Putting Words In People's Mouths

This from the corrections page at the New York Times:

The Op-Ed page in some copies yesterday carried an incorrect version of an article about military recruitment. The writer, an Army reserve officer, did not say, “Imagine my surprise the other day when I received orders to report to Fort Campbell, Ky., next Sunday,” nor did he characterize his recent call-up to active duty as the precursor to a “surprise tour of Iraq.” That language was added by an editor and was to have been removed before the article was published. Because of a production error, it was not. The Times regrets the error.

Why in the world would words be added to a quote by an editor only to be removed later? Why on earth would anybody at the newspaper add words to a quote under any circumstances? Aren’t quotes, once they’re recorded by the reporter, pretty much sacrosanct in that you shouldn’t be adding anything to them at all?

If I had to guess I’d say that some “editor” at the Times was having some fun mocking the war in Iraq by changing the quotes in a story only to have those changes go out in copy. Its either that or the idea that the Times engages in this sort of thing regularly and just happened to get caught this time around.

Pretty embarrassing stuff, and actually fairly shameful from a journalistic integrity point of view. It sure would be nice to know who the editor is and what repercussions he/she faced as result of this.


Here’s a link to the now-corrected editorial referred to above.

Notice something odd? Like the fact that nobody is quoted in the article at all? Which seems to imply that the soldier the made-up quotes were attributed to didn’t exist either, right?

Strange. Very, very strange.


Ok, I was confused. The quotes in question were attributed to the author of the piece, not somebody being quoted by the author.

But still, this is strange.


Got the following email back from Gail Collins at the Times’ Editorial Board in response to an inquiry I sent them:

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Dear Mr. Port,
Thank you for your inquiry. When we edit Op-Ed pieces, we often ask writers to add additional information, and sometimes suggest possible language. In this instance, the author had gone on active duty after the piece was submitted and he was working with an editor on a way to make that clear. When the editor suggested the sentences in question, the author rejected the wording and offered a proposal of his own which everyone agreed worked well.
Unfortunately, the right version of the story was sent to the kill file while the earlier, rejected version wound up in the paper. We’re still trying to figure out how that happened, so we can take steps to make absolutely sure it doesn’t occur again.
One of the roles of the Op-Ed editors is to help the authors make their pieces as lively and compelling as possible. But in the end, the pieces are the work of the writers, who must approve each and every change in their copy. The fact that this didn’t happen in the case of the Carter piece was so unusual, and so regrettable, that we ran the extensive editor’s note you saw on Thursday.
I hope that answers your question.
Best wishes,
Gail Collins

I understand now how the extra words got into the article. Seems like an honest enough mistake. That being said, there’s still a point to make:

The Times editor’s idea of making the piece more “compelling” and “lively” was to add language making it sound as though the author was upset with being called back into active duty. Seems to me like that was a pretty blatant attempt to twist the piece into something it was not intended to be.

The editorial is supportive of the war on terror but critical of the President for not doing enough to help with the recruiting problems our military has been facing. It was not meant, I don’t believe, to communicate any sort of opinion held by the author on being called back up from reserve to active duty despite the suggested changes by the editor.

(via Ace)

Rob Port is the owner and operator of Say Anything.

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