Special report: Quoting King!


PART 1—A MAJOR SURPRISE: Rachel Manteuffel works for the Washington Post.

Before you judge her on that basis, let’s note that Manteuffel is still quite young—somewhere in her mid-twenties.

Perhaps for this reason, Manteuffel still notices things in the wider world. Later, she may conduct some research. She may even look some things up!

A few weeks ago, these unusual traits came into play when Manteuffel visited the site of the new King memorial.

As Manteuffel toured the site, she was puzzled by something she saw—by one of the memorial’s featured quotations. In response, she did a highly unusual thing—she went home and looked the quote up! No experienced Washington journalist would ever behave in such an odd way. But on August 26, Manteuffel told the whole tale in a Washington Post op-ed column.

Good lord! Manteuffel looked up a famous sermon by Dr. King—and she discovered that Dr. King had perhaps been misquoted:
MANTEUFFEL (8/26/11): “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

That's what it says on the right side of King's enormous monument. At first it struck me as odd that this man, whose many other quotes on the same monument are beautifully worded and biblically informed, would refer to himself as a drum major. To me, silly hats and King just did not compute.

Then I saw the larger problem. This quote is awfully self-aggrandizing for a man who so often symbolized the strength in humility…

When I looked up the King quote, I found that the sin was actually worse than simply shoe-horning in an uncharacteristically immodest statement. The quote carved into the memorial on the Mall is not what Martin Luther King Jr. said.
For our money, Manteuffel should have toned it down a bit about the silly hats; drum majors have never been “silly” in southern black culture. But Manteuffel’s ear told her something was odd about that quotation at the memorial. And omigod! Because she isn’t fully experienced, she went home and did a strange thing. Manteuffel looked the quote up!

Just who is this meddlesome child, with these peculiar instincts?

Whatever! Manteuffel’s column touched off a debate which may result in a change to the King memorial. Last Friday, the Washington Post editorial board said a change should be made in that featured quotation. Maya Angelou has also weighed in, demanding a change in the bungled quote. And Angelou actually sat on the board which selected the featured quotations!

(If you want to review the facts of the case, we’ll recommend this report by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post.)

For ourselves, we think Manteuffel and Angelou are basically right in their judgment. We think it would be better if the selected “quotation” was amended. Like them, we think Dr. King has basically been misquoted—or at best, he has been paraphrased poorly.

We agree with Manteuffel and Angelou. But as we’ve followed this flap, we’ve been especially struck by one thing: We’ve been struck by the nuanced judgment, indeed the intellectual skill, shown by the Washington Post’s editorial board. Who knew? Who had any idea?

Alas! In the last twenty years, our political history has been driven by various acts of misquotation and ludicrous paraphrase. During these highly significant episodes, our press elites have rarely shown the skill required to judge such critical matters. In various episodes, our “journalists” have adopted absurd accounts of various things major pols have said. In these episodes, they have rarely tried to conduct themselves in a serious journalistic manner.

Tremendous changes in recent history have turned on their clownish journalistic behavior, in which major politicians were flatly misquoted or were paraphrased wildly.

Now, along comes a bright young scribe—and suddenly, we learn a startling new fact: Journalists at the Washington Post do know how to judge such natters! The editorial board of the Washington Post does know how to spot a bad quote.

They do know how to see that an excerpt has been yanked out of context.

They do know how to see that a paraphrase is misleading, bogus, unfair!

For ourselves, we think Manteuffel and Angelou are right in their basic judgment. We think the editors got it right in last Friday’s editorial. But after all these years, what a surprise! To see that our highest-ranking journalists really do understand such matters!

Dr. King is an enormously important figure—the moral giant of the last century. In a separate sphere, the recent history which turned on those bogus quotations was deeply important too. For these reasons, we thought we might take a few days to review the background of this new debate.

Tomorrow, let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s review some things Dr. King really said in the sermon Manteuffel looked up.

