WHAT SHOULD BE DONE: Quoted correctly, but paraphrased wrong!

THURSDAY, APRIL 23, 2020

Trump, Post swap mistakes:
The first fifteen minutes of yesterday's daily briefing was deeply painful to watch.

It started with a specific claim lodged by President Trump. According to Trump, Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, had been "totally misquoted" by the Washington Post in this Tuesday news report.

As Trump interrupted various parties and spoke for everyone else, Redfield was marched onto the stage to explain what he'd actually said. At one point, he specifically said that he hadn't been misquoted by the Post.

As Redfield stumbled a bit under further questioning, Trump motioned Dr. Birx to the stage to speak in Redfield's place. While there, she delivered the latest of her air-filled, distracting orations. Trump's invitation to Birx had followed this awkward question for Redfield:
REPORTER (4/22/20): Why did you retweet the article if it was inaccurate, Doctor? Why did you retweet it?

TRUMP: You weren’t called.
Dr. Redfield had indeed retweeted the article in question. Instead of letting Redfield answer, Trump scolded the reporter for asking. He then called Birx to the stage, sitting Redfield down.

A nation whose discourse works this way is a nation destined to fail. Anthropologists have been telling us this for the past several years.

This opening fifteen minute scrum devolved into a more general trashing of the press by an irate commander-in-chief. The whole thing ended with a self-pitying, self-glorifying monologue by the commander.

Warning! Misstatements included:
TRUMP: You know, at one time, all [the press] talked about was ventilators, because you didn't think it was possible for me to solve that problem. And I solved it and nobody can believe it. I just spoke to world leaders today who desperately need ventilators. They said, "The job you've done"—and we're sending 500 to Mexico, then another 500 to France. We're sending some to Spain. We're sending some to Italy. They're being made by the thousands.

And world leaders—I spoke to Prime Minister— I mean, I went through a lot of different calls today, I won't even tell you, I can give you a list if you want. But I went through a lot of calls to a lot of leaders. Spoke with Pakistan. They would like to have some ventilators. We're going to get them some ventilators. But they all said to me one thing: "It was incredible that you solved the ventilator problem," because that was a big problem.

The testing problem, we've done more than any other nation in the world.
Go a step further. If you added up the testing of every nation in the world, put them together, we've done substantially more than that. You people aren't satisfied.

So let's say we had 350 million people in the United States, all right? Let's say. And if we gave every one of those people a test 10 times, so we give 350 [million] people a test 10 times, the fake news media would say, "Where's the 11th time? He didn't do his job. Trump didn't do his job." Because you have a lot of bad reporting out there, it's very sad. And it's so bad—

JONATHAN KARL: That's just not true! That's not true.

TRUMP: You're one of the leaders of the bad reporting.

KARL: No, that's not true.

TRUMP: Let's get onto another subject. I wanted that to be cleared up. If you want, we can get onto it later, but I want the vice president to speak...
This led to one of the excruciating soliloquies which have become the trademark of Vice President Pence, delivered in the Reagan persona he's been practicing in front of mirrors since he was five years old. During the later Q-and-A, reporters didn't direct a single question to Redfield.

The commander's self-pity knows no bounds. His delusions about his own manifest greatness seem to be clinical. It's a dangerous state of affairs.

In this case, Trump's claim about what the press would say if he tested everyone ten separate times triggered a very unusual moment. As Trump made his wild prediction, a leading journalist hotly declared that his statement was "just not true."

Our press corps displays an endless capacity to slumber through the commander's endless daily misstatements. Yesterday, in a very rare moment, Jonathan Karl seemed to be genuinely offended by what Trump had said—offended on behalf of the truth.

At any rate, Trump's behavior during the fifteen minutes provided a master class is public dysfunction. He bullied and made wild misstatements. He tried to speak for everyone else. He engaged in mammoth, inaccurate acts of self-praise. He engaged in ludicrous acts of self-pity.

In fairness, though, another fact must be stated today. In the news report under review, the Washington Post actually did misrepresent—embellish—what Redfield apparently told them.

