Truth Sandwich on the Menu, Covid-19 Edition

The Truth Sandwich solves a problem that we all have: what do you say when someone says something you know to be blatantly false?

It wasn’t invented this millennium. It’s a tried and true political tactic: create a negative story and repeat it, over and over. Repeated slanders stick if they match the world-view of those who believe it.

When you try to rebut the arguments or debunk the myths, you are just giving the false story one more repetition! So, here’s what to do instead.

The Truth Sandwich:

  • Don’t repeat the lie. Repetition makes it stronger.
  • Say the truth without room for argument or debate.
  • Repeat the truth twice for any one reference to what the lie was about. Say the truth at the beginning and the end: the bread of the “sandwich.”

What not to do:

  • Don’t repeat the lie. That just advertises the falsehood.
  • Don’t try to refute it, fact for fact. This doesn’t work. Human brains question facts that don’t match our worldviews. (I’ve written about this).  When you try this, it often comes off as defensive.
  • Don’t take the high road and ignore it. Then the lie goes unchallenged. Your silence can be read as agreement. If you are a journalist, use a truth sandwich whenever you are repeating false stories. 

So, what can you do when someone repeats a falsehood? 

Here’s a simple one. Cicadas.


Cicadas are huge clickbait this spring. There are many “broods” of cicada that hatch in different areas in certain years. There are some broods hatching nearly every year, someplace. This year, people are dwelling on horrible things, like big ugly bugs. The story about brood 9 (IX) is spreading through the media. It is a non-story. But, of course, someone will video one swarm of them, and people will spread that story more. Check this map to see that the 2020 swarm is in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, and it is one of many swarms that happen almost every year.

The paragraph above uses the Truth Sandwich technique to dispel a myth. Here are the parts of this sandwich:

Here’s a harder one. Masks.

Someone who objected to wearing a mask was denied entry into a grocery store. A video was made by that person to embarrass the store. The video shows their real-time responses, then their later written responses.

In the video:

The staff were friendly, respectful, and compliant to all her requests except the request to enter the store without a mask.

They offered an alternative to her entering, by offering to have an employee do her shopping and process the sale.

The video reinforces the store’s policy, rather than validating the potential customer’s objections.

This is the written statement, posted in response to this potential customer was also on the video:

“Gelson’s takes the health concerns around Coronavirus very seriously and encourages their staff and customers to prioritize their health first.

All Gelson markets will continue to follow health and government recommendations to take all necessary preventative measures for the health and safety of our customers.

Face covers will continue to be required inside the store as well as suspending reusable bags and temporarily eliminating returns. “

Click here for the Facebook video.

Why is this a truth sandwich?

Cart full of groceriesWell, it is more like a cartful of truth groceries. It does not mention her points at all. Instead, it emphasizes these points:

  • Health of staff and customers is the priority.
  • Gelson’s is following government recommendations.
  • Masks must be worn.
  • No reusable bags or bottle returns are allowed at this time.

What would the store’s truth sandwich look like?

Everyone is welcome to shop in Gelson’s, where we are following current government recommendation for the health of our staff and customers. Customers and staff are required to wear a mask. If a potential customer cannot — for reasons of their health — wear a mask, our staff will happily shop for that customer and process the payment by a single, secure credit card swipe. We are making our best effort to welcome everyone to Gelson’s to shop safely for all their grocery needs. Check out our senior and caregiver hours, too.

The truth sandwich addresses the objection of someone who claims privacy about a condition that makes her unable to wear a mask.

  • You are welcome, but must wear a mask.
  • If you cannot wear a mask, we will shop for you.
  • Everyone is welcome.

Learn from George Lakoff

George Lakoff studies cognitive science and language. I have been following him for years.  In an interview with on Vox he summarizes his theories about framing and why the journalists keep getting caught in the same trap of repeating lies and amplifying them.

I recommend you read Lakoff’s skinny little book Don’t Think of an Elephant as the 2020 election season heats up. Democrats are spending way too much time amplifying and repeating Joe Biden’s flaws and not enough time discussing his policies.

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