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Whom Are You Going To Believe -- The Transcript or Your Lying Ears?

Here's Yesterday's Bushism at Slate:

"And the question is, are we going to be facile enough to change with—will we be nimble enough; will we be able to deal with the circumstances on the ground? And the answer is, yes, we will."—Washington, D.C., July 25, 2006

To Slate's credit, they point to the video of Bush's comments (referring to the material starting at 17:44). I followed the video and noticed that the transcript was incorrect; here's what I wrote to Slate (apologies for the typo in the parenthetical):

Today's column says, [quote omitted] .... Fortunately, it includes a link to the video.

I followed that link, and it turns out the transcription is mistaken. President Bush says:

"And the question is, are we going to be facile enough to change with the c—will we be nimble enough; will we be able to deal with the circumstances on the ground? And the answer is, yes, we will."—Washington, D.C., July 25, 2006.

I understand that you folks might still want to fault Bush for having cut off the word "conditions" (assuming this wasn't just a technical glitch (note that the audio might have some skips, see 18:10-18:16). But at least the transcript ought to be corrected, I think.

To my surprise, here's the message I got back from Slate:

Geoff (Jacob's Bushism researcher) followed up on this, and here's what he has to say.

Bush makes an audible, vague "c" sound in the video, very briefly. But he often makes a lot of sounds that don't end up in the White House transcript. Plenty of "uhs" and "ums" and sometimes real starts and stops to words or thoughts. And part of what the White House does to indicate that he's changing gear abruptly is they use those em dashes between disjointed points. We print their version faithfully and I think we have to. I'm glad we run video so that people can see how these things are actually delivered.

Bush's comment was widely quoted in the form in which it appeared in the White House release. I don't think Volokh would find it fair if we got into the business of "correcting" the White House transcript in this way.

This struck me as pretty remarkable: The video conclusively proves the transcript to be mistaken; whatever one may say about the "c" (and it seems to me clearly audible enough to be included), the transcript clearly omits the word "the." Yet Slate insists on continuing to cite the transcript, which is what I suspect 95+% of its readers will rely on) even though it's wrong.

I don't see how that could be proper. Even if Slate feels uncomfortable departing from the White House transcript — odd, given that it's quite entitled to transcribe the video itself — surely there'd be nothing wrong with noting that the transcript was mistaken. And it seems to me quite wrong to continue to use a transcript that one now knows to be in error.

Naturally, one could conclude that even the corrected version somehow shows a risible error on President Bush's part (assuming there's no video skip); I've never found such slips in extemporaneous speech to be particularly telling, but others may disagree. Still, I'd think a basic rule of journalism would be: When you give a transcript, give an accurate transcript, and if you learn that it's wrong (by comparing it with an actual live recording), correct it, even if you think that the error in the transcript is immaterial. That apparently is not Slate's view, though.

All Related Posts (on one page) | Some Related Posts:

  1. Whom Are You Going To Believe -- The Transcript or Your Lying Ears?
  2. Bushism of the Day:
  3. My Three Suggestions for Improving Slate:...
  4. Bushism of the Day:
  5. Spinsanity criticizes Slate's Bushisms and Kerryisms.
  6. Latest Bushism:
rarango (mail):
I would assume there is some sort of accepted jouralistic convention for dealing with discrepancies between transcripts and recordings; I rather agree with Slate on this one (although I think the whole Bushisms thing is bogus). They didnt author the transcript; and since they also provided a link to the recording they have provided a reader both versions--Should they go further and point out the discrepancy? I would think some sort of journalism standard would apply.
7.27.2006 2:05pm
Adam:
Prof. Volokh,

What did your letter to the White House look like?

Aren't the Bushism articles closer to political humor than journalism? If so, why do you spend so much time (or so many words) writing about it?
7.27.2006 2:05pm
A.S.:
I frankly don't see the difference between the Slate transcript and the corrected [Volokh] transcript.

I'll admit up fron that I never find Bushisms funny. And I don't find this one funny. But I guess the point they are trying to make is that Bush cut off his sentence in midstream, and then switched to a different sentence? (If that's not what's supposed to be funny, can someone please explain the funny part here?)

So what difference does it make if Bush cut off the sentence after "change with the c" instead of "change with"? Could Prof. Volokh please explain why he thinks that makes a difference?
7.27.2006 2:12pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
LOL. Eugene, you know I love ya' for your fanaticism on such matters. But, in this case, I have to side strongly with the folks at Slate.
7.27.2006 2:13pm
Steve:
What the...?

