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Speaking with One Voice: Risk Communication Lessons from the US Anthrax Attacks

Clarke, L.; Chess, C.; Holmes, R.; O'Neill, K.M.
Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

August 11, 2006

It is often said that in times of crises experts, officials, and organizations should speak with one voice. But this homily has not been subjected to either conceptual or empirical scrutiny. We begin those tasks in this paper. To pursue our analysis, we use statements from the popular and scholarly presses; we also use our interviews with local officials in New Jersey, USA, who had to respond to the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001. We outline some of the meanings of the admonition to “speak with one voice” and discuss the rhetorical significance of the advice. Our argument is that it may be wise to speak with one voice, but this can not be taken for granted. Difference audiences may well need different messages or different kinds of messages. Speaking with multiple voices is often the most effective way to advance meaningful communication.