The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

Quoting people accurately is really hard — and you can quote me on that.


by Frank Herron
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Be Careful When Comparing Quotations. Context Matters. And Video Helps.

Today’s inky version of the Boston Globe devoted plenty of space to the debate between the two major candidates for governor of Massachusetts that took place in Worcester last night (Oct. 27). The coverage of the Charlie Baker/Martha Coakley tussle looked thorough and robust. And the Globe obviously deemed the debate important. The news article began on the front page.

From the news report

From the news report

[In contrast, I looked for anything about the debate in today’s print version of the Boston Herald and came up with nothing. The Herald does have an Associated Press version on its web page.]
One itsy, bitsy portion of the coverage puzzled me at first, however. The way it appears in print, a comment by Charlie Baker differs in the straight-news report of the debate and an analysis of the debate (both of which appear on Page A8).
The sections in question are at right. For context, at one point moderator Latoyia Edwards of NECN asked Baker if there would be a place for Martha Coakley in his administration should he win next Tuesday’s election.
From the news analysis

From the news analysis

Evidently the notion alarmed Coakley so much that she did not give Baker a chance to respond. She said, “No.” Baker’s comment in the wake of her interjection appears in two different ways in the two articles:

News Report: “Oh, that was great.”
Analysis: “That was really good, by the way.”

I’m left wondering: What did he really say? There’s a possibility he said both. And that, in fact, is what happened.

The exchange is in the , between the 51:48 and 52:10 minute marks of the debate as presented on NECN’s web site. When Coakley said “No,” Baker said nothing at first. Instead, he leaned over the lectern and laughed. Then he said “Oh, that was great” as the news report had it. Then Edwards asked Coakley the same question. As she was answering, Baker turned to his opponent and said directly to her, “That was really good, by the way.”
So, the quotations are BOTH correct. One can only see that from the video. The limitations of the ink coverage doesn’t really come into play in that one. In another item that came up, however, the limitations are clear. As part of a sequence of questions requiring only a “yes” or “no” answer, Edwards asked the candidates whether or not illegal immigrants should get drivers licenses. Coakley demurred and said, “I don’t know yet” and said she didn’t want to answer a question that “can’t be answered yes or no.” She elicited groans from the audience. Baker quickly said, “No.” He got five seconds of pretty loud cheering from the audience, which was in the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

NOTE 1: I’m still a little puzzled that the Herald included nothing at all in the printed version I bought in Winchester. Time couldn’t have been the main reason. After all, the Herald included an article about the Monday Night Football game between the Cowboys and Redskins, er, team from Washington.
NOTE 2: Neither Globe story had a Worcester dateline, which tells me the paper did not send anybody to the debate. They watched it on television. Interestingly, the news analysis pointed out that Worcester is “an area of the state whose voters often feel neglected by the Boston-centric political establishment.” Right. And it looks like you can add the Globe to that group that conveys a feeling of neglect!


by Frank Herron
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Former Linebacker Turns Tables on Commissioner of the “Ain’t No Fun League”

Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 10.19.08 AM
Of course, quotations are properly handled the vast majority of the time.
Yesterday, recently retired Pittsburgh Steeler football player James Harrison did this in a Tweet that tweaked National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell. The commissioner is under fire for his handling of football player Ray Rice’s elevator punch-out of his then fiancee, Janay.
Harrison, no fan of the commissioner, sent this message at 6:36 p.m. on 10 September:

ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun huh?

It has been retweeted tens of thousands of time.

Sometimes Bugs (left) did get the gun from Elmer (right)

Sometimes Bugs (left) did get the gun from Elmer (right)

Harrison’s Tweet is beautifully succinct. Even though there were no quotation marks, I wondered about any source of the statement. Granted, he’s passing on a fairly common “proverb,” but this got me hunting for a source in popular culture.
With a fond nod to rabbit hunter Elmer Fudd and his wily prey Bugs Bunny (right), this is an accurate quotation from, among other places, Write Where I Left Off by American rapper Ras Kass (aka John Austin IV). (I won’t bother with the context because I’d have to use the N-word, which is in the previous line.) For the record, I think L’il Wayne in My Birthday had the same line.
In any case, some people are aiming something at Goodell. As Harrison points out, this turns the tables on him. Until now he has enjoyed the reputation of being somewhat of a sheriff.


