I have a new post up at CJR looking back at the way the press took Mitt Romney's statement about health insurance out of context:
Michael Kinsley famously wrote that “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” But in the 24/7 media age, another type of gaffe has emerged. In this case, the target is a defensible statement that can be taken out of context to advance some narrative about the politician.
Classic examples include Al Gore’s statement that he “took the initiative in creating the Internet” while serving in Congress, which was twisted into the false paraphrase “invented the Internet”; John Kerry’s statement “I actually did vote for the $87 billion [in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan] before I voted against it,” which was rewritten as “I voted for it before I voted against it”; and Mitt Romney’s “Corporations are people, my friend,” an accurate description of who bears the ultimate costs of corporate taxes that was falsely described as a declaration that corporations have the same rights as individuals. In each case, the press appears to believe that these statements reveal the true essence of the politician in question and as such are exempt from normal standards of accuracy.
The latest example of the genre is Romney’s statement last Monday that “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” which came during a discussion of individuals shopping for their own health insurance. The furor over the quote did not prevent Romney from winning the New Hampshire primary. But before moving on, it’s worth looking more closely at how the controversy was covered since it raises broader concerns about the way the media handles these sorts of gaffes.
Read the whole thing for more.