The "joke" here is the use of the word "facile," which generally has a perjorative connotation different from what the President obviously intended to convey. Whether the conversational hiccup "the c" is concluded seems utterly immaterial to me.
7.27.2006 2:14pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Rarango: How could this possibly be a sensible convention, if it is indeed a convention? They have the evidence of the actual facts -- what Bush actually said. They see that the transcript, which is a second-hand account of Bush said, is mistaken. How can it possibly be a sensible convention to give the 95+% of the readers who rely on the text information that Slate now knows to be false, on the grounds that they're just knowingly repeating the transcriber's error?

Adam: It seems to me that publications that purport to provide actual quotes (as opposed to something that's clearly a made-up quote, as with some humor) have an obligation to get the quotes right, and to correct them if they've gotten them wrong. That obligation applies whether the article is intended to make a serious point, make a political point in a humorous way (which I take it the Bushisms column is trying to do), or just get a laugh. Am I wrong? Is it OK to knowingly convey false information -- information that will be perceived as true, rather than as clearly fictional -- simply because your article is "closer to political humor than journalism"?
7.27.2006 2:14pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I too have some trouble seeing this as a noteworthy Bushism. Impromptu speakers often switch gears in the middle of a sentence. I enjoy a good Bushism, but this was pretty miniscule.
7.27.2006 2:15pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
A.S.: As I mentioned in my post, whether or not they include the word may not affect their basic point. But it does affect the more important point -- should quotes in magazines be precisely correct, or can a magazine refuse to correct a quote on the grounds that they're just following a transcript that they now know to be incorrect?
7.27.2006 2:17pm
NYU JD:
Yeah, it seems like they're kinda stretching it by only quoting the transcript. Not the biggest of deals, but still kinda sneaky.

On another note - Has Bernstein gone from censoring comments to completely disallowing them? How unblawgerly.
7.27.2006 2:21pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
BTW: The only "journalistic rule" I have ever heard of, which relates to this, was applied to quotes of late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley: "don't write what he said, write what he meant."
7.27.2006 2:21pm
Hugo:
Rome is burnig, and Eugene is obsessing about this crap.
7.27.2006 2:22pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Steve: If that's the point of the Bushism, then that makes it especially puzzling. It sounds like Bush used a word correctly -- facile does, after all, mean "Working, acting, or speaking with effortless ease and fluency" -- but then may have realized that one of the word's (unintended) connotations was negative; he therefore stopped himself and restated his point in a way that lacked such unintended connotations. Doesn't seem laughable or even noteworthy to me.

But my basic point is that, regardless of whether what he said was actually risible, magazines should try to be precise in reporting what President Bush (or anyone else) said -- and certainly not to continue quoting the person incorrectly once they learn that the quote is indeed incorrect. And it seems to me that Slate's failure to adhere to this principle is indeed noteworthy.
7.27.2006 2:22pm
rarango (mail):
Professor Volokh: I have no idea if it is a journalistic convention or not--I was only suggesting that I think there needs to be such a convention to deal precisely with this sort of situation. I am not a fan of journalism generally, and its demonstrated ethical behavior specifically. Having said that, clearly the transcript was at odds with recording. But Slate did not originate the transcript, and it seems inappropriate to me for Slate to take it upon itself to change the transcript which originating in the White House. The best they could do in my opinion is to point out the discrpancy. It remains, IMHO, the originating author's responsibility to change it.
7.27.2006 2:24pm
steveh2:
I'm with Steve -- isn't the joke in his use of the word "facile"? I don't think even Slate would base a "Bushism" on the fact that he stopped and changed direction in the middle of a sentence.
7.27.2006 2:24pm
Phil::
Interesting question posed by Prof. Volokh, though I do share the sentiment in the comments that this focus on the Bushism of the day is sort of peculiar. Harmless, but peculiar.

Anyway - I would posit that it IS a quotation. The Slate folks say they've taken it from a White House transcript. I take that to mean that the White House has put this transcript out in the world. To the extent that it's not completely consistent with what was actually said, I assume the White House has had the opportunity to review the document and takes no issue with the widely-held assumption that they stand by the statements therein as their own. Consequently, even if they didn't say it THEN, they're saying it NOW.

An analogy is one I've seen a few times with judges reading decisions into the record. They'll then review the transcript provided to them by the court reporter, edit it as they see fit, and then file that transcript on the docket.
7.27.2006 2:25pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Rarango: The claim that the Slate people can't change the transcript is, I think, wrong. They aren't citing the transcript. They don't link to the source or even mention it. They're citing the video, which is a perfectly authoritative source of its own.