(No tape of the interview has been made public.)

There is no sign that Redfield was actually misquoted by the Post. But, quite plainly, the Washington Post misparaphrased what Redfield had said.

In what ways did the Post misparaphrase Redfield—embellish what he actually said? They did so right in their opening paragraph, and in their fiery headline.

This is how Lena Sun's report began, current headline included:
SUN (4/22/20): CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating

Even as states move ahead with plans to reopen their economies, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that a second wave of the novel coronavirus will be far more dire because it is likely to coincide with the start of flu season.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”
In paragraph 2, you see the direct quotation which Redfield said was accurate. This is what, by all accounts, Redfield actually said:
"There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through."
In that direct quotation, Redfield refers to a possibility that the second wave of the virus will be "more difficult" than the current first wave. But right there in her opening paragraph, Sun embellished that statement in two separate ways.

In her opening paragraph, Sun has Redfield saying that the second wave will be more difficult. In that embellshment, Sun has moved from the statement of a possibility to a flat prediction.

Also this! According to Sun's paraphrase, the second wave won't simply be "more difficult." In Sun's inaccurate paraphrase, it will be "far more dire."

Sun's paraphrase embellishes Redfield's quoted statement in two separate ways. It transforms a statement of mere possibility into a flat prediction. It turns the claim that the second wave may be "more difficult" into the statement that it will be "far more dire."

The headline took Sun's paraphrase and embellished it a bit further. In the headline, a second wave which may be "more difficult" has now become "more devastating." Meanwhile, the headline presents this as "a likelihood," not as a "possibility."

That is plainly underskilled journalism; it's underskilled all the way down. By all accounts, Sun accurately quoted Redfield in paragraph 2—but she misparaphrased what he said right there in paragraph 1!

Redfield wasn't misquoted by the Post, but he was misparaphrased. Amazingly, Trump captured the essence of this distinction as part of his opening rant—an opening rant which was clogged with other misstatements.

As he ranted and misstated, Trump actually made a reasonable distinction. One minute into yesterday's session, this is how his complaint began:
TRUMP: I do want to mention a man who’s done a very good job for us. Dr. Robert Redfield was totally misquoted in the media on a statement about the fall season and the virus, totally misquoted. I spoke to him and he said it was ridiculous.

He was talking about the flu and corona coming together at the same time and corona could be just some little flare-ups that we’ll take care of. We’re going to knock it out. We’ll knock it out fast.

But that’s what he was referring to, coming together at the same time. And I think rather than waiting, I’d ask Dr. Redfield to come up and say a couple of words just to straighten that out, because he didn’t say it was a big explosion.

The headline in The Washington Post was totally inaccurate. The statement wasn’t bad in the Post, but the headline was ridiculous, which is, as I say, that’s fake news and CNN is fake news like crazy, and they had just totally the wrong story, which they knew.
As far as anyone can say, Redfield wasn't "totally misquoted." Indeed, in a narrow, technical sense, there is no sign that he was misquoted at all.

Beyond that, he never spoke about "some little flare-up." Also, the Post never quoted him saying that the second wave would be "a big explosion." These are the sorts of embellishments which litter Trump's daily rants.

As usual, Trump's complaint, right from the start, featured his characteristic misstatements. But he managed to get one basic point right:

In Trump's assessment, the quoted statement wasn't wrong in the body of the Post's report. The problem came with the headline.

In fact, the problem began in paragraph 1, but Trump was making a reasonable distinction. Inevitably, fifteen minutes of loudmouth nonsense followed, as now happens every evening as the nation's cable channels spend hours airing the prime-time rantings of a deeply disordered man.

That said, we must also say this:

Disordered though President Trump may be, the Washington Post actually did mischaracterize what Redfield was quoted saying. His quoted statement was embellished in two different ways—and the embellishments appeared in the headline, where the most eyes would see them.

Long ago and far away, we frequently spoke about the logic of paraphrase. "The power to paraphrase is the power to spin," we said again and again.

