February 19, 2020

The Editor Speaks: “Taken out of context”


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I had to laugh out loud over the last few days with the national newspapers (especially the US one) over the indignation and rage when Donald Trump stupidly (but then?) tweeted a comment aimed at the London Mayor after the attack on the capital.

Trump’s Tweet said: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!”

There was uproar and the television channels gleefully played back the whole text of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s statement. The press pointed out Trump had taken the quote out of context.

“But when Khan said in a statement that there was no cause for alarm, he was referring specifically to a
visible increase in police activity on the streets of London in the wake of the attack.

‘”Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed,” he said.” – CNN

It certainly was taken out of context but what made me laugh was the absolute indignation, shock and huge criticism the media pronounced.


The media do it every day. Especially when it comes to Donald Trump!

So do most of us if we are trying to give some substantiation to a point we are making and finding any hard facts to back it up. Look at advertising and the quotes that are used there.

Please, therefore, don’t be so outraged.

“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone …” Jesus.

And taking things out of context is actually called Contextomy.

“Contextomy refers to the selective excerpting of words from their original linguistic context in a way that distorts the source’s intended meaning, a practice commonly referred to as “quoting out of context”. The problem here is not the removal of a quote from its original context per se (as all quotes are), but to the quoter’s decision to exclude from the excerpt certain nearby phrases or sentences (which become “context” by virtue of the exclusion) that serve to clarify the intentions behind the selected words. Comparing this practice to surgical excision, journalist Milton Mayer coined the term “contextomy” to describe its use by Julius Streicher, editor of the infamous Nazi broadsheet Der Stürmer in . To arouse anti-semitic sentiments among the weekly’s working class Christian readership, Streicher regularly published truncated quotations from Talmudic texts that, in their shortened form, appear to advocate greed, slavery, and ritualistic murder. Although rarely employed to this malicious extreme, contextomy is a common method of misrepresentation in contemporary mass media, and studies have demonstrated that the effects of this misrepresentation can linger even after the audience is exposed to the original, in context, quote.” – Wikipedia

Wikipedia has a list of out of context quotes:

Entertainment: with The Times reporting its frequent abuse by promoters with, for example, “I couldn’t help feeling that, for all the energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry, the audience had been shortchanged” being pared down to “having ‘energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry'”.
Politics: Firing of Shirley Sherrod: In 2010, Breitbart released a video of a speech of a director, Shirley Sherrod, that suggested that she was racist against a white farmer that approached her for help. Shortly after, Sherrod was fired for the remarks in the video. Later, a longer video showing the entire speech showed that Sherrod explicitly rejected the racist interpretation of the short clip that was originally published. Sherrod sued Breitbart and others for defamation and the case was settled out of court.
Travel: The Guardian ran an article in May 2013 with the subheading “Sri Lanka has the hotels, the food, the climate and the charm to offer the perfect holiday, says . It’s just a pity about the increasingly despotic government”. A highly edited version of this piece was immediately posted on the official news portal under the heading “Sri Lanka has everything to offer perfect holiday” [sic].
Pseudohistory: A book review in The New York Times recounts Lerone Bennett Jr.’s “distortion by omission” in citing a letter from Abraham Lincoln as evidence that he “did not openly oppose the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party” because, as Lincoln explained, “they are mostly my old political and personal friends”, while omitting to mention that the remainder of the letter describes Lincoln’s break with these former Whig Party associates of his, and his anticipation of “painful necessity of my taking an open stand against them.”
Alternative medicine: Analysis of the evidence submitted by the British Homeopathic Association to the House Of Commons Evidence Check On Homeopathy contains many examples of quote mining, where the conclusions of scientific papers were selectively quoted to make them appear to support the efficacy of homeopathic treatment. For example, one paper’s conclusion was reported as “There is some evidence that homeopathic treatments are more effective than placebo” without the immediately following caveat “however, the strength of this evidence is low because of the low methodological quality of the trials. Studies of high methodological quality were more likely to be negative than the lower quality studies.”

I couldn’t have summed it up better…….

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