The Slate people would be completely entitled to make their own transcript of the video (at least unless they think the video is wrong or ambiguous on some matter). If they changed the quote to reflect the actual video, no-one could fault them for it, precisely because it would be an accurate transcript of the document they do indeed cite. But what they cannot do, I think, is to continue providing the quote as if it were accurate when they know for a fact that it is not accurate.
7.27.2006 2:28pm
te (mail):
A little time on your hands perhaps . . .
First, you are, in effect, criticising Slate for having the audacity to rely on the official transcript from the White House?
Second, why in the world do you think

"are we going to be facile enough to change with the c—will we be nimble enough . . .

is better than

"are we going to be facile enough to change with the c—will we be nimble enough . . .

Third, how do you intuit that Bush was about to say the word "conditions"?
If all the tape reveals is a hard "c" sound, why not assume he was going to say Condi, or condom, or cupcake?

Granted, those may not make much sense, but if you belive that Bush's locutions make sense you don't listen to him much.
7.27.2006 2:28pm
steveh2:
EV: I saw that definition from Dictionary.com, but I don't think that would really apply. To me, Bush was probably trying to say "agile", and got the wrong word, and I think that was the point of the Bushism.

For whatever that's worth.
7.27.2006 2:29pm
rarango (mail):
And more specifically a question for Professor Volokh: you are engaging in a Q and A after a speech; the sponsors of the forum are providing a transcript for the public record--your extemporaneous comments are at odds with the transcript--what would be your preference in this situation? (Is this what lawyers call a hypothetical?)
7.27.2006 2:32pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
My preferences as a speaker? That people only quote the smart things I say.

My preferences as a reader? That quotes in publications be accurate, and that once the publication learns that the transcript on which it was relying was wrong (no matter how official), it corrects the quote and gives readers the accurate words.
7.27.2006 2:34pm
Davebo (mail):
Seriously Eugene, if you have this much time on your hands perhaps it could be better utilized. Maybe som pro bono work? Because your obsession with Slate's Bushism is starting to look a little silly.
7.27.2006 2:39pm
rarango (mail):
Professor V:

Now I understand both the concepts of the hypothetical and its possible relationship to the concept of billable hours! :)

Agree with your para 1, not so para 2.
7.27.2006 2:41pm
Angus:
Eight paragraphs on whether Slate should have included an irrelevant "the" in a Bush quote? Sheesh...
7.27.2006 2:44pm
JosephSlater (mail):
My guess is that "facile" was supposed to be what makes this a "Bushism." Whatever the full dictionary definition says, the meaning with negative connotations has been more prominent, at least among pop culture watchers after Tom Cruise denounced some interviewer for being "facile."
7.27.2006 2:44pm
non-English native:
"odd, given that it's quite entitled to transcribe the video yourself"

Why "yourself"? Shouldn't it be "itself"?

[EV: Yes, thanks, corrected it.]
7.27.2006 2:48pm
TFKW:
This is a really cool question for testing what we think "authentic" is. In the past, when recordings of speeches weren't available, a slightly cleaned-up but official transcript probably got treated as authentic by most people, especially if the edits appeared to be cosmetic. I understand Prof. Volokh to find citing to raw data while providing a alternate transcript to be jarring.

What I wonder is what it takes for the average consumer of Western media to understand something to be a meticulous reproduction of something. For example, Bush sometimes affects a Texan accent, and Ted Kenneddy sometimes says things in a New England accent (e.g. "I have an idear about Americker" -- I have no idea if it's deliberate, but my gut feeling is no). I don't think most people care whether that gets represented in a transcript or not, yet you can make an argument that for Bush, the way he says something and the particular context he says it in is far more important than the words he chooses.

I wonder if photo journalism would make a good analogy -- when do you need to indicate that you tweaked something in Photoshop in order to keep the average person from feeling misled?

I make no claims to understanding what Slate thinks it's doing. I get the sense they are trying to highlight errors, but without commentary you never know. I'd like to see them posted with actual commentary from linguists or other language scholars. Incidentally, the only systematic attempt I have seen to go over Bush's linguistic errors was in Michael Silverstein's Talking Politics: The substance of style from Abe to “W.”. I believe he concludes they are all over the place, and aren't evidence of any particular language disorder.
7.27.2006 2:54pm
Mike Keenan:
Normally I agree with you about the Bushisms and Slate. And even here I think that the presidents use of facile here instead of agile (which I think is a reasonable assumption of that happened) is not remotely funny
newsworthy or even an error.

