The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

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

The Telephone Game Revisited: Sports Reporter Double Dribbles While Driving for a Story


On Sunday, as mentioned here, Boston Herald sportswriter Steve Buckley passed a hockey player’s statement on to that player’s coach and asked for comment. Steve acknowledged he might not have gotten the player’s statement exactly right. Fortunately, the coach remembered what he had said and they got to the bottom of it. No harm. No foul.

A similar attempt to use a second-hand quote to get a reaction surfaced over the past couple of days. It worked, in that it generated a national story. But it exposes a slimy underbelly of journalism. A sportswriter misrepresented what he heard from one coach and prodded basketball player LeBron James for a reaction. James, believing the quote was accurate is caught reacting, overreacting actually, to something that was NEVER SAID.
Thanks to Dan Devine of Yahoo! Sports for putting this he-said/he-said “reaction” story in perspective in a report yesterday.
Here’s the original statement from Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel (shown below), when he was asked over the weekend about the daunting prospect of facing the Miami Heat:

“This is not about getting back at Miami. If you’re in the final four, you’re competing for a championship. You’re competing for a championship. And they’re just the next team that’s in our way.”

Fair enough. Pretty standard coachspeak.
Groping for a story, Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida scurried over to the Heat’s LeBron James and presented Vogels’s statement this way, looking for a reaction. To make sure he got a reaction, he misrepresented Vogel. He said this:

“Vogel kept saying last night that you guys are just another team.”

LeBron James, succumbing to this nasty journalistic trick, took some umbrage and gave Tomasson a story. James said this:

“We’re not just another team. I don’t understand what he’s saying. But we’re not just another team. It’s not true…. We’re not just another team. We’re a great team. We’re very confident. We’ll be ready for them. But if we’re just another team, you really don’t prepare for just another team. We’re not just another team. You got to be prepared for us.”

Now, back to the source, Coach Vogel:
“Sorry sports world, the words ‘just another team’ never came out of my mouth. Great respect for LBJ and the champs. Looking forward to [a] great series.”
It’s a cumbersome approach, I guess, but the best way for an interviewee to deal with the “so-and-so said XXXXX; please respond” question is to ask to SEE EXACTLY WHAT WAS SAID IN PRINT or LISTEN TO A RECORDING and PRESS FOR CONTEXT. I think some journalists are undisciplined about quotations in print. Why would a third-hand retelling be reliable.
Is this the “Telephone Game” revisited?

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