Selective Quotation is Alive and Well
A few years ago I quoted somewhere the alarmist scientist Steve Schneider as saying,
So we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts we may have . . . each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective, and being honest.
A reader wrote in to upbraid me for missing out
the next sentence, where Schneider said, "I hope that means being
both." The reader was right. Missing out the sentence was not fair to
Schneider, but nor does it materially change the import of Schneider’s
statement. Since that day I have tried to include it whenever I can.
And I have also tried to be careful about quoting selectively in
general. I cannot say for sure that I have always succeeded, but I have
tried to be fair.
This, of course, makes me particularly interested
to see instances where I myself am selectively quoted, which happens
every so often. The most recent example is today, in an article by Charles Holman of The Washington Monthly,
which adopts an oh-these-conservatives-when-will-they-learn approach to
the grand experiment that was Culture11. For some reason he singles out
my only contribution to the site:
The goal of providing conservative journalists a place to write for their fellow conservatives about cultural subjects gave the lesser features and reviews by young writers the sheltered-workshop aura of a college newspaper, and occasionally dipped into the kind of "these kids today" cultural commentary that right-of-center magazines have never been short of, with Iain Murray—one of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s in-house authorities on climate change denial—harrumphing that "it seems impossible to find a show that airs after 8 p.m. on any of the major networks that is not obsessed with sex."
Yes, I did write that. The trouble for Holman’s argument is that the
way he uses the quotation ignores the entire point of the article. For
instance, the next paragraph begins:
Now this is not to say that sex is not funny or that it should be
bowdlerized out of comedy. As should be obvious, I really enjoy all
these shows. The problem is monotony.
My whole point was that bawdy comedy and elegant comedy have existed
side-by-side for the entirety of human existence until, it seems, the
last couple of years. I’m not "harrumphing" about sex comedy in the
slightest, just the monotonous obsession with it. Would Holman care to
defend that monotony?
The really funny thing is that Holman’s complaint about my
harrumphing is in itself a harrumph. And I’m sure Culture11 could have
published something very good about that.