If you’re going to quote Trump, quote him completely

Thomas Hennigan

Readers might recall that fellow “Dark Side” contributor Jeff Sayre recently had to apologize for using content from a Reuters article without proper attribution.

At Reuters’ direction, the online version of Sayre’s column was edited to include accurate sourcing.

That’s one of the things you’re supposed to learn is wrong while in school and it’s verboten here at the Lewiston Tribune. Good.

However, other practices as wrong as plagiarism are part of the zeitgeist at this zeitung. You’re not supposed to leave out portions of a quote because it contradicts your thesis.

Just as it’s wrong to take someone else’s words and present them as your own, it’s wrong to deliberately change the meaning of a person’s words. As we’ll later see, that standard doesn’t change from writing a news article to penning an opinion piece.

On July 19, a Marc C. Johnson Tribune column stated: “ ‘Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,’ Trump said of four Democratic members of Congress. ...”

Two days later, Marty Trillhaase referenced the same Trump tweet: “... Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — to ‘go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.’ ”

Both men left out Trump’s phrase, “Then come back and show us how ... it is done.”

I remember hearing “America, love it or leave it!” in my misspent Yippie youth. There was no “and then come back” clause.

Omitting said clause from Trump’s tweet changes the sense of what he wrote. That others did worse by the president’s tweet doesn’t excuse Johnson or Trillhaase.

Nor does the thread break between the portions of the statement on Twitter (https://bit.ly/2TeTxCu). Thread breaks are not paragraph breaks; ideas carry over from tweet to tweet in a thread.

The same holds true for Trillhaase’s, “Trump said there were ‘good people’ among the white supremacists who participated in the deadly march at Charlottesville, Va.” (July 21).

The charge is a factual elide that ignores a later clarification made in unscripted remarks by Trump, as per CNN’s Jake Tapper April 26 comment (https://cnn.it/2TaBUUn).

Now, elsewhere in those remarks, Trump did condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. So he’s not saying that the neo-Nazis and white supremacists are very fine people but he is saying people protesting alongside those neo-Nazis and white supremacists are very fine people.

As CNN political analyst Steve Cortes points out at Prager U, even the New York Times knew such to be so in the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville:

“Good people can go to Charlottesville,” said Michelle Piercy, a night shift worker at a Wichita, Kan., retirement home, who drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

After listening to Mr. Trump on Tuesday, Piercy said it was as if he had channeled her and her friends — all gun-loving defenders of free speech, she said, who had no interest in standing with Nazis or white supremacists: “It’s almost like he talked to one of our people.” (Aug. 16, 2017 https://nyti.ms/2x1XQWi)

The preamble to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists states: “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”

Article I of the same code tells us: “Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” (https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp)

Interpreting information is what we do on this page. It’s supposed to be our take on the why and how of journalism’s famous “Who-What-When-Where-Why-How” rubric for content.

Logically “Why” and — to a degree — “How” are the only parts of said rubric that are subject to interpretation.

Plagiarism misleads readers on “Who” said something; misquoting misleads readers regarding “What” was said.

I’m not a perfect person, but I police my own writing pretty carefully on these points.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I believe most Tribune readers aren’t hyperpartisan ideologues. They want matters of fact reported accurately even in commentary. I believe ethical writing strives to meet that expectation.

But even if such writing’s not what’s wanted, it’s what’s needed by a world awash in misinformation, disinformation and yellow journalism.

So I ask — and ask earnestly: “What, exactly, is the standard of ethical practice at this paper?”

If it’s merely CYA, merely “Don’t get us sued,” then “I can’t go for that.” (Hall and Oates, 1981)

Hennigan, of Lewiston, is an instructional technology administrator at Lewis-Clark State College. His email address is t0by_belch@yahoo.com.

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