One of the topics in my editing course is about the ethical use of quotes in news stories. Editors should ensure that reporters quote sources completely and accurately.
On occasion, a celebrity or politician will accuse a news organization of taking a quote out of context. Typically, this is an attempt to deflect criticism for an outrageous statement.
But sometimes, a news organization does use a person’s quote out of context, warping its meaning. Here is an example that I have used in class for several years.
A news story quoted Brad Pitt about his early days in Hollywood. Before getting into acting, he drove strippers to parties. One of the women recommended an acting coach who proved instrumental in Pitt’s rise to stardom.
The interviewer asked: “So a stripper changed the course of your career?” Pitt’s response facetiously: “Strippers changed my life.”
The resulting headline from The Huffington Post takes this quote out of context:
It’s misleading and unethical. It’s clickbait. It’s a good example of what not to do.
My example is stale, however. I’ve been looking for a new one. And this week, Fox News provided me with a fresh example of a quote taken out of context.
Jake Tapper of CNN said this on the air as his cable network covered a terrorist attack in New York City: “The Arabic chant ‘allahu akbar’ — ‘God is great’ — sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances, and too often we hear of it being said in moments like this.”
Here’s how Fox News reported Tapper’s remark via Twitter:
The tweet warps Tapper’s statement, implying that he approved of the violence in New York. Tapper responded on Twitter:
Fox deleted the tweet, but a story about it stayed on its website. Fox host Sean Hannity repeated it on the air.
I feel bad for Tapper. No one likes to be misquoted or have their words distorted for any reason, including political attacks.
But I want to thank Fox News for this tweet. It’s a beautiful example of what not to do.