Except in the New York Times: Long ago and far away, we coined an award-winning precept.
"The power to paraphrase is the power to spin." Way back when, that's what we said!
At the time, the people we are trained to respect were creatively paraphrasing a particular White House candidate. People are dead all over the world because of what they did—because of the way they behaved.
Yesterday morning, another remarkable paraphrase appeared above the fold on the front page of the New York Times. This time, the people we're trained to respect were paraphrasing a different enemy of the state.
In this case, the people we're trained to trust were paraphrasing Attorney General Barr.
Citizens, can we talk? The paraphrase which appeared in the Times was crazy on its face. On its face, it was an obvious embellishment of what Barr was quoted saying.
When you review Barr'a full remarks—when you review the remarks the Times downplayed and disappeared—the paraphrase becomes crazier still.
When conservatives complain about the Times, this is what they're sometimes talking about. When anthropologists discuss human nature, they may discuss conduct of this type.
The paraphrase was attributed to a trio of Times reporters. Adding insult to injury, their published work almost resembles plagiarism—looks a bit like a rewrite of an earlier, much better report by NPR.
Grading on the curve, that earlier NPR report was much better than the one the Times produced. Judged on its own, the NPR report was also slippery journalism involving some bad paraphrase.
When conservative complain about NPR, this is what they're sometimes talking about. By the way, people are dead all over Iraq because the people we're taught to trust acted this way, very much as a group, all through 1999 and 2000.
The paraphrase by the New York Times didn't seem to make sense on its face. It appeared on page A1 of yesterday's print editions. This is the passage in question:
MACFARQUHAR, FEUER AND GOLDMAN (6/12/20): A review of the arrests of dozens of people on federal charges reveals no known effort by antifa to perpetrate a coordinated campaign of violence. Some criminal complaints described vague, anti-government political leanings among suspects, but a majority of the violent acts that have taken place at protests have been attributed by federal prosecutors to individuals with no affiliation to any particular group.Those are paragraphs 3 and 4 of yesterday's front-page report. In the second of those paragraphs, the paraphrase firm of MacFarquhar, Feuer and Goldman say that Barr has blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests which broke out across the country after the death of George Floyd.
Even so, Attorney General William P. Barr has blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests, which broke out in cities and towns across the country after the death in police custody of George Floyd. “There is clearly some high degree of organization involved at some of these events and coordinated tactics that we are seeing,” Mr. Barr said. “Some of it relates to antifa, some of it relates to groups that act very much like antifa.”
That was quite a claim on the part of The New York Times 3! Consider:
They didn't say that Barr has blamed antifa for orchestrating some of the protests. They didn't say that Barr has blamed antifa for being involved in the protests.
They didn't say that Barr has blamed antifa for engaging in (some of?) the looting and arson which threatened to undermine the protests.
They didn't say such things! Instead, they said that Barr had blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests which broke out across the country, full and complete total stop.
It wasn't even the looting and arson! According to the New York Times, Barr has blamed antifa for orchestrating everything that went on!
That would have been a very strange thing for Barr to have said. Is that a reasonable account—a reasonable paraphrase—of what he actually said?
Below, we'll show you that it isn't. But just on its face, that looks like a crazy paraphrase, based on the way Barr is quoted.
Go ahead! Just take a look at what Barr is actually quoted saying:
In the first quoted statement, it's clear that Barr is talking about some of the events in question. (To experienced analysts, "some" is widely understood to perhaps be less than "most.")
Based on that first quotation, Barr was only talking about some of the events which took place in the days after Floyd's death. In the second quoted statement, the sweep of his claim is reduced even further:
He says that only some of the organized conduct at some of the subsequent events events can be attributed to antifa. That's what the attorney general says in the actual quotations.
Based on the two quotations provided by the three-member firm, their paraphrase of what Barr said is crazy on its face. That said, their account gets much, much worse when you look at Barr's fuller remarks—when you consider the things Barr said which the paraphrase firm downplayed or disappeared.
The Times' quotations of Barr all come from his recent interview with Bret Baier of Fox News. The interview aired on Monday and Tuesday nights of this past week (links to tape below).
In the interview as it aired, it wasn't Barr who raised the question of antifa's participation. As broadcast, Barr was responding to three questions from Baier, starting with this exchange:
BAIER (6/8/20): There's a lot of people that have been charged with crimes related to the protests that evolved into riots and looting. To my knowledge, none of the criminal complaints have mentioned antifa. Why is that?As you can see, Barr hasn't yet blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests which broke out in cities and towns all across the country. Responding to a specific question about the group, he has merely said that the Justice Department has some investigations going on which relate to that group.
