THE DUMBNESS OF THE WHALE! Chris Hayes corrected a groaning error bywho else?the New York Times: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 26, 2010
Harper Lee was ahead of her time: Harper Lees famous book is turning 50, though she may not take part in the celebrations. What convinced Lee to keep her own counsel? In yesterdays New York Times, Julie Bosman wrote this:
Lee doesnt like being misquotedand she doesnt think writers should be entertainers! We dont know if these claims are accurate. But if Lee doesnt like misquotation and pseudo-celebrity, she made the right move in absenting herself from our inane public realm.
In part, the interview was fascinating because Maddow didnt play by the rules. She started out by asking Paul to clarify his thinking about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which hed discussed in several forums. Her first question: Do you believe that private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people or gays or any other minority group?
The question was perfectly fair, although its utility does have a limit. But Paul gave a meandering, evasive replyso Maddow asked the question again:
Once again, Paul meandered about, failing to answer.
By the normal rules of the game, Maddow should have moved on right there. On TV, our journalists are nothing if not polite. By normal standards, when a politician evades a question two times, the interviewer is supposed to pretend that she hasnt noticed and ask about something else. Maddow broke the rule this night, returning to her unanswered question:
Theres a limit to this questions utilitybut Paul evaded the question again, and Maddow kept on asking. As such, this interview was fascinating for two basic reasons: You will rarely see a TV broadcaster persist with an unanswered question so long. Largely for that very reason, you will rarely see a politician evade a question as long and as hard as Paul did that night.
Paul just kept refusing to answer. Unless you read the New York Times, whose haplessness was put on display last Friday morning, two days after the interview. One of the papers top political scribes reported on Maddows session with Paul. And, as usual, Adam Nagourney misstated what had occurred. Well present a large chunk of what Nagourney wroteand well highlight his groaning error:
Reading Nagourney, you would have thought that Paul had answered Maddows question quite directly. You would have thought he flat-out said yesa private business does have the right to refuse to serve black people. But that just isnt what occurred, as the Maddow Show made clear Friday night. Guest host Christopher Hayes devoted a chunk of the program to the New York Times latest bungle. He started his takedown like this:
Actually, we think Hayes understates the size of Nagourneys error. In fact, Paul didnt say the word yes at allhe muttered the word yeah under his breath before giving his actual answer, which was again evasive. (To watch Hayes full segment, with tape of what Paul really said, just click here.)
How did the New York Times manage to bungle again, as the great paper so persistently does? Well guess that Hayes is right in his surmise, which he repeated moments later. The transcripts at Nexis and at MSNBC mis-record what Paul actually said. (To see the MSNBC transcript, just click here.) If Nagourney simply went by the transcriptif he didnt look at the actual tapehe might have thought that Paul had answered Maddows question quite directly. But if he thought that, he would have been wronga point the Maddow Show went to some lengths to make clear.
As usual, Nagourneys report was just wrong. It was unfair to Paul, and it was unfair to Maddow, who was coming under attack for allegedly badgering Paul. (This attack would make more sense if Paul had answered the question.) Most importantly, Nagourneys report misinformed his papers readers about what Paul had actually said. As such, it showcased the endless, groaning incompetence of our great, hapless New York Times.
By now, youd think that any political reporter would understand a fact of life: You cant rely on the perfect accuracy of networks posted transcripts. Errors abound in these transcripts; its dangerous to rely on what such transcripts say, especially in cases where you can review the tape of the actual segment to see what was actually said.
The tape of Maddows interview with Paul was posted at the Maddow Shows site. Well assume that Hayes guessed correctlythat Nagourney didnt bother to watch it.
For our money, Maddow did the right thing when she persisted with her question. But Rand Paul didnt answer her question, and the Times was wrong, as it typically is, when it told you different. (The Maddow Show was right to correct the Times error.) But then, the dumbness of this particular whale has been defining the shape of American discourse for a depressing number of years. Tomorrow, well look at a few other recent groaners by the Timesincluding a few more about Richard Blumenthal. (As it turns out, one of the great papers dumbest errors cut in Blumenthals favor!)
The dumbness of this particular whale has been a societal problem for decades. Last Friday, Hayes corrected the Times, but very few pundits ever do. When it comes to political reporting and political punditry, the New York Times is amazingly dumb; the dumbness almost seems to be part of its culture. Question: Why is it so rare to see liberals stand up and report this fact of life?
Including a comical error: Again, we recommend that you watch Hayes complete segment, which is only 1:31 long (click here). Heres the full transcript of that segmentthough weve cleaned it up at the end for a comical error, as we often do:
Again, Hayes basic analysis is correct. But hes wrong when he says that the MSNBC transcript is technically rightit simply isnt.
By the way, how wrong can official transcripts be? Such transcripts are often comically wrong. Years ago, Howard Mortman started the practice of collecting these comical howlers. And sure enough! One such howler appears in the official Nexis/MSNBC transcript of Hayes final paragraph:
Here at THE HOWLER, we changed the comically inaccurate before sun rising to the accurate before summarizing. But then, everyone knows you have to be careful with these transcriptseveryone except the most experienced political reporter at the inept New York Times.
This newspaper is stupefyingly inepthas been for years. Dumbness is part of this newspapers culture. Why do so few liberals say so?