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Reporting What the Speaker Says

Have you ever been misunderstood?

As a public speaker and writer, I know the frustration of being misunderstood. This column is not long enough for me to list examples over the many years of my public speaking gaffes. Nor is the space long enough to chronicle the number of times those to whom I have been speaking misunderstood what I said.

With the current efforts by the press and those with certain agendas to expose any and every little mistake or misspoken word a public figure makes, it is possible to create a sound bite which is opposite of what the speaker said when taken out of context. With cell phone cameras and open microphones everywhere, the temptation is even greater.

The unfortunate truth is, with the availability of cell phone cameras and Internet access, a speech can be posted for the world to see and hear before a person has completed it. Instant access by all the media outlets, and citizen activists making sure they expose what they perceive as corruption, it is possible to turn a phrase into a major news event based on a misunderstanding.

It is true many times people hear exactly what they want to hear, or they impose their preconceived idea on top of words uttered by a public speaker. In many years of attending political events, I have later watched a news report of the event only to discover the main point of the event had been turned around to fit the preplanned media coverage.

Being an observer of news, we often hear the anchor of a news show announce, “Breaking News,” only to discover the news is old and the words are used just to attract the attention of the listener. After so many times hearing “Alert,” or “Breaking News,” I confess, I stop listening. We are sometimes also told that following the next break for a commercial there will be “Breaking News,” My thought is, “If it is breaking news tell me now!”

I have listened to several hundred speeches in the nine years I have been observing the political world from our Capitol in Atlanta. Later, as the reporting is made concerning the words of certain legislators, it is entirely different than what I had heard as I listened to the entire speech. How can that happen? Could it be the person listening is hard of hearing? Could it be the person with the camera or recorder is trying to find a mistake in wording in order to trap the speech maker with the words used in the speech?

It is hard to know the answers to those questions. One thing is certain, however, no one is perfect and we will not always agree with every word of a speaker. When the motive is to trap or make the speaker look and sound wrong, it is possible by taking portions of the speech placed out of context and the job is done. From where I stand, there should be integrity practiced when replaying the speeches of our politicians.  

Follow Ray Newman on Twitter @RayNewmanSr

Cynthia Montgomery March 27, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Mr Ray, I remember at UGA the week long lesson on, "YELLOW JOURNALISM." I feel with today's instant recordings and camera phones, a person can no longer claim that their words were taken out of context or misquoted. That said, I also have noticed that the liberal media yearns to snap off a piece of an entire speech and make something out of nothing! It is sad but it is true. I just laugh when I see the top three media outlets engaging in Yellow Journalism. Yet, the more serious issue is that zombie viewers DO NOT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE and are eating the tainted words up as if they are the truth. We were taught, report the facts! 35 years later it is now, REPORT YOUR OPINION OF THE FACTS! I have actually had a person state that my blogs are my opinions and not facts! DUH! Opinions are just that, opinions. If I wanted to write a term paper with facts and credits, I would still be in college. It is sad that the general public is so uneducated to the types of media of today. Will you be down at the capitol for the final day of session on Thursday?
Brian Crawford March 27, 2012 at 10:58 PM
I could not agree with you more Ray. I guess we could argue all day about who's the worse offender, conservatives or liberals, but as a keen media observer no one has mastered the art of this type of deception better than FOX news. I've also noticed a number of these types of shenanigans coming from the Republican political campaigns this election season. Regardless of the source, no media outlet seems to be immune. I've learned that if you see a clip of someone saying something that sounds completely outrageous, it's a good idea to investigate the context. Fortunately the internet makes this kind of investigation relatively quick and easy. Unedited clips of many speeches can be found on YouTube and the full text of most presidential speeches are posted on major news outlets or Wikipedia. CSPAN is also an excellent resource. As a great American once said "trust but verify". The truth can never be taken for granted, especially in today's media environment that seems to have lost all of it's scruples.
Ray Newman March 27, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Cynthia: Yes I have been at Capitol the last two days. Long and hard days for those of us who work for the pro-life issues. Like you I remember learning about "Yellow Journalsim." I would like to see the Jack Webb style from the olde Dragnet show used in news reporting, "Just the facts." Too many people on all sides want to give commentary on the facts. I enjoy writing opinion columns, even in that I try as best I can to stick with the facts, (as I understand and see them). Thursday will be a long day!
Ray Newman March 27, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Glad you agree, Brian. I agree completely with you, "The truth can never be taken for granted, especially in today's media environment that seems to have lost all it's scruples."
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew March 28, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Correct - and the growing tendency to "report" or "comment" on an item after only listening to a portion of what's actually been said - and then filling in the rest of the piece with shelf stock beliefs. Perhaps this happened in the past much more than we were led to believe, but with access to the same videos today, the problem and the practitioners are easier to identify now a days with a little effort.
Ray Newman March 28, 2012 at 11:39 AM
You are right R. News has been reduced to 10 or 15 second sound bites followed by a 20 second comment then next story.

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