Jeb Bladine: Words too often taken out of context

Harry S. Truman was a mass murderer. Now, there’s a statement taken “out of context!”

It’s an age-old human tendency to turn complex information into sound bites, removing words from their larger, more nuanced context. It can be accidental, but too often it’s an intentional effort to distort.

We overlook simple spins such as movie ads in which “Masterpiece” might quote a review calling the film “a masterpiece of mistakes.” We tolerate questionable statements in daily discussions because it takes too much time to research the context of a conversation. We ignore many political ads because that form of persuasion so often contains major misrepresentations and blatant falsehoods.

One example of wrongful context surfaced at McMinnville City Club forum this week when a city council candidate, multiple times, quoted me as writing that the Alpine Street project is a “head-scratcher.” He apparently didn’t read, or understand, the actual statement from my July Whatchamacolumn praising various transportation bond projects:


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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“Fifth Street work was an acclaimed success, giving city motorists a viable new route from downtown to Lafayette Avenue. The nearby Alpine project — an edgy, far-reaching concept some people still consider a head-scratcher — launched development of a district that will become the popular sister to our city’s growing downtown.”

Wikipedia provides this pointed definition of “Quoting out of context” — “An informal fallacy and a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning.”

Wiki describes the common political ploy of “quoting an opponent (or an authority) out of context in order to misrepresent their position.” That narrative extends to heinous uses of wrongful context to build up Nazi Germany, and the controversial “quote mining” practices by people debating creationism versus evolution.

The current Oregon gubernatorial campaign is a prime example of continuous abuses to context. Unfortunately, people bombarded with outrageous claims either become unfairly prejudiced for one side, or come to regard both sides as purveyors of lies.

Either way, political discourse suffers.

Every area of our lives — politics, science, education, culture, religion, family and more — produces daily examples of information taken out of context. And we all struggle to separate that phenomenon from the necessary simplification of opinions in our day-to-day conversations.

It’s important, but difficult, to learn how to tell when someone is accidentally misinformed, or when they have earned “Four Pinocchios” or a “Pants on Fire.”

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.


E.J. Farrar

When candidates engage in this is it evidence of incomprehension or chicanery? Either way it doesn't help their cause.

Don Dix

E.J. Farrar -- candidates (some of whom are running for re-election) use out-of-context phrases to denigrate opponents at every turn. They know exactly what they are doing, but would never admit to it. Politicians usually are required to check their conscience at the (party) door -- a conscience is a burdensome trait that is not a favorable to promotion of the 'cause'.

Chris Chenoweth

Mr. Bladine,

Your assessment is correct. I took you out of context and I apologize. I was inarticulate and it was not intentional.

Chris Chenoweth

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