The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

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

Saved by the Tape: British Lord Did NOT Issue a Bounty for Heads of Obama and Bush

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A controversial British parliamentarian of Kashmiri origin, Lord Nazir Ahmed (shown here), had a tough week trying to undo some damage done by a misquote.
As reported by The Telegraph of London, he was suspended on Sunday (16 April) by his Labour Party after a report that he had offered a 10-million-pound bounty for the capture of President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.
Here’s how that offer was presented in The Express Tribune of Pakistan under a headline of ” ‘Sterling’ bounty offered for Bush, Obama” as published on 15 April and written by “Our Correspondent.”

“If the US can announce a reward of $10 million for the captor of Hafiz Saeed, I can announce a bounty of 10 million pounds on President Obama and his predecessor George Bush,” Lord Nazir said, adding that he would arrange the bounty at any cost even if he was left with the option of selling all his personal assets, including his house.

The quoted statement so alarmed Britain’s Labour Party that the organization immediately suspended him pending a formal inquiry. Lord Ahmed (aka Baron Ahmed of Rotherham, Britain’s first Muslim life peer) denied this vehemently and, according to the BBC, said he, too, was “horrified” by the report. Here’s what he told the BBC:

“I’m shocked and horrified that this whole story could be just made up of lies…” he said.
“I never mentioned President Obama, I never mentioned the word bounty.
“It was a discussion about people investing in Pakistan and yes, I did talk about illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Bush and Blair involved in it, but I did not mention any bounty or President Obama, and the sort of rubbish that’s been on the media in the last 24 hours.”

He may have been “shocked and horrified” by the story, but he should be aware that previous inflammatory comments of his have laid the groundwork. Evidently journalists found the report that he would call for such a bounty to be BELIEVABLE. I’m not excusing the error at all, I’m just saying that his name has been linked to people who might make such a statement.
Anyway, the lord said he had video footage of his remarks and that he would make it available to the Labour Party and the public.
The Express Tribune reviewed footage of the comments. It turns out, according to the paper’s correction, which was printed on 18 April, that Nazir said he wanted to

“raise and offer £10 million so that George W Bush and Tony Blair can be brought to the International Court of Justice on war crimes charges.”
There was NO MENTION of President Barack Obama. The correction adds:

The Express Tribune’s reporter, who covered the story in Haripur, also clarified that he had mistakenly written the name of Obama – and clarified that the offer by Nazir aimed to raise money to try Bush and Blair in the International Court of Justice for war crimes. The error is deeply regretted.

As well it should be–regretted. But it’s very hard to “unring the bell” and “put the toothpaste back into the tube” and all that.
It’s generally a good idea to make your own recording.

One Comment

  1. The impact of misquotation in politics is a terrible and unfair one. Indeed it borders on subversion to allow this sort of activity to go unpunished with the implications of unjustified removal of poilitical integrity on someone such as Lord Ahmed.

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