Friday, December 16, 2011


So I got in a little Facebook argument the other day. If you know me you know how odd that statement is. I generally limit my comments on people's FB posts to clicking 'like' (actually I click 'j'aime', as I have my FB page set to French) or saying things like "cool" "nice pic" "congratulations." Original, I know. But this time, I made a comment - a real comment.

The post was by a friend who is actually a former student. His political views and mine are far apart and it's something that we good-naturedly joke about pretty regularly. Every now and then I try to remind him that he is to use his power for good and not for evil. He doesn't listen.

But this time I commented and criticized - and I was serious. He posted a link to an article and in his post he said "this person CLAIMS..." So, I followed the link and read the article. That person did not claim.

He was referencing an article that is on the extreme side - I'd call it one of those pieces that is designed to be inflammatory. My friend said "He claims if X happens, then Y WILL happen." That's not what the author said. The author said if X happens, then Y CAN happen." Those are different statements.

So, I called my friend on this. Specifically I said, "this is the type of comment that I would nail you for if you did it in a paper or in a speech. Go back and read again. He does not claim that this WILL happen. Twisting the actual words of others to make your point is cheap and inflammatory. It's something we discussed in the basic Public Speaking class under Rules of Evidence and the Ethics of using evidence to prove your point." If you're going to quote, do it accurately.

That comment seems to have started quite an argument - with my friend and also with another poster who commented. She defended my friend saying that he was not misquoting, that those words had been used in the article. He was misquoting. Yes, those words were used in the article - but they were not used in the order in which he claimed they were - hence 'misquoting.' He was giving his interpretation of the author's intent based upon those words - perhaps accurate, perhaps not.

While I may not disagree with the conclusion my friend came to, I do disagree with the way he presented his point. It's easy to take another person's words and twist them to mean what we want them to. We repeat part of what someone says, leaving out or adding in a significant word or two and we put it out there as being what the person actually said. I'm sure we all do it on occasion.

But just because we all do it now and then or at least understand why people would want to, doesn't make it the right thing to do. If people are saying something stupid - the stupidity will shine through. We don't have to twist their words and claim that they said things they didn't say. When you misquote and misrepresent what people say, you weaken your own point and leave yourself open to charges of being dishonest and unethical.

One of the comments the other poster made was to my friend was to say "thank you for having the courage to call out such high brow crap as this. Hitler’s adage “Make the lie big, keep telling it, and people will believe it” is as true today as it was back then. This rabbi gets the award for most incendiary, divisive, and intellectually dishonest article of the year. We have a moral obligation to call out these lies, not just sit back and just 'dismiss.'"

I laughed out loud when I read her post. I find her reaction - and my friend's as well -- as being absolutely over the top. They are crediting this writer with far more influence than he deserves and they are making far more out of this article than it merits. Really - the majority of thinking people who read this will dismiss it as the rantings of a nut. I could post links to at least a hundred articles that are more divisive and incendiary than this one that have been printed in the last month - not year. His reposting of the article as well as the reposting by his friends who are 'sharing' it gives it far more scope than it ever would have had if they had done what most people would: read the article, get to the offensive part, say to themselves 'Oh, for Pete's sake,' and move on.

But then, I wonder if that really isn't the point. We look for offense - we look for something to be angry and upset about - we look for something about which we should have 'a moral obligation' to speak out. I suppose it's human nature. And, I guess I can accept that.

What I can't accept is the misquoting. If you are going to quote someone - do it accurately. Don't claim that someone else said something that they didn't say. If you INTERPRET what he said to mean something specific, then say that - and OWN it.

I own the fact that I lifted this image from:

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