Tomorrow—part 2: “Everybody can serve”

32 comments:

  1. Congratulations on the move. But what's with the leafy background? It doesn't say "Howler" to me.

    On the substance, not only is it amazing to me that the Post got this right, but also that the committee, including Maya Angelou, could have looked at that quote and not thought it was odd. I also am amazed that the people choosing the memorial chose the statue they did and the overall design and allowed it to be constructed by non-union, sub minimum wage Chinese guest workers. None of this seems to reflect the authentic King; the design, in particular, seems more in keeping with the aesthetic of the WWII Memorial, which looks like it was designed by Albert Speer.

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  2. Congrats on the move and I like the idea of writing comments/response to your very important work.

    I'll piggy back on the previous comment about the leafy background. I would suggest some sort of mural which, as you scroll down, shows someone growing increasingly agitated and insane. Either that or kittens. I'd be fine with either one.

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  3. Don't worry, I bet the wolves move in in due course :)

    First there are complaints that the statue of King doesn't look like King...now the inscriptions are messed up? These are symptoms of the slipshod era in which we live. "Get 'er done!" even if the result is inelegant.

    Remember the cliche' "good enough for Government work?" Government work is looking pretty good these days, in comparison to many examples of non-government work.

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  4. RE the leaf: The choices weren't great, although I think it does look good.

    (Coming: Bamboo Sundays.)

    That said, I do think it may be time for a strategic change from the howl to the attempt to soothe. There was no liberal howling in 1998, none. (We have all paid a very large price for that lethargy.) Today, though, we may have a bit too much.

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  5. At least we can comment now. This is the best blog on the net ...

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  6. Thanks so much for all your work over the (many, many) years. The Daily Howler is a beacon of sanity, a touchstone of all that is good about blogging.

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  7. Are the clowning clowns still making a mockery of our discourse?

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  8. I like the leaves. Elm, is it? Green is so restful. After perusing the headlines at our top news orgs, I need to look at something restful.

    Also, re Angelou, if she sat on the board, how did the quote get past her? Was she guesting on Oprah that day?

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  9. Not even sure what to say here, I've been reading the Daily Howler since the 2000 election, Bob Somerby helped me realize what the press was actually doing to Al Gore, because I was one of the liberals back then who was starting to believe the 'AlGore' stories.....

    Now I read as many political blogs as possible, mostly liberal but some conserartive and there is just nobody on the vast Internet who does what the Daily Howler does. Even today, it's pretty amazing.

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  10. Love the blog. Time will tell if we love the ability to read the comments.

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  11. Mr. Somerby seldom ceases to amaze. Where does an Irish Catholic boy from -- well, I don't think from the deep South -- come to know something about the significance of the drum major in Southern black culture? I'm not doubting it, just marveling at it.

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  12. One complaint, Bob Somerby used to do a lot more TV than he does now. He has been on Bill Maher's old 'Politically Incorrect' show more than once, but he has never been on Bill Maher's Real Time on HBO. He would be a wonderful panelist on that show. I love that show and my dream panel would be maybe Somerby, maybe somebody like a Chris Hitchens, and I know Hitchen's medical issues which is why I said somebody like, and another good conservative.....Coulter would never do it. LOL but somebody like Coulter.

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  13. Sorry, there is nobody 'like Coulter' and come to think of it, she might do it.....Mr.Somerby wrote a devasating review of 'Treason' and Coulter heard about it and even commented on it, she may want to settle that score. She and Maher are friends, so are Maher and Somerby, how come this hasn't already happened?

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  14. I like the leaves and do find them as you say, soothing. I'm not sure we need to see comments although I've many times wanted to congratulate you on your ability to steer us through the mess of politics and call out the media on their shenanigans.

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  15. Frank Somerby used to additional Tv set than he is doing now. He's been in Invoice Maher's aged 'Politically Incorrect' display more than once, but she has by no means experienced Expenses Maher's Real Time about Cinemax. Although be a wonderful panelist on that demonstrate. I like that demonstrate along with my personal aspiration screen will be possibly Somerby, probably somebody just like a Frank Hitchens, and i also recognize Hitchen's medical concerns which is the reason My spouse and i stated a person just like, and another very good conservative.....Coulter would not take action.
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