Sunday, January 04, 2009

You make the call

Fairly striking correction at the Times today:*

An article last Sunday rendered a comment by Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, incorrectly. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she said, “We are targeting Hamas, we are not looking for civilians to kill,” and then added “More than that, during this military operation, we are trying to avoid any kind of civilian casualties.” She did not say, “We are targeting Hamas, we are not looking for civilians to kill more than that.”

You can see why the common precept of not repeating the thing you're correcting is ignored here. That's a pretty striking difference, and based on the transcript at MSNBC, it looks like a genuinely egregious quote mine:

MS. LIVNI: Well, of course, we are in a very close connection. I am in a very close connection with Secretary Rice, and we had some talks only last night. The idea--and this is according also to our values--we are targeting Hamas, we are not looking for civilians to kill. More than that, during this military operation, we are trying to avoid any kind of civil casualty.

The Times has scrubbed the article linked from the correction, but here's the quote from Lexis:
''We are targeting Hamas, we are not looking for civilians to kill more than that,'' she said in a second interview, on NBC's ''Meet the Press.''

Seems pretty damning, doesn't it? Particularly in a conflict in which every word that's written or spoken is going to be put under the microscope at the faintest suggestion of bias? Have a look at the tape -- the relevant passage occurs around the 6:10 mark -- and see which cutting of the sentence is closer to what the speaker produced: The Times's or MSNBC's?

Any decision on where and how to excerpt speech in an interview is subjective; audiences need to be able to trust not only the reporter's ear** but the reporter's ability to understand context and be faithful to it.*** (Before you make a judgment on what Livni "said," you'll want to watch enough to get a general idea of how she speaks; that's part of context too.) The Times's decision might be closer and still not be good. But it seems to me worth asking whether what the speaker said or "did not say" is as clear-cut as the correction indicates.

* Online; I have yet to find it in the print edn that reaches these parts.
** I hear "civil casualty," not the Times's "civilian casualties."
*** We seem to give people plenty of reason not to extend that trust, too.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Strayhorn said...

I've seen several interviews with Livni on the Beeb and I have sympathy with the interviewer - she's got a peculiar locked-jaw accent/speech impediment. And in fact I saw the interview referenced and had trouble understanding Livni a times. But the greater glory of videotape is that you can always go back and check.

Speaking of Livni: when did foreign ministers get so young?

9:09 AM, January 06, 2009  

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