The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

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


by Frank Herron
1 Comment

The CONTEXT needs to be screwed, bolted, nailed and glued to Obama’s “You didn’t built that” comment

The Republican National Convention has effectively dismantled an original statement to come up with its “We Built It” campaign. The effort has its foundation in a statement President Barack Obama made in Virginia on July 13. The single sentence that sparked it: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
That statement, on its own, is all the hammer-and-tong-wielding GOP want people to hear.
Pulllleeeeze.
It begs context.
That’s what Joe Berland of San Rafael, California, called for in a letter published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday (Aug. 30).
In his letter he chastised columnist Debra J. Saunders–who used the one-sentence quote while writing about the convention–for using the sentence, as quoted and shorn of context, in her column on Aug. 29.
Berland says the preceding sentences need to be screwed, bolted, nailed and glued to the “you didn’t build that” statment. He gives it this way:

“Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system…that allowed you to thrive.
“Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that.

Berland is saying, of course, the THAT (which the business builder didn’t build) actually refers to the “American system… roads and bridges.”
Berland’s voice-in-the-wilderness plea at the end of his letter bears repeating:

“Our country would be so much greater if we would argue the facts rather than distort the words of our opposition.”

If fairness to Saunders, the Chronicle columnist, I think the well-intentioned letter-writer took her statement a bit out of context, himself. Referring the Tampa convention’s “We Built It” theme, she wrote:

“This is the Republican response to President Obama’s assertion in July that successful people didn’t succeed without help from teachers, mentors and government: ‘If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that’.”

It certainly would have been easy for her to add that the statement has been taken out of context, but she did provide some of the president’s thinking preceding the quote.
For the record, an editorial in Thursday’s Anniston Star provided more of the context for the Obama statement, from that July 13 speech:

“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. … If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.
If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

He then said, according to the White House transcript of the speech (which eliminates some repeated words and expands some contractions for some reason):

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

There’s plenty of opportunity to build, right?

This YouTube clip includes only the “you didn’t build that” statement.

IF you have about 42 minutes, here’s a YouTube presentation of the whole speech.


by Frank Herron
1 Comment

President’s Challenge Exposes a Misquotation at the Highest Level


Trying to curry favor among debt-riddled students during a speech on Tuesday April 24 at the Coors Events Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, President Obama (shown above at the event) told the campus crowd that a “Republican congesswoman” said she had “very little tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt.” In his build-up to the statement, President Obama explicitly said, “I’m quoting her.” After hearing the totally expected “boos” raining down on his report of her words, he challenged the wired group to “Google her or what have you.”

Well, that challenge really isn’t such a good idea. Such an act of Googling (which was made a little tougher because the president neglected to give the name of the congresswoman) reveals that he OMITTED SOME KEY WORDS in his “quoting” of her.
Here’s the exchange, according to a transcript from the Denver Post:

THE PRESIDENT: I want to read a quote. This is from a Republican congresswoman. I didn’t really understand this. (Laughter.) I’m quoting her. She said that she has “very little tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt… because there’s no reason for that.” She said, students who rack up student loan debt are just sitting on their butts, having opportunity “dumped in your lap.”
AUDIENCE: Booo —
THE PRESIDENT: You guys can Google her or what have you, but — (laughter) —

The great site factcheck.org points out the misrepresentation of Rep. Virginia Foxx (Republican, North Carolina), who was speaking on the G. Gordon Liddy radio show on April 12. That site gives the quote. It might be better to listen to the recording on YouTube:

This gives a little more context for her statement. Before getting to the statement that the president muddied, she refers to her own college-debt experience. Noting that she and her husband were totally on their own at the time, she says “he” borrowed $1,500 for college, and it took them quite a while to pay it back. Clearly, from the context of her own life and the context of the quote, SOME debt is nearly unavoidable. (And, back when she was in college, $1,500 was a pretty big number.) Removing a couple of “uh’s”, here’s what she said, according to the YouTube clip:

I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We all, again, we live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ You don’t sit on your butt and have it dumped in your lap.

Now, with that as background, here’s how the president carved it up, with the words he deleted crossed out. He said Foxx said she has:

“very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that.”

Look what he left out. He cut out the very important qualifying words that show Foxx is talking about the students who graduate with INCREDIBLY HIGH debt loads. Many graduate with debt levels far less than $80,000 or $200,000. He then replaced the next 39 words with a paraphrase and stuck on a four-word snippet from the end of her comment. His paraphrase is here:

She said, students who rack up student loan debt are just sitting on their butts, having opportunity “dumped in your lap.”

We grade this an F, but we will not charge any tuition for the lesson.

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