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Opening Arguments

The narrative

No wonder people hate journalists for misquoting them and using them and looking down on them. Here's one of us who says, yeah, we do do that. So What? Get over it.The title -- "It doesn't matter that journalists misquote everyone" -- pretty much says it all:

The reason that everyone thinks journalists misquote them is that the person who is writing is the one who gets to tell the story. No two people tell the same story.

[. . .]

Journalists who think they are telling "the truth" don't understand the truth. We each have our own truth. When you leave out details, you might leave out what is unimportant to you but very important to someone else, and things start feeling untrue to the person who wishes you included something else.

[. . .]

So everyone feels misquoted because people say 20 or 30 sentences for every one sentence that a journalist prints. It's always in the context of the journalist's story, not the speaker's story.

Here's my advice: If you do an interview with a journalist, don't expect the journalist to be there to tell your story. The journalist gets paid to tell her own stories which you might or might not be a part of. And journalists, don't be so arrogant to think you are not "one of those" who misquotes everyone. Because that is to say that your story is the right story. But it's not. We each have a story. And whether or not someone actually said what you said they said, they will probably still feel misquoted.

Good grief, what a self-serving load of crap. A lot of what she is saying is true, in a general sense. We do all have our points of view, so true objectivity is all but impossible. And there are many stories in an overall narrative. That's why the blogosphere has grown, drawing in people who just to get their stories out. 

But someone still has to get as much of the story as possible and tell it as straightforwardly and without bias as possible. The journalist does not "get paid to tell her own story" but to describe the world as it is perceived. Those perceptions might be subjective, but there is no justification to making the descrpitions deceptive in service to some larger truth. We are all searching for that larger truth, and a grasp of objective reality should be our preferred starting point. As long as journalists presume to provide that objective reality, they should leave "the narrative" to the artistic community.


Mon, 07/23/2007 - 8:57am

An analogous situation for me, it seems, is writing an appellate brief. Among other things, you are supposed to provide the Court with a statement of facts that is more or less spin-free. Then you have your Argument section where you pitch your case. In the Statement of Facts, not everyone is going to be telling the same story, but the Court is going to know if you're cherry picking and not being forthright about what the record shows the facts as being.

Leo Morris
Mon, 07/23/2007 - 9:45am

That's also the way we have been taught to do it in newspapers. On the news pages, readers are supposed to just find the equivalent of your Statement of Facts, then they can go to the editorial page if they choose and get the Argument spin. As long as we still present ourselves that way, I think we have an obligation to present the news as fairly and accurately as we can, regardless of our recognition of the difficulty of achieving true objectivity. BTW, I've been quoted enough myself to take people seriously who say their comments have been misquoted or taken out of context.