One of the favorite excuses that politicians use whenever they show up in an unflattering story is to say that their remarks were “taken out of context.” Senator Wayne Allard played this card back in June when his comments on illegal immigrants raised eyebrows. From the Rocky Mountain News:
A May 27 story in the Greeley Tribune quoted Allard as saying the more illegal immigration there is, “the more crime you have.” The story was about his opposition to a bill that would allow undocumented workers to apply for permanent residency.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak called on Allard to apologize and assailed his remarks as “another example of Republican attitudes toward the Latino community.”
Allard said Tuesday that his comments to the paper were taken out of context. He said he was referring to smugglers who abandon or enslave illegal immigrants and are involved in drug and crime rings. He said he never mentioned ethnicity and, in fact, based his remarks on media accounts of the plight of women and children from around the world.
Were Allard’s remarks taken out of context? Maybe, but the Greeley Tribune disagreed with Allard stood by its story and published an editorial saying they stood by their story.
But sometimes the media does take quotes out of context, and occasionally it can cause a serious problem. The Rocky Mountain Collegian, the student newspaper at Colorado State University, caused problems for State Rep. Angie Paccione and supporters of Referenda C&D earlier this month by admittedly misquoting Paccione in a forum on TABOR reform.
On Sept. 1, the Collegian published a story about a debate on Referenda C&D in which it quoted Paccione as calling Referenda C&D the “biggest tax increase in the history of the state.” Opponents of C&D seized on the quote as an example of a C&D supporter finally admitting what they have said for a long time: that the Referenda amounts to a massive tax increase. The Collegian also wrote an editorial about C&D, including Paccione’s comments, in that same issue.
The problem is, that wasn’t what Paccione said.
One week later the Collegian ran a retraction, admitting that Paccione’s comments were indeed taken out of context:
The Collegian must clarify two quotes attributed in the Sept. 1 article, “Paccione challenges Musgrave.”
The quote, “It is the biggest tax increase in the history of the state,” was not really her belief, Paccione says, but rather her response to an audience member asking her to articulate the opposition’s argument.
Paccione was actually talking about the No on C&D message that the referenda are a huge tax increase, but she wasn’t saying she agreed. A seasoned reporter who knew about the arguments on C&D would have known to ask Paccione to clarify that statement; no elected official who is supporting C&D would have knowingly made that mistake.
Unfortunately for Paccione and supporters of C&D, the damage is already done. Opponents of C&D can now use that quote in the Collegian as proof of their claim that C&D is a tax increase (a claim that is not entirely accurate since C&D do not call for taxes to be increased), and the average voter will probably assume that since it appeared in print it must be true.
There’s more at stake here than just sloppy reporting, but it’s proof that sometimes politicians really do get misquoted.