: NY Times public editor Dan Okrent takes on the issue of quote snipping in The Times — and all journalism — but neatly sidesteps the really controversial quote shredder, Maureen Dowd.
In the months before I started in this job, two instances of Times columnists’ truncating or eliding quotations made some readers apoplectic. I’m trying to stay away from issues that arose before I started here, except insofar as they relate to running stories, so I’ll leave further discussion of those incidents to critics, polemicists and the columnists’ loved ones.
Copout? Well, one could argue, trying to be fair, that if he’d mentioned Dowd’s name, then he would have had to go into her alleged sins and her defense, if any. On the other hand, now all Tmes columnists are suspected in her crime and that’s not fair, either.
Now I’ll take Okrent by his own rules; he says he doesn’t want to tackle issues that sprouted before he came to the farm. But if he really wanted to tackle the issue of quote snipping, then he ended up with an unsatisfying case study. He sidles up to the controversial Times story under the headline “Support Is Found for Ban on Gay Marriage” and after chosing not to tackle many of the complaints about it — allegations of misjudged measurements of “support” and of quote imbalance and of leading questions in the poll and of polls as, essentially, trumped up or faked news (“This isn’t news; this is awfully close to promotion,” says Okrent) — he settles on the issue of a Bush quote that got snipped as if by a pissed-off moil:
But my gravest concern about the piece, shared by scores of my correspondents (both supporters and opponents of the amendment), has to do with a dicier journalism issue: the fair representation of quotations. In this case, the problem was not the alteration of words, but their absence. Seven paragraphs into the article, reporter Katharine Q. Seelye, who shared the byline with Janet Elder (one of the editors who supervise The Times’s polling operation), quoted a comment President Bush had made a few days earlier: ”I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that.”
But the president had actually teed up his statement, made to Diane Sawyer in an ABC News interview, with a potent qualifier: ”If necessary,” he said, ”I will support. . . .” I cannot believe that these were words the president uttered lightly. I imagine they were arrived at with a great deal of forethought, analysis and even calculation.
But as it turns out, Okrent says, the deletion was an honest mistake and, once found, was corrected.
So even though Okrent does a very fine job of exploring the issue of quotes in news — how they are often mere parsley; how they are necessarily “out of context” — he found himself with a poor lab rat for the ailment. Too bad, when there is such an ideal subject right down the hall, the very model of the issue, the poster child, the inspiration for the creation of the very word that encapsulates the issue: Dowdification.