Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Washington Post cleans up Arnold's act

First, let's check in with the Associated Press Stylebook (mine's from 2001, but I'm pretty sure it's the same), the Bible of journalistic style:

quotations in the news

Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution. If there is a question about a quote, either don't use it or ask the speaker to clarify

If a person is unavailable for comment, detail attempts to reach that person...

In general, avoid fragmentary quotes. If a speaker's words are clear and concise, favor the full quote. (Pages 209-210)

Now let's flip over to The Washington Post, where we find out that Arnold Schwarzenegger called in to the "Sean Hannity Show" and answered a few questions, finally laying down where he stood on some issues, including gay marriage:

On gay marriage, Schwarzenegger said: "I do support domestic partnerships." But he said he is against state-sanctioned unions for gays and lesbians. "Marriage should be between a man and woman," he said.

Unfortunately, Post staff writer William Booth isn't telling you the truth. Sure, it's a small change and, if he had used ellipses or indicated in some manner that it wasn't the whole quote, I wouldn't give a damn. Instead, Booth cleaned up Schwarzenegger's words to make him sound a lot more thoughtful than he really sounded:

HANNITY: Do you support, uh, gay marriage?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I do support, uh, domestic partnership.

HANNITY: But not gay marriage.

SCHWARZENEGGER: No. I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman. (Italics Nitpicker's. Hear it at Hoffmania!, via Atrios.)

So Booth cleaned up Arnie's words without letting you know he did it. Please do your part to let The Washington Post know that we see what they're doing. E-mail their much ballyhooed ombudsman, who's been gone all damn month, and remind him what the AP says about altering quotes.

Update: No, Virginia, I don't think you need the "uhs" in there, but you can't alter something then put it in quotes without telling the reader you're doing that. Even Fox News gets it right:

Asked about gay marriage, Schwarzenegger said, "I do support domestic partnerships" but added that he was against gay marriage. He said marriage should be between a man and a woman.

See? That's what Schwarzenegger meant and we know it, but quotation marks indicate that what's inside them is exactly what he said.


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