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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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?


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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Cindy Adams breathlessly–and casually–passes on an elusive Kissinger quote about Israel’s future

In her breathless, I-rarely-have-time-for-a-verb writing, gossipy Cindy Adams passes on quite a prediction that she attributes for former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (shown at the right).
She presented it (on Page 12 of the September 18 issue of the New York Post, shown above) this way:

“Reported to me, Henry Kissinger has stated–and I quote the statement word for word: ‘In 10 years, there will be no more Israel.’
“I repeat: ‘In 10 years, there will be no more Israel.'”

She offers no CONTEXT for the quote. Hey, given the chronological prediction, it would have been good to add WHEN he might have said that. The way she presents it (“has said”), she implies that Kissinger has said it a few times.
Her presentation (leading a column that also dealt with Katie Couric, Harvey Weinstein, Kourtney Kardashian etc.) drew some reaction.
That reaction surfaced over the last couple of days. Reporters from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) have gotten a response from Kissinger’s office.
According to posts in the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel from earlier today, staff member Tara Butzbaugh (who works in Kissinger’s office at Kissinger Associates, said this:

“It’s not a misquote. He didn’t say it.”

It’s worth checking. I can’t find it.
But Adams has put the statement in play. It now has life on the Web. Some find it quite believable. Others–in the spirit of Robert DeNiro (portraying Conrad Brean) in Wag the Dog–deny, deny, deny.

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