Sunday, July 08, 2012

Those late-breaking quotation marks

At top is the Fair 'n' Balanced Network's No, 2 story from Saturday night; below, with quotes around "false," the version from Sunday morning.

That's a slip; even Fox usually follows the rules about using quotes to displace opinion from yourself to someone else. The revised version is a legitimate shortening* of "viciously negative and false ads" in the text, even though the quote doesn't specify which of the "ads" are false and which are just "viciously negative." But slip or not, the story's a fun illustration of how the party press negotiates the rules of objective journalism.

"Refutes" is a problem. Stylebooks take a strong prescriptive bent on "refute," on grounds that it means to prove something wrong, even though the meaning here (contradict, rebut, repudiate) has been around since the 19th century at least. I prefer to keep the distinction, but the confusion is too common to make this conclusively partisan. No whistle, but somebody might want to warn the coach.

The Obama campaign began airing a TV ad Saturday in key election states attacking Mitt Romney for his stances on abortion and Planned Parenthood that was immediately rebuked by the Romney campaign as “viciously” negative and false.
Nothing out of bounds here. It's the age of truth-squadding; maybe that's how Fox plans to begin all its coverage of campaign advertising.

... “Every woman who believes decisions about our bodies and our health-care should be our own is troubled Mitt Romney supports overturning Roe v. Wade,” says a female voice at the beginning of the ad. “Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.”

Romney, though, has not taken that position publicly.

That's an interesting statement to make on your own authority (especially with the qualifier "publicly"), given that the campaign is about to get its chance to speak.

In response, the Romney campaign pointed to Romney’s op-ed last year in the National Review titled “My Pro-Life Pledge” in which he said abortion should be “limited to only instances of rape, incest or to save the life of a mother.”

The campaign also argued the ad began airing the day after a U.S. unemployment report that showed the jobless rate remains at 8.2 percent.

“It’s no coincidence that a day after a disastrous jobs report, the Obama campaign drops viciously negative and false ads against Gov. Romney desperate to change the subject,” spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg told “The economy has gone negative on President Obama, so he has decided to go negative on Mitt Romney.”

Pretty standard call-and-response campaign reporting, non sequitur or not. Still nothing out of bounds.

The ad also includes a video clip of Romney in which the GOP presidential candidate appears to imply he will get rid of Planned Parenthood, which the ad states provides “life-saving cancer screenings.”

Romney made clear after making the statement in March that if elected he would cut federal funding to -- but not eliminate -- Amtrak and the National Endowment for the Arts to reduce the federal debt.

"Appears to imply" appears to refer to the candidate's "Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that" statement from March, which the campaign expanded on as indicated. It's a bit unusual not to include a more directly relevant piece of clarification -- "It would not be getting rid of the organization" (which seemed to have been clear to both sides from the outset) -- but that could just be the way news piles facts on top of other facts.

The ad also refers to a 2007 debate to imply Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortions. At that debate, Romney said he would prefer there be no abortions, though he did not refer to the specifics of any proposed law.

A campaign source said Romney’s statements were taken out of context and not a legitimate basis for the Obama campaign’s argument in the ad.

That's a little weird. You have the campaign spokesman saying "viciously negative and false" (with a "told" to suggest it's more than just a press release), but you can't find a named source to say a comment was taken out of context? Or to explain the specifics that make the claim illegitimate?

It'll be interesting to watch this develop over the summer. It's sort of a Weeping Angels journalism: as long as you're watching, it looks like the real thing. Just don't blink.

* If I read the rules correctly -- clarifications and additions welcome, as always -- a British hed could put "false" in claim quotes to indicate attribution, even if it's a summary or paraphrase..

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Anonymous Ed Latham said...

Yes, in the UK you can legitimately use a paraphrase in quotes, as long as it's a fair summary of the claim.

However, claim quotes tend to be used mainly when there is no space to indicate attribution more fully. If the headline contains both quotation marks *and* an attribution, as here, even in the UK that usually indicates that the quote is a direct one rather than a paraphrase - the story being 'newsworthy person makes significant/colourful choice of words'.

12:20 PM, July 08, 2012  
Anonymous Picky said...

I think that's right. You wd expect in the UK a direct quote from Romney with the word "false" in it to justify that head.

12:44 PM, July 08, 2012  
Blogger 4ndyman said...

Their editors must have missed "refutes." What they meant was, of course, "refudiates."

11:02 AM, July 09, 2012  
Blogger Theophylact said...

"Refutes" assumes that the statement was indeed false. The correct word is "rebuts".

9:57 AM, July 11, 2012  

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