Please Tell Me You Were Misquoted ...

The news has been filled with people saying some really bizarre things lately and I truly want to believe they were all misquoted.

Even I’m surprised by my own reaction, considering that when I was a reporter I detested it if someone claimed they were misquoted after they saw in print what they actually said to me or someone else. Or, failing that, they’d claim their words were taken out of context when, in fact, their context was 500 useless words surrounding a really great quote. That made me angry, too.

But I’m rethinking my attitude. Maybe we all should claim we were misquoted, or taken out of context whenever we say something really silly, annoying, controversial or upsetting in any way to others. It appears to be working for some of these folks in the news because people seem willing to forgive those who are “misquoted.”

For example, my local newspaper recently quoted a local police official as saying he found it “troubling” that someone had burglarized a woman’s apartment twice to steal her panties and also taken her underwear from the building’s laundry room – and the local PD “is definitely making this a priority."

While I agree that it’s certainly creepy when undies are disappearing and I can understand why the woman might be concerned about more than having to replace her stolen underpants, but when did panty pilfering become a police priority? I live in a small city with thankfully few major criminal offenses but have underwear thefts really moved to the top of the list of crimes to solve? After sputtering about this to my friends, one said, “I bet he was misquoted.”

I sure hope so (although I’ve yet to see a correction in the local newspaper).

Then there was the sheriff’s candidate in New Hampshire who proclaimed that he would not rule out using deadly force to stop an abortion. Not only does this seem illogical to me – to kill someone to prevent what you consider to be murder – but the guy then added, “Just because a law is on the books does not mean that it's lawful.” Huh? No matter how you feel about abortion, is a person who thinks he can pick and choose which laws to enforce the best choice for his county’s chief law enforcement officer? I really wanted to believe he was misquoted, too.

Apparently I wasn’t alone on this and when the political pressure mounted, the candidate apologized and retracted his comments. But instead of claiming that someone had recorded what he said incorrectly, he offered an even better excuse – he “didn’t understand the meaning of the question asked.”

I like that explanation even better and I think there’s a lesson here: The next time you say something you wish you hadn’t, first protest that you were misquoted or taken out of context, then apologize and if those lines of defense fail to persuade anyone, claim you misunderstood the question.

That might be hard to pull off, however, if someone asks you a direct question like, “Honey, does my hair look good” and you answer honestly with something like, “you probably ought to comb it a little more.” In those agonizing moments when time stops because you realize you’ve just put your foot in your mouth and you’re about to choke on it, what should you do?

Claiming you were misquoted might not work here, although you could try to claim the person didn’t hear your response correctly. And it might be difficult to claim your words were taken out of context when there’s only two of you in the conversation.

But “I didn’t understand the meaning of the question asked” might work and it wouldn’t be a lie. Let’s face it: if you’d understood that the person’s question meant for you to answer “Yes” you wouldn’t be in this pickle.

Maybe it is a matter of context after all.

(Editor's Note:  Five Ways To Avoid Being Misquoted, here!)

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