Anybody who regularly speaks to a member of the press knows this short phrase too well. If you happen to be a member of the press, you probably say it without even thinking, possibly with people you are not currently interviewing. Jokingly, of course.
Here's the problem with that: We have become a culture based on sound bites. Everything needs to be distilled to its very core principle, otherwise it becomes either 1) "Too complicated" for the mildly educated (and therefore average) American to understand, or 2) contradictory to the point of confusion, endless speculation, and debate by people not fit to teach or practice law, in most instances.
In fact, this post was originally double the length, but I had to shorten it just to keep your attention.*
Anyway, journalists rely on quotes to construct their narratives, offering the reader or viewer as much information in as few words or seconds possible. This is how the world has always worked, or at least for the last couple hundred years. Before that, nothing was quoted, everything was rumored. Imagine living in a world where the sun is a fiery mystery that may or may not ever break the horrifying, frozen darkness of a new moon. Being an early human sucked.
But here we are. A self aware, organized society that is a mish mash of political theories dating back 3000 years, religions dating back 10000, and media dating back...all of them.
The media is more than important than anything else that exists. It is our record, it is the only thing left behind when we turn to ashes, as billions upon billions of us have done before. Those of us who seek legacy seek the media for its ability to enshrine our names in the public record, a record that dates back to before The Bible, one of the earliest forms of journalism. Here was a guy wandering around creating miracles in front of crowds of thousands and getting the ROMAN EMPIRE so pissed off that they had to execute him...that story is so fucking good someone had to tell it, right?
So that's where it all comes back to quotes.
After Jesus said so many quotable things, we started chanting his quotes at each other. Thou Shalt Not Kill. Love Thy Neighbor. HE WASN'T EVEN THE FIRST GUY TO SAY THAT STUFF, HE WAS JUST READING PARTS OF THE TORAH TO PEOPLE, SOMETHING HE LEARNED FROM A GUY WHO LIVED IN THE WOODS AND BAPTIZED PEOPLE IN A RIVER. We became obsessed with quotes and opinions, it became a way for us to communicate with one another in a way that wasn't purely transactional. This was before any of the "romance" languages existed, save for Latin, which as we know is no longer spoken because of its technical complexity and emotional simplicity.
So the best quotes stuck, and we as a society built entire institutional systems to collect quotes from those who matter and disseminate them to the populace for consumption. But the problem with quotes is that they are simple. They will never fully encapsulate even a simple idea completely, though they often feel satisfyingly complete when consumed raw. Quotes are incredibly hard to churn out, so most companies, politicians, celebrities, teams, universities and organizations have entire departments dedicated to crafting the perfect quotes. It's inspiring how seriously these fuckers take their jobs.
My beef is not with these people. They are doing a job that they are very good at, though this often means oversimplifying complex or threatening ideas to create ideas that foster a general sense of calm. They fit "the narrative" we want it to fit.
This is why you don't ever really hear Obama talk about things like global warming. He'll "talk" about it and enact some legislation and fund some wildlife thing and then change the subject to a policy item that is tangentially related to the subject at hand. And you, journalist, are responsible to take that quote. That quote is the anchor for your piece, which is due NOW because the news is NOW and you don't even have fucking time to eat get that BITCH UP NOW, so even if you think in your heart of hearts that quote is complete and utter trash compared to your original question, you are forced to run it in its entirety and with limited rebuttal. Or not at all, but then what would you say? Did I mention the deadline for the piece that your highly competitive, low paying job is tied to happens to be RIGHT FUCKIN' NOW?
Cool. So I get it, but I need more from you guys. You go to very expensive schools to learn "journalism" and then you bend over for Uncle Turner or Grandpa Ailes or Daddy Moonves because they have jobs for you; young, smart, successful journalism graduate with $100k in student loan debt and a strong desire to prove your father wrong about law school. You went to school to learn an art, even if nobody will pay you to do it, you can come do it here and make the world a better place. Hell, we'll even throw money at you for your excellent work on the side, your real employer never needs to know you moonlight as a...journalist.
A free press is critical to the function of democracy, and right now our democracy is failing us. It is the journalist's responsibility to provide the whole story, "What really happened." Anything less is a sound bite, and while sound bites can be representative of a story, they can never replace the complete story. Not anymore.
And you can quote me on that.
*Not really. But had you not read to the bottom of this post you would have never known I was full of shit. Don't believe everything you read on the internet unless you have facts or sources to back it up.