What’s that about “out of context”?

As a quick follow up to the previous post about the willingness of individuals and organizations to push out-of-context information onto the public, let’s compare the way in which two stories about video exposés: Romney’s fundraiser “47%” video, and Obama’s 1998 “redistribution” comments.

A first-pass comparison is all that’s needed to see a stark difference. Mother Jones, the site which broke the Romney video story, has various easy-to-find links to a full transcript of the Romney fundraiser speech, as well as links to the audio and video of 68 of the 70 total minutes of speaking. That is, there is no concern for the context of the remarks – those providing the information are also providing the entire context (minus two minutes, of course) of the remarks. This can hardly be called deception in journalism.

A video also surfaced this week of President Obama supporting the notion of redistribution:

I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.

This has been used to demonstrate Obama’s supposed pro-government, anti-business, and anti-free market stance. However, the snippet most frequently shown by news outlets has been rather short. And, not surprisingly, a search for context reveals the following:

I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.  How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities. [emphasis mine]

Even a mild excavation for context (adding just one sentence following) changes the entire portrait of Obama as anti-competition and anti-free market. Yet, convenient editing attempts to exclude the context. This is precisely the kind of misinformation Jefferson was afraid of, and yet it remains difficult to escape it.

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