This New Yorker cartoon was published first in 1993, when even always-filing-wire-service journalists got to end their day, at some point, and the news — quaintly, it now seems — stopped until the morning paper hit the steps the next day.

The Internet wasn’t yet widespread. (Did you catch that clip of banter among anchors from the Today show early in 1994 where Bryant Gumble asks: What is the Internet, anyway?

So, it’s not slick production of the 24-7 news cycle that ushered in the awareness that something lurks behind the news, behind the stories we hear…that there’s something else going on.


It probably dates back to the days of the first parables. The subtext in those stories was the point.

It’s good to be reminded of this instinct humans have — to suspect, to just know — that there’s a subtext to the stories we hear.

When we communicate, our audiences are thinking the same thing…they’re wondering what’s our story behind the story? If it makes, clarifies or strengthens a reasonable point or if it capitalizes on mutual benefits (sale-priced bananas marked down to clear out inventory that would otherwise rot within days) you’re probably on safe ground.

If, however, the subtext distorts the truth? That undermines authenticity. Always.

Better to come clean. Even the littlest of kids know that eating their broccoli isn’t the same as eating dessert. And if you want them to gulp that down by telling them it tastes like chocolate ice cream, good luck to you. But if you tell them that, if they finish their broccoli, then they can have some chocolate ice cream…well, that is a different story. My two and a half year old already gets that. He knows I haven’t tried to sell him a tale. And he also normally chows down the green, leafy stuff to get to the goodies.

It’s about respecting your audience, communicating with integrity and remembering that there’s always a story behind the story. What matters is what it says.