When a Misquote Is Just an Interpretation

The State Department revised the transcripts of the Nixon White House tape recordings when it found that parts of the transcriptions didn’t match the original recordings. One example, according to a Secrecy News article:

Nixon: “And, you see, I’m going to lift the blockade as I’ve said. It’s not over yet — the bombing’s not over yet.”

Probable Correction: Nixon: “And, you see, that I’m going to live with the blockade as I’ve said. Well, it’s an ultimatum.” Kissinger: “Yeah.” Nixon: “Bombing is not an ultimatum.”

The State Department said in its report that the transcripts should be looked at as “interpretations,” subject to change and correction, not official records. If only everyone could claim the same with their misquotes. [%comments]

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  1. Marla says:

    Can anyone say 1984?

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  2. Jonathan Pryor says:

    While we can say “1984,” there is the “minor” problem that speech must be interpreted , and any number of factors will alter what is interpreted (from the speaker not speaking clearly, mis-placed microphones, defective microphones, low volume, and background noise, never mind ear problems on behalf of those actually listening).

    Movies have been made about this (“The Conversation”, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071360/).

    Really, the official record would need to be high-quality copies of the audio so that people can listen to the “original” version and make their own judgements. (This isn’t without its own potential for error, as the conversion to digital may introduce a new set of audio artifacts which will impact interpretation. I would hope that this is highly unlikely, but still possible.)

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  3. J says:

    I’ve seen this a couple of times from newspapers, and it’s always puzzled me. You guys work with the NYT and are probably exposed to a lot of reporters; do they really not understand that when you put quotes around something, it means that is EXACTLY what was said, and not some “interpretation”?

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  4. Jeff says:

    If the conspiracy theorists were to turn off their continuous loop of the Zapruder film for a moment, they could read the following caveat that the State Department provides in the preface to the materials:

    “The clarity of the voices on the tape recordings is often very poor, but the editor has made every effort to verify the accuracy of the transcripts produced here. Readers are advised that the tape recording is the official document, while the transcript represents solely an interpretation of that document. Through the use of digital audio and other advances in technology, the Office of the Historian has been able to enhance the tape recordings and over time produce more accurate transcripts. The result is that some transcripts printed here may differ from transcripts of the same conversations printed in previous Foreign Relations volumes. The most accurate transcripts possible, however, cannot substitute for listening to the recordings. Readers are urged to consult the recordings themselves for a full appreciation of those aspects of the conversations that cannot be captured in a transcript, such as the speakers’ inflections and emphases that may convey nuances of meaning, as well as the larger context of the discussion.”

    Asking the public to listen for themselves and draw their own conclusions is about as far from “1984″ as you can get.

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  5. Eric M. Jones says:

    Is a very small misquote a “mosquito”?

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  6. science minded says:

    Dear Eric;

    I would imagine that a small misquote can be a “mosquito.” The problem is when is it a mosquito and when is it not. One misquote or deliberate act of killing a mosquito – which is it? Frankly, I have every reason to think it’s both — but then again– when one is involved in an experiment of sorts- I rather like to think of the situation as of a somewhat unknowing participant who became a willing participant at some point- as have us all in a sense. Yes?

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  7. Page. M says:

    @ #4)

    “Asking the public to listen for themselves and draw their own conclusions is about as far from “1984? as you can get.”

    True, but when the tapes are so bad that world class audio experts can not determine what is said, how on earth do you expect the average citizen to get anything out of them?

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