But, to call them on a mistaken transcript when they miss "the c". Yes, they could have corrected it, but I think you are in need of some vacation time. It makes you seem a little out there.
7.27.2006 2:54pm
frankcross (mail):
What is the significance of the "c" sound? If it had meaning or were somehow exonerating, Slate could be criticized. But if it is a meaningless sound, why put it in? Should one include the sound made whenever a speaker clears his throat? Must every cough be transcribed?
7.27.2006 2:58pm
Hans Gruber (www):
"If that's the point of the Bushism, then that makes it especially puzzling. It sounds like Bush used a word correctly -- facile does, after all, mean "Working, acting, or speaking with effortless ease and fluency" -- but then may have realized that one of the word's (unintended) connotations was negative; he therefore stopped himself and restated his point in a way that lacked such unintended connotations. Doesn't seem laughable or even noteworthy to me."

Precisely. Maybe you can start calling this regular debunkings "Slate-isms." If anything this shows the President's intelligence. Using a word correctly but realizing that many people would not be familiar with his intended use, he then restated his point for clarity.
7.27.2006 2:58pm
Armen (mail) (www):
As long as we're nitpicking...did you forget the grammar lesson on not starting a question with "Whom?"
7.27.2006 2:58pm
A.S.:
EV writes: As I mentioned in my post, whether or not they include the word may not affect their basic point. But it does affect the more important point -- should quotes in magazines be precisely correct, or can a magazine refuse to correct a quote on the grounds that they're just following a transcript that they now know to be incorrect?

After reading all of the responses above, I guess I come to the conclusion as others that, if your sole point is that Slate failed to correct something that is immaterial to Slate's article, then I don't see what the big deal is.

A failure to make an immaterial correction is itself immaterial.

That being said, please keep up your criticisms of Bushisms (when applicable, of course). I really enjoy them.
7.27.2006 3:01pm
Adam:
EV wrote:
It seems to me that publications that purport to provide actual quotes (as opposed to something that's clearly a made-up quote, as with some humor) have an obligation to get the quotes right, and to correct them if they've gotten them wrong. That obligation applies whether the article is intended to make a serious point, make a political point in a humorous way (which I take it the Bushisms column is trying to do), or just get a laugh.

The obligation is strict only when an article intends to make a serious point and does so in a serious article. In such cases the obligation is strict because people will and should rely on the article for fact, which shouldn't vary within the context of a quote. If it does, the article's point is less trustworthy.

The obligation is less strict if the article intends to make a political point in a humorous way. This Bushism quote satisfied there obligation because it was close enough. The quote was close enough to provide supposed political humor (I didn't find it funny) without severely misrepresenting President Bush. The lack of accuracy doesn't undermine the point because their point's vehicle is humor, an inherently less trustworthy vehicle than a serious article.

If an article is just trying to get a laugh, then there is no obligation to quote accurately. In such cases, there is no expectation that anything is accurate.
7.27.2006 3:02pm
rarango (mail):
We have successfully pole vaulted over a mouse dropping.
7.27.2006 3:06pm
Moshe (mail):
Sheesh. I can't understand how anyone could disagree with EV's fairly straightforward point. The transcript is not in itself a holy document - it is provided by the white house in order to provide people information about an actual, real, event. Slate's Bushism feature is not reporting on the verbal miscues of a transcript, but of President Bush himself. Talking about a convention that should hold when a released transcript has a mistake is crazy - what if the mistaken transcript was so mistaken that it bore no resemblance to what Bush actually said? Would we say that we could cite it because that's what the white house released?

If we see that Bush said something different than what was on the transcript, that is the only thing that should matter. What could possibly be the relevance of the fact that the original transcript didn't have it right?
7.27.2006 3:08pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Armen: I'm not sure if you're serious, but if you are, can you point me to evidence that there is such a grammar rule (or even "lesson")? To my knowledge, it's perfectly proper to start a sentence with "whom," assuming of course that the pronoun should indeed be in the objective rather than the nominative.
7.27.2006 3:08pm
lucia (mail) (www):
I don't know whether there is a journalistic convention not to edit transcripts for correctness. But, it this case it makes no sense to not correct.

Regardless of the convention, it seems to me Slate shouldn't use mistaken transcripts when running an article about Bushisms which purport to show us how incoherent the President is.

If they feel uncomfortable correcting the transcript they should dig a bit deeper to find something incoherent Bush actually said! The practice of relying on transcription errors suggests they are having a very difficult time finding incoherent bits of speech.

This would seem pretty remarkable since most people utter at least a few incoherent sentences a day, Bush is admittedly not eloquent and he is constantly recorded. But maybe Slate's writers are just lazy?
7.27.2006 3:12pm
Armen (mail) (www):
Internet search points to this, which looks accurate to me. When I get home, I'll consult Strunk and White.
7.27.2006 3:12pm
Eyes&Ears:
I just downloaded the 68+ megabyte video and reviewed the remark.


