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  • Help! I’ve Been Accurately Quoted!

    There are lots of ways to get in trouble when being quoted in the media.  One is to be misquoted.  Even more dangerous is to be quoted correctly — but not fully.

    The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.   over the weekend reported that they erred a couple weeks ago in a “pull quote” that put former Israeli foreign minisiter Tzipi Livni in an awkward position.

    “Pull quotes”  are excerpts from an article which typically are placed on the same page as a story in a large or graphically distinctive font to entice people to read the whole story.

    In a January 24th  story about some leaked documents concerning the explosive settlements issue, The Guardian included a pull quote from Livni saying:

    “The Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”

    Livni said those words…and they sound like a damning admission of bad-faith bargaining.  Unfortunately….the newspaper omitted her preamble which said:

    I understand the sentiments of the Palestinians when they see the settlements being built. The meaning from the Palestinian perspective is that Israel takes more land, that the Palestinian state will be impossible….

    Combined, the two statements have an entirely different meaning than the one which first appeared in the Guardian.

    How can you guard against publications like The Guardian doing this to you?  It is very hard.

    Such mishaps can occur either as a result of incompetence on the part of editors — or as a result of deliberate disinformation.

    As a general rule — you are better off not articulating the views of your opponents — to lessen the likelihood of being put in Livni’s position.

    Short of that — officials and their staffs need to be vigilant about spotting such errors and demanding speedy corrections.  The Guardian’s “correction and clarification” came almost three weeks after the original mistake — and was buried on page 40 of the newspaper.  The original mistaken pull quote appeared on page 4.

    “Never let the facts get in the way of a good quote”

             — Old newspaper adage

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  • Let the Record Show…

    Nothing.  Our advice is to never speak to a reporter “off-the-record.”  There is no such thing.  What you say will get out sooner rather than later.

    But if you are going to ignore our advice — at a minimum  — you should make sure that there is no record of you going off the record.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was briefing the press corps traveling with her to Europe over the weekend and her department helpfully posted the transcript of her Q&A on their website. 

    As is often the case, the most troublesome question in a press conference comes immediately after the moderator announces “Time for one last question!”  Here is the transcript of the end  of Secretary Clinton’s press gaggle.

    MODERATOR: (Inaudible) last question.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about aid question, because I’ve been a little bit confused. You had the White House come out and say aid can be reviewed, depending on events as things play out. You went out last Sunday and said we’re not currently deliberating cutting aid to the Egyptian military.
    But let’s say that in three months this process is faltering, or paralyzed, or you see backsliding. Is aid ever part of the equation? Is that a lever the United States can invoke at some point?

     SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let’s go off the record. Nice try. Off the record. Okay, turn all your little machines off.

     QUESTION: Can I ask one more thing about Suleiman, then, before we go off the record? Suleiman — I know you say (inaudible) running a transition is not the same as enforcing it. But you did say yesterday he is running a transition.

    SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes (inaudible) —

    QUESTION: Here is my question. The guy is the head of the secret police. These people that are being beaten up by his (inaudible)? Not true?

    SECRETARY CLINTON: Off the record.

    QUESTION: Why not?

    SECRETARY CLINTON: We will go off the record, okay? We will go off the record.

    QUESTION: Why is that not true?

    SECRETARY CLINTON: Turn off —

    QUESTION: Okay.

    There are a couple lessons embedded in this little exchange.  Number one…you can’t simply declare something off-the-record.  The reporters present have to agree to the stipulation before they turn off “their little machines.”

    Lesson number two, however, is that when you control the transcript — as the State Department did in this case — there is no need to include the question which gets an off-the-record response in the record.

    Every editor and their brother now knows that Secretary Clinton was talking about this issue “off-the-record” to her traveling reporters.  Anything on the subject which shows up in print or on air in the next few weeks will appear along with the suspicion on the part of some that the source was Clinton.

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