At the time, we were speaking about Campaign 2000, a White House election which plainly turned on twenty months of fanciful paraphrase—relentless embellishments engineered and super-spread by the upper-end mainstream press.

Twenty years later, our nation's upper-end journalists still haven't mastered this basic skill. Nor have they developed the willingness to admit to such mistakes when they occur.

Last evening, Sun appeared on CNN;
she indicated that her report had been beyond reproach. Later, the Post's Ashley Parker appeared with Brian Williams, where she and a panel of guild members—including the New York Times' Peter Baker—joined Williams in pretending that there had been nothing wrong with the Post's report.

We were disappointed to see Parker do that. We've come to admire her cogency over the past few years as we've watched her many appearances on MSNBC panel shows.

Last night, Parker fell in line behind her newspaper, and behind the guild. This morning, in a front-page report, she fails to acknowledge the fact that Sun's report did in fact mischaracterize what Redfield was quoted saying.

Readers, a person can be misparaphrased even as he's being accurately quoted! Beyond that, a misparaphrase can mislead and misinform a reader just as a misquotation can.

In recent months, we've noted the fact that our great logicians would never stoop to the level of exploring the logic of sensible paraphrase as part of "daily logic." With yesterday's melee, we all see, for the ten millionth time, where we the people are left by this endless refusal to serve.

Yesterday's first fifteen minutes was an embarrassing mess. Your lizard brain is going to urge you to assume that only Trump could possibly have been wrong in the matter at issue.

As always, the commander was wildly, crazily wrong in a wide array of ways. But you should consider telling your lizard that the Post had misperformed too.

Trump screamed and yelled as he always does. He frequently misstated.

He donned his Mussolini mask. He bullied, and he spoke for others. He called on Birx for one of her patented distractions.

But just as a matter of fact, the Washington Post did in fact misparaphrase what Dr. Redfield said. Even at the highest end, our journalists' skills are amazingly limited, and as we've seen for twenty-two years, they don't acknowledge mistakes.

(Given the limited state of their skills, they may not even realize that a mistake had been made.)

The basic skills of our upper-end journalists are amazingly limited. This afternoon, we'll discuss the way two high-end journalists recently crashed and burned as they tried to question Trump about his past crazy statements.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our upper-end journalists lack basic skills.

Tomorrow, we'll tell you what should be done. Yesterday, the president ranted and raved at length once again as an elite looked on.

This afternoon: How to bungle an obvious question

Tomorrow: What's to be done?

69 comments:

  1. For those of us watching the presser, the distinction between the epidemic getting more complicated vs. getting worse is straightforward. So, why didn't WaPo simply admit their error? Possible reasons:

    1. WaPo isn't smart enough to understand the distinction.

    2. WaPo knows that the mainstream media won't expose their error. Most Americans don't watch the pressers and don't follow conservative news, so WaPo is free to double down on their error.

    3. The current media narrative is that opening up at this time wrong. A story is right as long as it supports the current narrative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WaPo may have heard Redfield say more than what appeared in the article and may have gotten the impression that Redfield was saying what he was paraphrased as saying.

      Does anyone really think that a recurrence will not happen? Does anyone really think that it won't be a dire situation if it occurs together with flu, especially given that people are now skipping vaccinations because they don't want to enter medical facilities?

      Spanish flu did have a Fall recurrence that was much worse than its original appearance. We won't have a vaccine by Fall. We may not have better treatments by then. There is some evidence coming out of China that the virus is mutating. People with weakened immune systems after encounters with the virus may be more vulnerable to flu. Overtaxed medical resources may have more difficulty dealing with flu.

      I think the headline and paraphrase were reasonable and I can see how the Post might defend them. They do not want to err on the side of minimizing threat to the readers, something Trump has shown a repeated tendency to do.

      Somerby may be technically correct, but when you put his assertions into a larger context, it is wrong for him to undermine the credibility of the Post, especially during a pandemic during which people are searching for reliable information. Saying that Fall will bring a worse resurgence of the virus is more true than anything Trump wanted to say.