It is my opinion that the video was edited. If you watch Bush's lips at the moment of the cut there is a weird tremor/stutter. If you listen to the audio the "C..." sound has a distinctly non-human ending - it seems to have been cut off electronically.
7.27.2006 3:18pm
rarango (mail):
Bushisms aside, herewith a similar version of this discussion as it relates to the recent Hamdan version, the senate debate transcript, and what was actually said on the senate floor via CSPAN: http://article.nationalreview.com/?
q=YTliZTcwMTUwNDgxZTliZmY1YjgyM2FiZDJlYmJjYTg=

Perhaps Justice Stevens SHOULD have relied on the actual CSPAN tape.
7.27.2006 3:20pm
Zed (mail) (www):
Eugene:

I at one point owned a style guide that noted that while beginning a question with "Whom" can be technically correct, it sounds pretentious, and should be avoided, and that "Who" in that case was now considered universally correct. Alas, I no longer have the guide to provide you with the source. A quick Googling shows that it's not a unique standpoint, however.

Back to the original topic, I agree that Slate is wrong to publish incorrect transcripts. Unfortunately, doing so is now standard journalistic practice. It was reported some years ago that the White House has a policy of "correcting" Bush's transcripts to reflect what he meant to say, as opposed to what he said, and I know of no publication that has decided to make a policy of checking the accuracy of the transcripts against recordings in response, possibly due to fear of political retaliation.
7.27.2006 3:26pm
Lou Wainwright (mail):
I'm a little surprised by the bulk of these comments as I'm completely on EV's side. Bush did not say what the quote says he did. Whether the descrepancy 'matters' or not isn't the point (and is a matter of taste and opinon). How can anyone in the media think it is appropriate to not correct a quotation that has been proven to be untrue?
7.27.2006 3:27pm
David Mader (mail) (www):
I always get a kick out of commenters who take time out of their day to make snarky but ultimately irrelevant comments about bloggers who take time out of their day to make posts about subjects the commenters think irrelevant. Physician, heal thyself, and all that.

In any case, I wonder if this is the moment at which Slate's Bushism jumps its own little shark. Criticizing the president for speaking standard English? The column has become a parody of itself.
7.27.2006 3:29pm
rarango (mail):
Lou: simply stated, at least in governmental affairs, in all three branches of the government, it is the written transcript that is official. Other electronic media can be falsified.
7.27.2006 3:29pm
Zed (mail) (www):
rarango:

Heh, well, the problem is, the written transcript can also be falsified.
7.27.2006 3:37pm
Passing By:
It is not particularly unusual for quotes presented in quotation marks to exclude any indication of vocalized pauses, false starts, stutters, and even protracted periods of silence. Even when you hear somebody on the radio, there may be editing involved that removes some of that extraneous material. If you really want to see a difference between what was said and what gets printed, start comparing post-game interview clips with athletes to what is printed on the sports page the next day.

I think it's a fair criticism of the Prof. that he's criticizing Slate but not the White House. It is fair to infer from the official transcript that the White House endorses the version presented by Slate as more consistent with what the President meant to say. Should they footnote their quotation indicating that the official transcript departs from the actual audio? Perhaps. But then, so should the White House.
7.27.2006 3:39pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Armen: I read the page you linked to, and couldn't find anything saying that you can't start a sentence with "whom." The article does say, "'Whom' is very rarely used even by careful speakers as the first word in a question; and many authorities have now conceded the point," but that simply reflects that "who" has become right, not that "whom" has become wrong. (At some point it might become so archaic as to be wrong in normal usage, but I don't think it's gotten there yet.)

Zed: I realize the "whom" is a little pedantic-sounding; and in fact the item to which the post's title alludes is usually rendered as "who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" The uptight maximum grammatical punctilio of my title was a little joke (a very little joke). But I am pretty sure that while the title sounds stuffy, it's not wrong.
7.27.2006 3:39pm
rarango (mail):
Zed: of course it can; but the official transcript is still the official record when it comes to the government.
7.27.2006 3:39pm
@ndrew (mail):
a lone voice crying in the wilderness...
7.27.2006 3:54pm
Anon1ms (mail):
I propose that when Slate finally drops its Bushisms, that EV begin to examine Beetle Bailey for its lack of humor and for fostering misconception of the military.
7.27.2006 3:57pm
devin chalmers (mail):
This is the worst thread ever. I will submit into evidence, however, that in my dictionary (and in all the usage I've heard), the first definition for 'facile' is:
1 (esp. of a theory or argument) appearing neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial.
• (of a person) having a superficial or simplistic knowledge or approach : a man of facile and shallow intellect.

