibility without noticing that actually there has been an evasion of responsibility.

Responsibility: somewhere over there

Responsibility: somewhere over there

Two days ago, there was an interesting example of both things – evasion of responsibility, and journalists falling for this. David Moyes, the Manchester United manager, said in an interview that he takes “complete responsibility” for Manchester United’s poor recent results in football.

The BBC duly reported this in a story called ‘Man Utd: I’ll take full responsibility, says David Moyes’. But there is nothing in the interview that added any substance to the claim of responsibility. Quite the reverse: when asked to explain what needed to be done better, his answer was “a bit of everything”: “play better”, “pass it better”, “create more chances”, “defend better”. Wow! Stunning insights.

The BBC story actually has zero content: there is no news, nothing of any substance. I call this kind of story ‘Mouth opens and words come out’.

Interestingly, the newspaper The Scotsman reports another comment of Moyes’s which suggests that far from taking responsibility, he is actually blaming the players. Their story starts unpromisingly: Moyes “has admitted” he takes responsibility (no, it’s an evasion not an admission), and “to the Scot’s credit, he is refusing to hide behind excuses” (no, he is refusing to say what went wrong or what he will do to improve things). But the newspaper then adds that when Moyes was asked if the squad is “good enough”, he replies instead that it is “big enough”. It sounds from the context as if he knew what he was saying – and the paper rightly implies that he is being evasive here.

If so, this latter comment suggests that Moyes doesn’t think the squad is good enough, and that this lack of quality is at least partly responsible for Manchester United’s current problems.

This is partly a long-term problem, as Sam Wallace argues. Yet Moyes is partly responsible for the lack of quality too, given that he contributed to United’s failure to buy top players over the summer, as Phil McNulty suggests.

But of course, a football manager cannot usually say in public that his squad isn’t good enough or that he made a hash of transfer targets. As a result, we end up with football managers saying nothing, and journalists – alas – reporting this as a genuine piece of responsibility.

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