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There are two lethal accusations you can put on a journalist. The first is plagarism and the second is to prove that a write misquoted you.

Nowadays, most journalists have audio recording devices and record interviews they conduct, so it’s much more difficult to completely misquote someone. But, after a discussion with a local journalist and a member of the front office at the Royals, I began to wonder, is under-quoting someone just as dangerous?

The two subjects of this discussion are Dayton Moore, General Manager for the Royals and Sam Mellinger, the head columnist for the Kansas City Star.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t believe that Mr. Moore has placed any charge of wrong doing towards Mr. Mellinger, but in my

 
, he said this:

“Sam Mellinger wrote an article, and it was very disappointing, they don’t use all that you give them. And what I said was, and I mean this, Dave Glass loves baseball and is passionate about baseball and knows the history of this game as much as any person I’ve ever met in my life. And one thing about, yes, you own a Major League Baseball team, you have a lot of money. And a lot of owners love the game, but they have huge egos. And a lot of the reasons they own the baseball team, and you’ve seen some of it blown up over the last three or four years in certain cities, it’s because their egos are huge.”

Now, that’s about 75 words. A common newspaper column is around 1,000 words so devoting 7 to 10% of that to a long-winded answer might not work.  I don’t know what Dayton actually said to Sam. But my guess is that Sam simply cut his answer down for time.

Mellinger’s article only included one direct quote from Dayton Moore: “David Glass is a very competitive person, and he demands that you qualify what you’re trying to accomplish,” Moore said. “He asks questions, but as long as you qualify it, he’s supported everything we’ve done. It’s his job as the owner to validate and substantiate the judgment of all his people. He requires that we do just that.”

Now, from what little I know about Dayton Moore, it’s unlikely that he has ever given that succinct an answer to any question. I’m guessing he has a line of 15 cars behind him when he orders a Happy Meal at the drive-through.

So, when Dayton said he was “disappointed” in Mellinger’s effort to quote him for the article, what was he expecting?

Is being under-quoted the same as being misquoted?

When I contacted Sam Mellinger for a response to this, he said he had no problem with a charge of under-quoting, but he would take offense to a charge of “misquoting.”

In an e-mail response to me, Mellinger clarified his interpretation of Dayton’s disappointment:

“When I hear “misquoted” I think of a journalism felony that involves making up a quote or blatant sloppiness. Any time someone says they’ve been misquoted, the reporter’s ears perk up. It’s why we tape everything, and keep those recordings long enough to make sure nobody makes an accusation.

You’ll hardly ever use ALL of what someone tells you for lots of reasons, most of them obvious and involving space. You would be bored to tears if the stories in our paper included everything the sources say, but the idea is that when you put someone’s words between quotation marks it’s exactly what they said.

If I didn’t use all of what Dayton said for the record in that quote, it’s certainly accurate and I believe a fair representation of the rest of what he said.”

But that still leaves a lot of grey area. Radio folks commonly pick just snippets of a quote out to either poke fun at or comment on. The most recent would be Ned Yost’s comment when he demoted Joakim Soria in which he said “we’ve gotten to a point where we’ll back Jack off,” This left the 7 year old’s in us snickering.

Radio shows started playing the loop of “back Jack off.” snicker…

So, it just provides an even more slippery slope for which to operate between the media and those they are covering. When you open your mouth, you’re basically giving them 100% authority to use one or all of your words and have to trust that they will use them accurately and responsibly.

Do you think under-quoting someone is the same as misquoting someone?