Who are Mikulski and Boxer: You can’t always believe what you read in newspapers.
Everybody says they know this, but the fact rarely sinks in. Consider the most amusing incident from Mad Men’s now-finished fifth season.
The incident occurred in the season’s first episode. Some critics said a particular scene just didn’t ring true—more specifically, that an angry statement by a civil rights protester sounded a bit too pat.
But over at the New York Times, Michael Wilson explained that the statement was accurate. “Everything in the scene really happened,” Wilson wrote, “written almost verbatim from an article on Page 1 of The Times on May 28, 1966.”
Can we talk? The fact that the statement had appeared in quotes on the Times’ front page almost proves that it wasn’t said. Reporters “improve” quoted statements all the time, making their “stories” read better.
But this fact rarely sinks into anyone’s head. After Wilson’s piece appeared, pundits accepted the fact that the statement in question had turned out to be accurate.
(In Wilson’s piece, two critics defended their aesthetic judgment. Neither gentleman challenged the notion that a statement quoted in the Times just plain has to be accurate.)
Similarly, you can’t believe everything you read in books. That said, Kevin Drum has presented an especially striking excerpt from Daniel Klaidman’s new book, Kill or Capture.
Putting it another way: Ow ow ow ow ow.
Why did Obama abandon some of the security policies he ran on as a candidate? In part, “he simply never received any serious support from his own party,” Drum says, citing Klaidman’s reporting.
Drum displays a very good eye. In the following passage, Klaidman describes what happened when Obama tried to lift the congressional ban on the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo:
KLAIDMAN: The administration officials nearly got their heads taken off, as anxious senators demanded to know how the White House planned to manage the exploding politics of terrorism. "Where's your plan?" they shouted over and over again. Among the most agitated were liberals like Barbara Boxer and Barbara Mikulski, who were up for reelection. These were the same representatives who had pilloried the Bush administration for its fear-mongering tactics in the war on terror, but behind the grand doors of the LBJ Room, all politics were local. We're going to get clobbered back home, the Democrats protested.You can’t believe everything you read in books. Do you believe Mikulski and Boxer would have behaved that way?
An adviser to [David] Ogden, watching the drubbing unfold in horror, handed a note to Ronald Weich, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general in charge of congressional relations. It simply read, "I fear for our Democracy." Weich, who knew the Hill as well as anybody in Washington, turned the piece of paper over and scrawled on the other side: "Welcome to my world."
For ourselves, we’ve seen Boxer fudge so many facts on The One True Channel that Klaidman's passage starts to ring true. In fairness, you can’t always believe what you read in books—any more than you can believe what you hear on The One True Channel.
The sanctity of quotations: Long ago, we dictated the text of some of our jokes over the phone to a very good columnist, someone we knew and liked. (Still do.)
When the column appeared, the wording of the jokes had been changed, rendering some of the jokes hard to follow.
We can't tell you why journalists do this. But it does seem to be required.