      Redfield is limited in what he can sat. It is legitimate for the Post to read between the lines of his cautious remarks, made with Trump breathing down his neck. Public officials who are coerced into making Pollyanna statements about a dangerous virus are not able to come right out and say what they really think.

      Delete
    2. Does anyone really think that a recurrence will not happen?

      I fully agree, Corby. Yesterday, Trump several times foolishly said that there might not be a fall recurrence. Positivity is one thing, but ridiculous predictions like this one don't help anyone. Not only do I expect a recurrence, I see no guarantee that the current pattern will end by the fall.

      Delete
    3. @DinC
      Trump “foolishly said?”
      But, but, you posted a testimonial yesterday from a Mensa member who claimed that Trump’s IQ was even higher than his, and that Trump is so far above us lesser mortals that he seems to be speaking a different language. How dare you accuse The God Trump of speaking foolishly when you are obviously too dumb to understand his true meaning.

      Delete
    4. In all my life and even after witnessing the contemptible depths the GOP party of Crazytowne batshittery have sunk to over the past 40 years, I never would have imagined that your stinking party would turn a health crisis responsible for 50000 deaths and counting into a partisan issue. But you guys have gone completely past the point of no return.

      The current media narrative is that opening up at this time wrong.

      That's a media narrative ?, you contemptible shitstain? You mean the very thing your hero bluntly stated last night during the 5 o'clock follies? Go fuck yourself, you contemptible shitstain.

      Delete
    5. Media narrative, scientific narrative, facts. It’s all a plot against Trump. Simple.

      Delete
    6. "I never would have imagined that your stinking party would turn a health crisis responsible for 50000 deaths and counting into a partisan issue."

      In your defense, the corporate-owned media has been lying to you about who Republicans really are, since at least Reagan.

      Delete
    7. DinC, you don’t find it odd that Trump is now criticizing Kemp for re-opening too soon after praising him for doing it? Or is this another instance of Trump’s high IQ?

      Delete
    8. Vocabulary correlates most strongly with IQ. Trump has the vocabulary of someone with brain damage.

      Delete
    9. Trump is now criticizing Kemp for re-opening too soon after praising him for doing it..

      It's almost amusing watching David and the rest of the trump cultists bounce around like a pinball defending trump no matter what. David is like the clown in the parade running behind the elephant with a shovel and basket.

      Delete
    10. @12:24 How dare you accuse The God Trump of speaking foolishly when you are obviously too dumb to understand his true meaning.

      You're joking, but you might be right in a way. From the POV of medicine, it's foolish to imagine that there's any chance the virus will be totally gone next fall. However, from a public relations POV, Trump's wild optimism might be just the thing. In the field of public relations, Trump is brilliant and I am dumb.

      Delete
    11. You got that half right

      Delete
    12. ..public relations...

      Public relations? You jackass.

      Delete
    13. Don't be so modest, David. You're dumb in WAY more things than just public relations. And not just dumb, but dumb as a box of rocks.

      Delete
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  2. Fuck off you prevaricating sack of shit. The media "narrative" which happens to coincide with the scientific and medical "narrative" as well as the opinion of 88% of Americans is that social distancing works and is the primary defence against this virus.
    Covidiots like Kemp are called out by everyone because there idiotic plans are clearly foolish, reckless and totally inappropriate. Not to mention the federal guidelines. Find me one state that is in a position to move to phase one.
    You are incredibly stupid and dishonest. Even a pathetic troll like Mao has more integrity than you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You had me at “covidiots”.

      (sheesh)

      Delete
    2. @cecelia
      I’m sure you also object when Mao calls liberals “dembots” or Hillary the “psycho witch.” You never actually take the trouble to post your objection to him, but surely your concern for civil discourse can be taken for granted.

      Delete
    3. How dare you not take this seriously, you Quaranteenyhead!

      Delete
    4. I did notice that you passed by “prevaricating sack of shit” and only called out the Anonymouse when he called the good governor a “covidiot.”

      Delete
    5. That epithet is vulgar and infantile , but it’s not cant, coined, canned, ctrivalizing.

