Do Journalists Often Fudge Quotes? Debate over Quoting Ethics

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An interesting discussion on the ethics of quoting and paraphrasing interviews is going on among journalists and linguists in the comments section of The University of Pennsylvania’s Language Log’s post,

Mark Liberman’s Language Log post, “More unquotations from the New Yorker,” cites iMediaEthics’ investigation into Jared Diamond‘s articles for The New Yorker, specifically our report, “Did Daniel Wemp Really say That?”  As longtime readers of this site will know, iMediaEthics exposed that Diamond wrongly accused Papua New Guinea tribesmen of murder, rape and theft and the magazine failed to fact check his libelous claims. Two Papua New Guineans named in Diamond’s report ultimately sued the New Yorker and Diamond for libel.

Language Log used the questions about Jared Diamond’s reporting along with the magazine’s recent resignation of quote fabricator Jonah Lehrer to argue that:

“When you see a passage in quotation marks in a New Yorker article, you should not expect it to be a truthful representation of anything that the alleged speaker ever actually said. Rather, you should take it as the author’s expression of what they want you to believe that the speaker meant.”

iMediaEthics‘ publisher and editor-in-chief, Rhonda Roland Shearer, and many others have been discussing quoting ethics in the comments section. “Shanna,” argued that journalists’ quoting is “rarely 100% verbatim,” citing her “dozen” interviews with journalists. She suggested “But really, I thought it was understood practice that quotes in most journalists’ pieces were rough approximations of what the person said as the journalist remembers it.” Shearer disputed the Language Log suggestion that “fake quotations are everywhere” and the norm especially since many interviews are now done by email.

Check out the comments section and let us know what you think.

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Do Journalists Often Fudge Quotes? Debate over Quoting Ethics

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