As a journalist I hear all the time from people in business that they are misquoted. And you know what? People need to get over that, and I'm going to tell you why …(Note to readers: I added the ellipsis to cut out an illustrative anecdote about how she met her husband. That's not misquoting, that's editing.)
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.
The journalist, Penelope Trunk, continued on by making points about narrative and context and along the way took a swing at reporters who believe they are writing with the truth in mind:
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.I'm familiar enough with postmodern literature to know that there is a degree of "mushiness" to perception and storytelling. In Journalism 101 at Boston University, us bleary-eyed neophytes learned from Dr. Marilyn Root about "The Blind Men and the Elephant" – where different people can honestly perceive different things about a subject. But what Trunk (pun incidental) is putting forth, in a way, is saying that all quotes are subjective. And that's simply not so.
This isn't to say that there aren't cases of intellectual dishonesty with regards to misquoting people. Movie reviews that lop off qualifiers; political stories that don't allow a politician to complete a thought, even Ann Coulter's recent controversy surrounding her ill-conceived John Edwards 'joke' was a case of leaving out some crucial information. But if a reporter invites a person to make a statement and incorporates that full point into his/her reporting, then they're staying true to the original quote. Not to parse things to a painful extent, but what Trunk might be trying to say may not be an issue of 'misquoting' as much as it is one of 'misportraying.' There is a precision to quotes: you use the exact words from an interviewee in the order they were spoken. And you allow them to complete their thought. This isn't "Rashomon." This is reporting.
There will always be a degree of relativity in reporting, as long as journalists are human. But telling people they "need to get over" concerns about misquotations starts to blur one of the few tangible practices of the trade.