      Delete
    6. I thought vulgar and infantile was what you and your reactionary pals liked.

      Delete
  3. Hey David. Go home and drink a bottle of hydroxychloroquine.

    ReplyDelete
  4. “In her opening paragraph, Sun has Redfield saying that the second wave will be more difficult. In that embellshment, Sun has moved from the statement of a possibility to a flat prediction.”

    This is what Redfield said about that yesterday at the briefing:

    “it’s really important to emphasize what I didn’t say. I didn’t say that this was going to be worse. I said it was going to be more difficult and potentially complicated, because we’ll have flu and coronavirus circulating at the same time.”

    Redfield said it “was going to be” more difficult, which confirms the “will be” in the Post.

    It’s a matter of judgment if you think “more difficult and potentially complicated” is or is not the same thing as “far more dire.” That seems to be what Redfield means, although he is stating it gingerly. Coronavirus coupled with flu sounds pretty bad to me.

    Redfield did say “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”, as if the others don’t see the gravity of the situation.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Remember the "media narrative" that nazis were evil. Trump and his stormtroopers have done a great job owning the lamestream media on that one.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Meanwhile Trump sends his best wishes to fellow self aggrandizing braggart and murderous tyrant Kim Jong Un.

    ReplyDelete
  7. While it is possible that the Post may be guilty of some kind of improper paraphrase, you have to keep Trump’s behavior in mind. If he thinks someone (Redfield, for example) is making him look bad, is being critical of him, or is damaging his political chances, Trump either fires or mocks the person, or forces them to abjectly debase themselves to appease his desired narrative. We can’t believe anything anyone says on that podium, not even credentialed medical people, because of Trump.

    Somerby needs to remember that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Somerby needs to remember that."

      Somerby hasn't forgotten. I think he is deliberately helping Trump by portraying the press as misleading, just as Trump does.

      Delete
    2. Right. He’s been helping his candidate Trump since the late nineties.

      Delete
    3. There has been speculation (not by me) that Somerby only wrote about the treatment of Al Gore because they roomed together at Harvard, and that he is actually more conservative than he pretends. I am far from the first person to notice that Somerby isn't very liberal. But what's relatively new on the scene is the opportunity to be funded by Russia and PAC money to flood the internet with disinformation and noise, in support of a conservative agenda.

      The most convincing argument is Somerby's consistency. He almost never strays into a liberal argument. What kind of liberal thinks all of the Democratic candidates are shitty? His positions only make sense coming from a conservative.

      Today, true to form, Somerby is attacking the press and saying the same thing as Trump and that poor bullied CDC Chair trying to keep his job (because what if Trump puts a dog groomer in as head of the CDC?).

      Delete
    4. what if Trump puts a dog groomer in as head of the CDC?

      1. That's an exaggeration. He wasn't head of the CDC
      2. Harry Truman was called a "haberdasher." He had indeed run a men's clothing store, but he turned out to be a very capable President. Someone who worked as a dog breeder (not a dog groomer) might also be a capable administrator.

      Delete
    5. @DinC
      Do you seriously believe that Trump wouldn’t fire Redfield (current head of CDC) and put some incompetent hack in his position? You just know he’s thinking about it as we speak.

      Delete
    6. Harry Truman worked his way up in politics and was qualified by the time he became president. Someone who goes from dog breeder to Homeland Security is not qualified. That is true of too many Trump administration appointees who get their positions via cronyism.

      Truman's career in politics:

      "He began his political career in 1922 as a county judge in Missouri and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934. Three months after becoming vice president in 1945, the plain-spoken Truman ascended to the presidency. In 1948, he was reelected in an upset over Republican Thomas Dewey (1902-1971)."

      Delete
    7. mh - maybe Redfield deserves to be fired. The CDC did a poor job on the corona virus until early March.

      I am impressed and pleased with Trump's use of Dr. Brix and Dr. Fauci as key advisers. It's a difficult puzzle for Trump-haters to try to resolve. The haters know that everything Trump does is wrong. OTOH, his two top medical advisers are top-notch, and he is following their advice.

