Don’t Quote Me

Anyone who has ever been interviewed for a news story has experienced that "Oh God I hope I don't sound like and idiot" feeling and the related "I hope they don't use what I say out of context to make me look like an idiot" feeling. It's terrifying and a primary reason that there's an industry built ar0und media training.

Related to the fear of being misquoted is the desire to control the story and as a result there's a growing trend for people to demand quote approval as a condition for being interviewed. Some traditional news people argue that it's bad for the news reporting business, but Dilbert creator Scott Adams thinks it might actually be a good thing:

I've been interviewed several hundred times in my career. When I see my quotes taken out of context it is often horrifying. Your jaw would drop if you saw how often quotes are literally manufactured by writers to make a point. Some of it is accidental because reporters try to listen and take notes at the same time. But much of it is obviously intentional. So much so that when I see quotes in any news report I discount them entirely. In the best case, quotes are out of context. In the worst case, the quotes are totally manufactured.

I've also been in a number of interviews in which the writer tried to force a quote to fit a narrative that's already been formed. The way that looks is that the writer asks the same question in ten different ways, each time trying to lead the witness to a damning or controversial quote. It's a dangerous situation because humans are wired to want to please, and once you pick up on what a writer wants you to say, it's hard to resist delivering it…

Quote approval is certainly bad for the news industry because it reduces the opportunities for manufacturing news and artificial controversies. But on balance, I'd say quote approval adds more to truth than it subtracts.

Over the past few years I've been interviewed a few times for news stories related to my job, but they were mostly "friendly" stories that didn't carry any "gotcha" risks. Then a few weeks ago I was interviewed for a story and it was apparent throughout the interview that the reporter had a pre-conceived narrative and she was trying mightily to get me to give up a juicy quote to support that narrative. I spent the better part of 20 minutes trying to not give her that quote and then spent eight agonizing hours until the story was aired to see how anything I might have said would be used. I've never been happier to end up edited ott of a story in my life.

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