Guilty by Headline

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Whenever the media wants to demonize a public figure, Scott Adams (Dilbert) finds, they follow a specific pattern:

  1. Quote the public figure out of context to make him look more ridiculous than usual.
  2. When the public figure tries to put the quote back in context, the headlines the next day will say, “[Public Figure] Doubles Down”
  3. When the public figure tries to clarify a hasty remark, or one taken out of context, the headline is “[Public Figure] Backpedals on Earlier Remarks.”

Backpedaling and doubling down are words the media use to signal their opinion that the figure in question is an unscrupulous weasel. It also helps distract from the fact that the media often invents news by removing context. Doubling down sounds a lot better than the more accurate alternative: “Public Figure Correctly Points Out that We Manufactured News by Removing Context.”

Adams hates it when context ruins a good story:

Perhaps you read the so-called “news” in the United States that an obsessed FBI agent sent a photo of himself, shirtless, to a married woman who is connected to the story of General Patreus and his extra-marital affair. That’s what I call a story! Sex, power, wow!

Days pass. Now a lawyer for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association explains that the photo was in a larger context of the two families who have been social friends for years sending joke photos to each other on a regular basis. The picture in question showed the agent humorously standing between two firing-range dummies that I assume were also shirtless.


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