The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

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

Blast from the Past: Changing a Kaiser’s words for publication


Thoughts about the often-misattributed Orwell-esque quotation from the previous post resurfaced when I was reading about the handling of a brief speech by Kaiser Wilhelm II (right, in 1890) in 1904 at the Imperial Yacht Club in Kiel.
The incident is described in the second volume of the Memoirs of Prince Von Bulow (an English version printed in 1931). It’s a good example of how government can change reality and spoon-feed it to the media for consumption by the public–and, more importantly, by government officials.
Here goes:
While meeting with his uncle, King Edward VII of England, the Kaiser described the way in which his boyhood visits to English ports such as Plymouth and Portsmouth inspired his wishes to build a bigger, stronger German navy:

“… I admired the proud English ships in those two superb harbours Then there awoke in me the wish to build ships of my own like these some day, and when I was grown up to possess as fine a navy as the English.”

Seeing that the Wolff’s Agency (a voice of the German government) was going to wire the speech to Berlin for inclusion in newspapers, an alarmed von Bulow intervened and–in his words–“corrected it.”
When the Kaiser read the words attributed to him in the Kieler Zeitung, he complained, “You’ve made me another new speech–and you’ve left out just the best bits.”
Von Bulow’s explanation to the Kaiser:

“Believe me, Your Majesty–this is far better for yourself and every one concerned. If you describe our fleet, constructed with such heavy cost, sometimes with danger, so sentimentally, as the outcome of your own personal inclinations and juvenile memories, it will not be easy to obtain further millions for naval construction from the Reichstag.”

The change had little to do with influencing public opinion. It was based on the manipulation of Germany’s Imperial Diet. That’s a major reason why people in power are anxious about how they appear in the news media.

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