by Frank Herron
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Don’t Be Afraid….to check a quote with the source

Quotes are not only reported. They are sometimes—often, really–used by journalists to elicit responses from newsmakers. Accuracy is important in either case.
The fragile nature of quoting and quote-retelling surfaced during a postgame press conference Sunday May 19, 2013, after the Boston Bruins defeated the New York Rangers. Fortunately in this case, the journalist, Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald, and Claude Julien, head coach of the Boston Bruins, got to the bottom of it and established what exactly the coach had told defensemen Torey Krug when he came up to the Bruins.
To set the stage, a bit, defenseman Krug (right) had just had a locker-room session with reporters and told them that Coach Julien had told him upon his arrival to not be afraid of making a mistake while on the ice. [I’m not sure EXACTLY what Krug said; I watched it on TV amid the postgame interviews but cannot find it on the Web this morning.]
Buckley had evidently heard the comment and wanted Julien to elaborate on that advice. It turns out that Buckley had misunderstood or misheard Krug. However, he had the good sense to let Julien know he might have misunderstood Krug’s statement. Here’s how the 22-second exchange went, beginning at about the 2:27 mark in this video from the NHL site.

Steve Buckley: Krug was saying, just a few minutes ago, he said that the one piece of advice you gave him was—I’m paraphrasing–something along the lines of, ‘Don’t be afraid to be scared, don’t be scared.’ When you tell a kid that arent you fearful he will be scared?

Claude Julien: No. I said, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.” You know, I don’t want him playing on his heels, and in other words I told him, I said, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, go out there and play your game.” So that was basically, Steve, what I told him when he first got here. ….. [He elaborates on the point}…

The message about fear and mistakes was the major thrust of Steve’s article in today’s Herald [shown above]. Fortunately Steve didn’t run with his original idea of what Krug had said or he might have jumped down a rabbit-hole of analyzing the fear of fear–surely drawing quotes FDRoosevelt or Freud.

In this context, the “don’t be afraid” message applies to journalists as well as rookie defenseman. Steve was not afraid to let Julien—and the assembled post-game scribes—to know he might not have gotten Krug’s original statement right. He went to the source. Kudos to him.
No time in the penalty box.


by Frank Herron
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Going Toe to Toe with Mike Tyson, Any Journalist Will Want to Get the Quote Right

Earlier this week in the Guardian, writer John Crace (right) interviewed boxer Mike Tyson (above) for the Guardian newspaper.
The interview was published this week (10 April) and was headlined “Mike Tyson: ‘Why are you asking me about pigeons?'” Crace found that he was lucky to be well out of range of Tyson’s devastating reach. At one point, Tyson accused Crase of trying to misquote him.
Here’s the exchange:

Crace: Your show in Las Vegas is called Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth. What undisputed truths are we going to learn that we don’t already know?
Tyson: You’re going to have to come to the show to find out.
Crace: Umm … but can you just give me a flavour?
Tyson: When I was in prison, I got one of the [the telephone connection isn’t that good and Tyson isn’t talking that distinctly and what Crace hears is…] wardens pregnant.
Crace: What? You got one of the wardens pregnant?
Tyson: That’s not what I said, John. You’re trying to misquote me.
Crace: I’m seriously not. I want to make sure that I heard you accurately. If I got it wrong then I want to correct it.
Tyson: OK. What I said was that I got one of the counsellors pregnant. There’s a big difference.

He’s right. There is a big difference. Anyway, Crace did a good job of “reflective listening” right on the spot. Crace could have plowed right ahead with the interview, assuming he had heard Tyson correctly (despite any poor diction or poor phone connection) and going with “warden” instead of “counsellor”. For what it’s worth to Crace, I give the interviewer high marks for speaking up and getting it right. He might have irked Tyson a bit, but imagine how “Iron” Mike might have felt if he had read [?!] that he had gotten a WARDEN pregnant. I’m sure Crace would like to keep BOTH of his ears far from Tyson.

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