Can We Talk...Without Being Misquoted?
Last week, the Washington Times ran a story about how Phil Donahue had controversial French author Jean Charles Brisard as a guest on his show. Brisard has written a book that, in the words of Donahue, "makes some disturbing allegations regarding a connection between oil, Saudi Arabia, the Clinton and Bush administrations and al Qaeda."
Now, it seems fairly obvious that Donahue invited Brisard on his show to stir up some controversy, since Donahue doesn't actually seem all that familiar with the author's book. Consider, for example, this exchange from the show's transcript:
DONAHUE: Well, Mr. Brisard, sir, your book is the talk of Europe. It's a best-seller. Obviously, Europe has grabbed this with both hands. Not so here. We're paying -- it's not that you're being ignored, but…
JEAN CHARLES BRISARD, FRENCH INTELLIGENCE INVESTIGATOR: It just arrived.
That's a fairly poor performance in and of itself, but the Times wasn't satified with it: sensing an opportunity to score some points against the hapless liberal host, it decided to attribute Brisard's allegations to Donahue himself...
According to the show's transcript, the following exchange occurred:
DONAHUE: It just got here. OK. Well, we'll see what happens. In this book, you make the point that -- you seem to say that all the dots connect to Saudi Arabia.
DONAHUE: And those dots include George Bush, Sr. -- Bush 1 -- as well as al Qaeda and the United States government itself. Make your case for us here, sir.
But here's how the Times reports the exchange:
"'All the dots connect to Saudi Arabia,' Mr. Donahue told the author. 'And those dots include George Bush, senior Bush, as well as al Qaeda and the U.S. government itself.'"
I can see why they dropped Brisard's "Yes." But what about the "In this book, you make the point that -- you seem to say..." and the "Make your case for us here, sir" parts? Space considerations?
Later, according to the transcript, Donahue said "You’re suggesting that the Bush family, with ties to oil and Texas, had an interest in seeing that the construction of this pipeline through Afghanistan continued or moved forward, and that, you're suggesting, slowed us up and reduced our enthusiasm for going after al Qaeda and terrorism."
In this instance, the Times reports that "The Bush family, Mr. Donahue continued, 'had an interest in seeing the construction of this pipeline through Afghanistan continued or moved forward, and that, you're suggesting, slowed us up and reduced our enthusiasm for going after al Qaeda and terrorism.'"
By trimming the initial "You're suggesting" and eliminating "with ties to oil and Texas," the paper turns Donahue's summary of Brisard's assertion into a declarative, conspiracy-tinged statement of his own -- the implication is that Donahue believes the Bush family actually has some secret, hands-on interest in the construction of an Afghan pipeline.
Now, it's true that Donahue is a bit of a windbag, in definite need of some verbal liposuction now and then. But somehow the Times' efforts seem driven more by ideology than any kind of auditory mercy. And while there's certainly a place for ideology in the news media, ostensibly accurate transcription is probably not the most honest place for it.
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