BARR: We have some investigations underway, very focused investigations on certain individuals that relate to antifa. But in the, in the initial phase of identifying people and arresting them, they were arrested for crimes that don't require us to identify a particular group or don't necessitate that.
After a perfunctory exchange with Baier about the way antifa is (or isn't) organized, the following exchange occurred. This is the exchange from which the Times drew its pair of front-page quotations:
BAIER: Are there people funding this effort, an organized effort that goes beyond state-specific, that—funding the effort broadly, and are you going after those people?Interesting! In that statement, Barr doesn't pin all the blame on antifa, or on groups which behave like antifa. He says there's "a witches brew of extremist groups" involved in the conduct under review—a witches brew of extremist groups "on all sides."
BARR: There appear to be sources of funding, and we are looking into the sources of funding. And you know, there clearly is some high degree or organization involved at some of these events, and coordinated tactics that we're seeing, and we're looking into that as well. And some of it relates to antifa; some of it relates to groups that act very much like antifa. As I said, there's a witches brew of extremist groups that are trying to exploit this situation on all sides.
(Barr even seems to say that he's said that before in this interview. Below, we'll show you what he probably meant.)
According to Barr, extremist groups "on all sides" have been trying to exploit the situation! To the (very limited) credit of the New York Times paraphrase firm, they managed to include this quotation later in their report.
That said, this statement by Barr undermines the poisonous paraphrase they proffered in paragraph 3, before quoting Barr at all. And along the way, they chose to omit something else Barr said to Baier:
BARR: You have extreme right groups trying to look like extreme left groups. You have extreme left groups masquerading as extreme right groups. We have players on both sides trying to spin up violence. So it's a—it's a complicated situation."It's a complicated situation," Barr said. People on both sides are trying to spin up violence.
According to Barr, groups on the right and groups on the left have been masquerading as each other. According to Barr, extremist right groups and extremist left groups are involved in the violent conduct under review.
That statement aired on Tuesday night, in what Baier called "the second half" of the interview. Three days later, the Times ignored that statement by Barr. They handed us, their loyal subscribers, this manifest bullshit instead:
Attorney General William P. Barr has blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests which broke out in cities and towns across the country...That's a terrible paraphrase. Assuming basic competence, it resembles an act of fraud.
The Times' account of what Barr said appeared above the fold on page A1. They had several days to get it right. Instead, they got it very wrong.
Their paraphrase didn't make sense on its face. Their paraphrase looks like an act of fraud when you consider the statement by Barr which they failed to mention.
On the brighter side, this is the sort of things we Times subscribers like to read. It's right up there with this paraphrase of what Cotton said, offered by a former Times staffer who once won a Pulitzer prize:
NYT has no reason to give a platform to someone making an argument for using lethal force against American citizens exercising constitutional rights. The same constitution that gives him title of senator. Why the NYT stamp of approval?That simply isn't what Cotton said. On Friday morning, above the fold, we were handed a pleasing account of what Barr hadn't said!
For twenty months, our upper-end press did this to Candidate Gore. They were waging an angry war at that time. Candidate Gore was their last chance to get back at President Clinton. This high-ranking group of rational animals performed their war quite well.
Today, these tribals are waging a different war. Readers of the New York Times are victims all the way.
Anthropologists say this highly tribal human behavior is never going to end. Caveat lector, they have thoughtfully said.
They also say that members of our own flailing tribe will find ways to explain this away. "This is the way the species is wired," these scholars despondently say.
To watch the interview: Baier's interview with Barr aired on Monday and Tuesday nights.
The three-question exchange about antifa aired on Monday night. You can watch that part of the interview here. The questions about antifa start at the 10:30 mark.
The second half of the interview aired on Tuesday night. It starts with Barr's comment about the masquerading groups of the extreme right and left. You can watch that here.
Did Barr really blame antifa for orchestrating the mass protests which broke out in cities and towns across the country after the death in police custody of George Floyd? For orchestrating the protests? Not even the looting and arson?
Actually no, he didn't do that. Unless you're inclined to believe what you read on the front page of the Times!
We advise against such reflexive belief. Caveat lector, we sometimes thoughtfully say.