      Psychologists call this "cognitive dissonance."

      Delete
    8. Speculation, but not by you, Corby, that Somerby only defended Gore (and thus the Clintons by extension) for nostalgic reasons, but goes for the cold hard ruble in critiquing the state of modern politics.

      Nice to know that you’re not so witless as to think that Putin was getting much for his money by this sort of expenditure against his DNC nemesis.

      You’re not like those people who find fault with Somerby thinking that there’s a dearth of leadership and rationality in the entire country, and that we are all North Korea disinformation now. You aren’t someone who would suspect that a seventy-something man was a paid shill for looking at today’s political bench and chattering class of 2020 and being bereft at not seeing a star in sight.

      Good to know that you aren’t the sort who could fault anyone for critiquing a current political culture that can’t tolerate a scrum of dissension from a hard as nails point of view, without launching into a puerile expletive riddled denunciation of errancy and/or vilification that makes the Spanish Inquisition look like Diogenes.

      I’m so relieved that you aren’t that person who would criticize Somerby as being a sell-out, a traitor, or even a bit of a fool.

      Delete
    9. @cecelia

      A “star”? I thought we had one of those in the WH right now. You know, former game-show host, tabloid-loving real-estate conman.

      If you think Somerby is looking for a “star” to pull us out of our mess, then you are ascribing the same kind of shallow thinking to him as you decry in society.

      The idea that politicians ought to be “stars” is insidious, in my view. “If he ain’t Abe Lincoln, he’s terrible.” It’s a view borne from the very media that you claim to despise.

      Delete
    10. Rather than clarifying Somerby’s thoughts, I think you’ve fallen into what Trump voters feel about him.

      Delete
    11. "...looking for a “star” to pull us out of our mess"

      Meh. Our Beloved Commander (or, rather, the ordinary working people who elected him against all odds, the deplorables) has already pulled us out of our mess, if only by causing your beloved liberal establishment to reveal itself as a hate-mongering totalitarian zombie cult that it is.

      Delete
    12. Mao,
      Your desperation is duly noted.

      Delete
    13. a current political culture that can’t tolerate a scrum of dissension from a hard as nails point of view...

      That's so sad, Cec. You sound positively morose. When do you suppose this unhealthy political culture started? Do you know where I can pick up a used Tea Party hat?

      Delete
    14. Probably can pick up one at some IRS warehouse.

      I wouldn’t know morose if I tripped over it.

      Delete
    15. Cec,

      It's my fault for asking you two questions only one of which was serious, and as usual you ignored the serious question and retorted with a riddle to my joke.

      Delete
  8. Oh come off it!
    It's not like you could be fired for giving sound scientific advice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're being sarcastic, right?

      Delete
  9. 43 factory workers in Pennsylvania did more in the past 28 days to get the country back to work safely, than the criminal conman in the White House ever would or could.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Whether this was actually paraphrased wrong is a judgment call, but it is clear that Trump wants to create the impression that Redfield's message is false, fake news. It is another example of his attempts to minimize the threat. The problem is that people need to be made more aware, not less aware that the virus is likely to come back in Fall (if it even diminishes during Summer).

    ReplyDelete
  11. David in Cal is so eager to get the economy going again that he is willing to volunteer to help out in a Covid-19 ward in New Orleans, or take the place of one of those sick workers in a Tyson meatpacking plant.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Or one of the hogs.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "According to Trump, Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, had been "totally misquoted" by the Washington Post"

    Dear Bob, everyone is always totally misquoted (or quoted out of context) by the scummy neocon rag called "Washington Post".

    In fact, whatever the scummy neocon rag called "Washington Post" prints, the truth is always the opposite. 'nuff said.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moo moo go home, drink some Clorox, turn yourself inside and get some sun. It might cure your stupidity. Whatta ya got lose? sub-humyn

      Delete
  14. Inside-out^^^
    Silly me

    ReplyDelete
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  18. If you think Somerby is looking for a “star” to pull us out of our mess fireboy and watergirl , then you are ascribing the same kind of shallow thinking to him as you decry in society.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete