Another Misquote

From President Obama’s remarks today at the University of North Carolina:

One Republican congresswoman said just recently — I’m going to quote this because I know you guys will think I’m making it up — (laughter).

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We trust you. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no. She said she had “very little tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt because there’s no reason for that.”

AUDIENCE: Booo –

THE PRESIDENT: I’m just quoting here. I’m just quoting. She said, students who rack up student loan debt are just sitting on their butts, having opportunity “dumped in your lap.”

AUDIENCE: Booo –

THE PRESIDENT: I mean, I’m reading it here, so I didn’t make this up. Now, can you imagine saying something like that?

The “we trust you” turns out to have been a mistake. Here’s what Congresswoman Virginia Fox actually said:

I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that.

That strikes me as quite different from “very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with debt because there’s no reason for that,” without the “$200,000 or even $80,000″ qualifier. Indeed, as of 2007-08, the 90th percentile for total undergraduate student loans was $44,500, so $80,000 would be a very high student loan amount indeed, at least for undergraduates (likely the people whom both the President and Congresswoman Fox was targeting). Today, the amounts would likely be a bit higher — the 2007-08 data gives the median 4-year student debt at $20,000, and President Obama said in his speech it was $25,000 — but not by enough to make $80,000 a normal student debt.

So Congresswoman Fox was expressing a lack of sympathy for students who take on unusually large — perhaps 95th or higher percentile — levels of debt. President Obama, though, quoted her as if she was expressing a lack of sympathy for students who take on any debt at all.

One can certainly disagree with the Congresswoman’s views. But if one wants to disagree with those views, one should at least quote them correctly.

See also this post from yesterday, which is the first misquote to which my title “another misquote” refers.