With this in mind, I think the humor is a little more obvious (my dictionary actually has a picture of GWB next to this definition, ha ha, kidding, EV please don't write any letters to Slate about me :P). Calling our victory in Iraq 'facile', with this definition in mind, does a little more than just hint at our administration's 'ignoring the true complexities of an issue'. To me, anyway. Sorry you didn't get the joke, Eugene.
7.27.2006 3:58pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
I am curious, Eugene: To your mind, did Neil Armstrong actually say "one small step for man," or "one small step for a man"?
7.27.2006 3:58pm
SteveMG (mail):
As a former reporter - hell as a sentient human being for that matter - I find the criticism of EV's observation bizarre (okay, I have no life; little things interest me).

If a document is factually wrong - it misstates what someone said or wrote or includes incorrect facts - don't use the erroneous material.

Is Slate now in the practice of uncritically repeating White House material? (tongue in cheek)

SMG
7.27.2006 4:04pm
3rd Party Beneficiary (mail):
I think Slate is correct in this instance because the White House transcript of a press conference is, for all intents and purposes, the "official record" of what was said, even if it's at odds with what audio/video recordings reveal. If Slate failed to follow the White House version of the speech it would be slammed for putting words in the President's mouth.
7.27.2006 4:22pm
numitor:
Bush's use of facile is correct (notwithstanding the more commonly used definition of facile). Such use is not infrequent, either. I used it until I realized many people were unaware of its alternate meaning.

It's funny that Bushisms (and liberals more generally) attempt to show Bush as dumb, yet elide the fact that Bush shows an uncommon knowledge of the word facile. It's somewhat ironic.

Bush used the word facile in the election debates in talking about our troops. I was watching at the law school and a liberal student sitting next to me guffawed, assuming Bush made a vocabulary mistake, when in fact it was the student whose vocabulary was limited.

Sure, people can say that Bush and others should be smart enough not to use words that are easily confused because of close-to-opposite meanings, but then I expect such people will not be using words like 'sanction,' or 'cleave' either.
7.27.2006 4:33pm
CJColucci:
Considering the number of lawyers who post here, I'm surprised that no one has pointed out that transcripts are always wrong, especially if you include as "wrong" failure to include um's, er's, glottal stops, and oral gear-shifting when you mean to say something and stop almost in mid-syllable. Newspaper quotes rarely include this stuff, either. Never have. I don't know what "the c" (presumably a hard c sound) is supposed to have been before W changed gears and neither does the transcriber. For all practical purposes, it's a belch or other meaningless sound, which no transcriber or reporter would normally transcribe or report.
Maybe it was supposed to be a reference to the Dixie Chicks?
7.27.2006 4:38pm
nc_litigator (mail):
EV's high standard is to preferred, but its just not followed in practice. This is far from the first time a Bush transcript does not precisely reflect what he said in awkward transitions.

It reminds me of the recent video where Bush gives a quick neck massage to German Chancellor Merkel. The video shows her recoiling in surpise, but the LA times says she "smiled" at the gesture.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bzv2FF9BItA
7.27.2006 4:44pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
SMG: If indeed, you are a former journalist, do you subscribe the old aphorism, "journalism is the first draft of history"?

This is why I brought up Neil Armstrong's famous quote of 7/20/1969: According to the most accepted historical record, and Armstrong's own insistence, it is "one small step for a man," yet, the best modern forensic analysis tools, applied to the original NASA tapes, can find no evidence of the "a" anywhere in there.
7.27.2006 4:45pm
Waldensian (mail):

On another note - Has Bernstein gone from censoring comments to completely disallowing them? How unblawgerly.


Berstein nuked tons of my (incredibly insightful) commentary the other day on the ground that it was "non-substantive." Basically I was taking him to task for his apparently endless, analysis-devoid "hey look at this" posts of meaningless unblogworthy materials related to the conflict in Lebanon. (And I largely agree with his views on the underlying topic, for what that's worth.)

You'll have to take my word for it, obviously, but my comments were in no way insulting or abusive, and were FAR FAR less snarky than much of what I read in the VC.

I noticed a few other people in the thread, even without the benefit of my Pulitzer-quality prose, started making similar criticisms.

Perhaps that's why he's cut off comments entirely.

Don't get me wrong. It makes perfect sense to post material for discussion and then delete portions of the discussion when you determine it to be "non-substantive." After all, we can't have people making up their own minds about such things. Cutting off comments entirely is the logical next step.
7.27.2006 5:00pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
I don't see what's remarkable about either version.

``Facile'' has the meaning he wants, but also has an unwanted meaning, so after it came up, he rejected it and replaced it, having heard its unwanted meaning called out by political context that he wasn't thinking of.

