When Did Reporter's Misquotes Turn Into Their Own Stories?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 23 2013 6:10 PM

August News Cycle Story Idea for Political Reporters: Political Reporters

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New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd speaks during a taping of Meet the Press at the NBC studios May 25, 2008 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

What's the New York Times Style section rule—three stories in one week makes a trend, right? Well, three times in the past week, a reporter has misquoted a prominent national political figure. Two of those reporters were from the Times and the Washington Post. But the unifying factor in all these misquotes is that none of them really changed the meaning of the original quote.

Last week, a Business Insider reporter misquoted Reince Priebus calling self-deportation "racist," when he actually said the idea of self-deportation "hurts us." Obviously, calling an immigration policy trumpeted by your party's last presidential candidate "racist" puts you next in line for Michelle Malkin's Twitchy Gauntlet of Pain and spits you out the Liberal Twitter Schadenfreude Slide. But Priebus still called it a "horrible" policy! NYT columnist Maureen Dowd misquoted New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio's wife disparaging Christine Quinn slightly more than she actually meant to.

The third in the trifecta comes from Wonkblogger Ezra Klein, who supposedly misquoted Al Gore making up a hurricane category that doesn't yet exist. What Klein quoted Gore as saying:

“The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6.”
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What Gore actually said, according to Gore's staff:

“The scientists are now adding Category 6 to the hurricane; … some are proposing we add Category 6 to the hurricane scale that used to be 1-5.”

Those quotes are pretty different, grammatically and substantively—"some are proposing" is a lot different from "they are adding." But three separate stories about misquotes shows the August news cycle is keeping the political press clawing for any scrap of iniquity it can publish—even from one of its own. Thankfully, all petty political news will be banished when Congress returns from recess.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.

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