NPR logo 'Taken Out Of Context': More Than Just A Cliche

Politics & Society

'Taken Out Of Context': More Than Just A Cliche

That's a standard line of defense for any public figure who says something nasty, unsupportable, racist, sexist or patently stupid, and then gets unexpectedly called to account. It's a hackneyed excuse that's long been on heavy rotation for Washington types who talk their way into trouble.

So when Shirley Sherrod offered that defense after her racially tinged remarks were posted on YouTube, who would believe her?

As it turns out, not the Agriculture Secretary ... not the NAACP ... and not even the Obama administration.

Except, she was telling the truth.

Much has been made of who has apologized and who hasn't. There's plenty of fault to go around; and some of it belongs to everyone who has participated in the world of pseudo news as a reporter, politician, or consumer. In that world, stories — constructed lovingly around small, carefully pruned facts — conveniently "prove" that everyone who disagrees with us is stupid or evil, or both.  

The internet is a most effective tool for spreading this stuff around. Conspiracy theorists, rhetorical bullies and outright nut jobs find a ready audience of fellow travelers who believe that repeating a rumor — loudly and with venom — can magically turn it into fact.

Despite all the hand wringing about standards of truth on the Web and civil discourse, the real problem is that too many of us are only willing to call liars and fact-stretchers out when they're on the other side, and NOT willing to do the same for all wing nuts whose tall tales support our own world view.  

Unfortunately, the best way to silence the echo chamber of half-truths is to stop repeating them, in our blogs, around our water coolers, and in our homes.

That's no fun, but that's a fact.