It's what you'd call normal speech. In fact, somewhat better, lacking the false starts that most speech actually contains throughout.

If you someday take a recording and try to transcribe every ah, um, and restart, you'll be a little surprised how much of it there is as a percentage. But you'll be dumbfounded how difficult it is to do. Everybody is wired not to hear it. Fifty replays of a phrase may not suffice to get the transcription right, as to what restarts are there and what order they happen in.
7.27.2006 5:07pm
T-Web:
It's standard (and, I think, good) practice to clean up quotes of the ums, ahs, ohs, etc. For Bushisms, it shouldn't be done, though. The whole purpose of the feature is to point out Bush's verbal ticks and malapropisms. Changing anything, then, cuts to the heart of what Slate is trying to do.
7.27.2006 5:08pm
Eric Anondson (mail):
"C" has two familiar sounds in English. A hard k-sound, and a soft s-sound. What is a "c"-sound anyway?
7.27.2006 5:13pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Ron Hardin:

If you someday take a recording and try to transcribe every ah, um, and restart, you'll be a little surprised how much of it there is as a percentage.

Further, it becomes incredibly difficult to read. The mind is trained (or perhaps genetically preprogrammed) to disregard such guffaws when listening, but not when reading.
7.27.2006 5:14pm
SteveMG (mail):
Kevin:
If indeed, you are a former journalist do you subscribe the old aphorism, "journalism is the first draft of history"?

Yes, I am a former reporter (local/state issues in several states) and, as Hemingway pointed out, journalism is the first draft of history. And with all first drafts, it often needs revision and correcting.

As we all know, original or source material is sometimes wrong. That's why, among other things, publishers issue revised editions of works - to fix errata.

If the source material is wrong, you don't go with it. That's not Journalism 101, that's Common Sense 101.

SMG
7.27.2006 5:50pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Slate should dig up Edward Kennedys interview with Roger Mudd from 1979 shortly after he announced his candidacy. I'm still not sure what Bush said that was so funny.
7.27.2006 5:52pm
CJColucci:
Kennedy's interview performance was widely and rightly ridiculed at the time. (Doonesbury, notably, skewered it with a reporter saying "A verb, Senator, we need a verb.") It may not have escaped people's notice that (possibly, in part, because of it) Kennedy never became President.
7.27.2006 5:59pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
T-Web:

For Bushisms, it shouldn't be done, though. The whole purpose of the feature is to point out Bush's verbal ticks and malapropisms. Changing anything, then, cuts to the heart of what Slate is trying to do.

An extremely good point. One wonders if this would have caught Eugene's interest, had it been a routine account of one of Bush's speeches - speeches which, as we all know, are rife with malaprops - rather than one intended to highlight them?
7.27.2006 6:10pm
big dirigible (mail) (www):
Has Slate switched its little conceit to the "Unidentified White House Press Office Flack-ism of the Day"? If so, then the transcript is relevant. Otherwise, 'taint.
7.27.2006 6:11pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
I'm with Slate and the White House on this one.

"We [Northeast Archives] no longer require such detail, partly because of our conviction that the tape is the primary document and anyone requiring that level of accuracy would be a fool to trust someone else's transcriptions." Edward D. Ives, The Tape-Recorded Interview.

The standard for transcription is accuracy for the purpose of the transcript. The start of the "c" word is proper to transcribe if the purpose of the transcription is a dialection wants the transcription one way, a historian another, a psychologist another. And even with the same instructions, ten transcribers will create ten different versions, and that's at 15 hours of transcription for every hour of tape. It is close to standard for transcribers to delete false starts.

In this case, the audio link is enough for everybody, and the official White House transcript conveys Bush's message accurately without making it difficult to read. I don't want Slate or Volokh changing the official record unless there's a significant point to the change, and if so, footnoting the change.

A classic was:
"Brandeis was concerned about marrying Frankfurter."
Ears lie as do eye witnesses. I want the tape and the video and outside consultation and research.
The above quote was later changed to:
"Brandeis was concerned about Marion Frankfurter."
7.27.2006 6:24pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

I'm with Steve -- isn't the joke in his use of the word "facile"? I don't think even Slate would base a "Bushism" on the fact that he stopped and changed direction in the middle of a sentence.



If that's the "joke", though, wouldn't it be better if it was at least in some small way funny?
7.27.2006 6:31pm
Monkberrymoon (mail):
By convention, if it has to be explained, it isn't "funny" in any traditional sense. That's the problem with most of the Bushisms.

