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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:

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.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Putting Words In People's Mouths:

» The View From The Nest linked with Now, THIS is a War we are WINNING!

» Parkway Rest Stop linked with The New York "Slimes".

Comments (11)

Apparently he gets to take ... (Below threshold)

Apparently he gets to take an ethics test.


I'm guessing that a certain... (Below threshold)

I'm guessing that a certain editor is hoping to be named 'Editor-in-Chief', and has figured out a shrewd way to get ahead of the pack.

And we are suprised by this... (Below threshold)

And we are suprised by this why?

If Dan Okrent can't control his columnists, how can he control reporters. Perhaps he should go back to his fantasy baseball league.

Funny how something this bl... (Below threshold)

Funny how something this blatantly unethical in any other industry would lead to press calls for more "transparency" and if no more information were released, of a "coverup." But the press view themselves above question. The NYTimes will doubtless stonewall anyone asking about who would add such quotes.

The quotes were attributed ... (Below threshold)

The quotes were attributed to the author, therefore no direct quotes.

And not to defend the NYT, but it is not uncommon for editors to edit Op-Eds before they are published. If there are additions, not deletions, they should be run by the author (naturally).

Basically, this is more a case of trying to "sex-up" the Op Ed.

I'm reminded of an incident... (Below threshold)

I'm reminded of an incident where the AP rewrote a direct quote -- more than once:


I guess Jayson Blair is sti... (Below threshold)
Tom T:

I guess Jayson Blair is still there!

Am I the only one who is su... (Below threshold)
Allan Yackey:

Am I the only one who is surprised by the blatant nature of this? I can understand making spelling corrections, editing for space, deleting excessively harsh language and the like in Op Eds and letters to the Editor. But the idea of the Editor exercising true editorial control over the Op Eds including suggesting language the does not even fit the piece seems outlandish.

It feels like a boxing match where one boxer is also the referee.

The idea that anyone in an... (Below threshold)

The idea that anyone in any branch of the reserves being surprised by a call to active duty is ludricious. Heck, I've been out since the Southeast Asian War Games and wouldn't be surprised to see a recall. If the Corps needed a Corporal pushing sixty I'd be there, too.

Rob sure got a quick and lo... (Below threshold)

Rob sure got a quick and long response via e-mail from the NYT! Is this usual? Or do you have a special knack for making the MSM jump when you speak, Rob?

It reminds me of your tenacity with Reuters recently proving their "DSM" picture was fake, as I recall - right before Powweb deleted your site (still can't find it at your new reconstructed site, but fortunately the cached version of your 6/22/05 sleuthing is still in cyberspace - patience, it takes a bit longer than expected before it shows up).

...still can't find it a... (Below threshold)

...still can't find it at your new reconstructed site, but fortunately the cached version of your 6/22/05 sleuthing is still in cyberspace...

I've got that saved and will spend the time one day to format it properly and put it back on the site. Thanks for the alerts about it BR. Much obliged.






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