December 28, 2002

AP misquote changes meaning…

Did Washington Post reporter Peter S. Goodman get his quotes right? Here’s Goodman’s version from a briefing on North Korea yesterday:

The White House denounced the planned expulsions and urged the North to end its nuclear weapons program. “We will not respond to threats or broken commitments,” said spokesman Scott McClellan in Crawford, Tex.

But the official White House transcript reads a bit differently.

But let me make it clear that we will not negotiate in response to threats or broken commitments.

I have not been able to verify the White House version with a video clip yet (having checked C-SPAN so far). But my default position is to trust the transcript first.

These are two very different statements. Goodman’s version makes McClellan sound like a fool because, obviously, the US does respond to threats and broken commitments, e.g. Iraq. Not negotiating in response to threats or broken commitments is an entirely different concept and policy.

While reading the morning paper (KC Star), my wife jokingly read the quote aloud and added: “…unless, of course, there’s oil involved.” Her jibe points up exactly the depth of this error. The quote as portrayed in the Post makes it appear the administration is being unselfconsciously two-faced. This may indeed be true. But it should be reported through ethical journalistic practice, not insinuated through error.

UPDATE (8:24 a.m.): Where did Goodman’s quote come from? A pool report, perhaps? An early transcript? His byline lists him as a foreign service reporter. And the dateline on the story is Seoul. Further, the same quote appears in a Knight-Ridder article with a Beijing dateline.

UPDATE (8:55 a.m.): Ron Fournier, AP White House Correspondent, filed this story at 13:11 ET yesterday from Crawford, Texas. The quote is the same as used by The Washington Post and Knight-Ridder.

UPDATE (9:08 a.m.): This AP story moved less than an hour ago. The quote now conforms to the White House transcript.

UPDATE (9:17 a.m.): Apparently the reporter for Reuters was paying attention. Notice the correct use of the quote. And The New York Times does its own reporting; perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it’s the paper of record.

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