About the transcript stuff, if an audiotape is introduced at trial, played for the jury, and transcribed by the court reporter, I regard the tape as the final word. In other words, if I have to cite to the tape in a brief, I'll use the transcript fo simplicity's sake, but the tape wins out if there are any discrepancies.
7.27.2006 6:36pm
NYU JD:
Waldensian - I actually had a chance to read some of the comments you made before they were deleted by DB, and I can attest for the fact that it was a troubling exertion of his editing power. And to disallow comments altogether, well why even post his comments to a blog then? At least most people explain why they turn off comments (e.g. an extremely sensitive topic).

No matter - as this thread has shown (so far), there are other ways to raise a fuss...
7.27.2006 6:42pm
cardeblu (mail):
Eric Anondson:
"C" has two familiar sounds in English. A hard k-sound, and a soft s-sound. What is a "c"-sound anyway?
Exactly. If one had not actually heard the transcript but only read the "...change with the c-—will we be..." in the transcribed quote, how would one interpret how the "c--will we" is to be pronounced, hard or soft? Perhaps "the k--will we...."

I've been a medical transcriptionist for the past 25 years, and I would have handled it about the same way even if it is a direct quote. It does not change the meaning and is edited for ease of reading and understanding.
7.27.2006 7:20pm
BobN (mail):
Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I look forward to tomorrow's thread on the White House's response to what will undoubtedly be a scathing letter from EV about their continued attempts to distort the words of Dear Leader.

Maybe a guest blog by Tony Snow is in order.
7.27.2006 7:53pm
wowzers:
I'm with Steve. And though the adjective 'facile' does have multiple, contradictory meanings, I think it was the manner in which Bush used the word that led to my inference of a negative connotation.

EV correctly states that facile can mean "Working, acting, or speaking with effortless ease and fluency". However, when this meaning is intended in describing a person or group of people (as opposed to an action), the word is very seldomly used without qualification. Typically when used in this sense, further qualification is provided (e.g. he is facile with mental math, we are in a facile posture, etc).
7.27.2006 7:57pm
cardeblu (mail):
One other thing: The way it has been transcribed shows the thinking process of the Prez. He first uses "facile," but changes his mind in mid-word to reiterate that part with a stronger, more commonly understood adjective, "nimble." He then starts his thought all over again with the more simple yet stronger use of "able," finishing it with "circumstances" instead of the presumed "conditions."

Pretty agile thinking on his part, IMO. And Slate thinks this is a Bushism?
7.27.2006 8:19pm
Waldensian (mail):

Waldensian - I actually had a chance to read some of the comments you made before they were deleted by DB, and I can attest for the fact that it was a troubling exertion of his editing power. And to disallow comments altogether, well why even post his comments to a blog then? At least most people explain why they turn off comments (e.g. an extremely sensitive topic).

No matter - as this thread has shown (so far), there are other ways to raise a fuss...

Holy cow! I can't believe my comments were seen by someone before being blasted away by Bernstein's itchy "deleting finger." I timed one of them, and he deleted it within no more than 15 minutes. Incredible.

Thanks for the kind words. Thank God (er.... goodness?) EV doesn't seem to mind when I use one of his threads to rant about DB and otherwise aggrandize myself. :)

I think DB is particularly sensitive to criticisms that he is going overboard because.... he is going overboard.
7.27.2006 9:01pm
rarango (mail):
This thread topic is the blog equivalent of the August, inside the beltway news doldrums--its at least more fun than playing hearts or solitaire.
7.27.2006 9:12pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
So far, IMHO, John M. Perkins has made the strongest point on this thread.

I have to grant this to you, Eugene: while this seemed incredibly stupid at the outset, it's proven to be an interesting topic of discussion.
7.27.2006 10:32pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Just for once, I'd like to see an error by someone in the media that is an error in Bush's favor.
7.28.2006 12:57am
Gino:
I think you should file a lawsuit, EV, seeking to have Slate's Bushisms put into receivership and sold in order to repay all of those who were conned into believing Slate's falshoods. Either that, or set up your own competing Bushism website. If your Bushisms are superior, then you will drive Slate's Bushisms out of the market, and the effect will be the same.
7.28.2006 1:45pm
madpie:
There are so many journalistic sins that are worth the attention of intelligent people. Poynter.org is full of them every day. But this relentless focus on the missteps of a novelty item on Slate is an amazing waste of time. It's ridiculous both because the criticisms of Slate's ostensible errors are so pedantic, and because the point they seem to be making -- that Bush is perhaps slightly less dumb than Slate wants to make him seem -- is simply not interesting.

Is the purpose of all this really to criticize bad journalism? Or is it just some kind of obsessive compulsive tic that can't be helped? Frankly it would make more sense to me if it were the latter.
7.28.2006 3:46pm