Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Double Standard in Transcription?

Caroline Kennedy has gotten bad reviews for repeatedly saying "you know" in a New York Times interview. This case points out a little-noted aspect of journalism. Unlike court transcripts, news transcripts are often not verbatim. News organizations frequently "clean up" quotations by fixing grammar or deleting verbal fillers such as "like," "uh," and "you know." But this time, the Times seems to have been unusually strict. By way of comparison, consider how it treated an interview with Barack Obama a few weeks ago. Here is a passage as it appeared in print:
It is not clear that an ongoing, open-ended presence has prompted political change in Iraq either. The fact of the matter is that we still don't have an oil law. We still don't have provincial elections. We haven't dealt with Kirkuk, and the argument for staying is that we haven't made sufficient political progress. So it strikes me that for us to deliver a message of clarity to the Iraqis and to the surrounding countries that we are not looking at a permanent occupation, but we want to partner with you to structure a stable and secure Iraq -- that actually will force the Iraqis to make some decisions that they would not otherwise make
To its credit, the Times included an audio link, so we can tell how it actually sounded. See the transcription below, with "cleaned-up" material in bold:

It is not clear that, uh, uh, an ongoing, open-ended presence has prompted political change in Iraq either. I mean, the fact of the matter is that we still don't have an oil law. We still don't have pro-, provincial elections. Uh, we haven't dealt with Kirkuk, and the argument for staying is that we haven't made sufficient political progress. So it, it strikes me that for us to deliver a message of clarity to the Iraqis, to the surrounding, uh, the surrounding countries that we are not looking at a permanent occupation, but we want to partner with you to structure, uh, a, uh, a stable, uh, and uh, secure Iraq -- that actually will force the Iraqis to make some decisions that they would not otherwise make.
Reproducing the verbatim text is no knock on Obama: a precise speaker, he uses fewer verbal fillers than most people. But it's also obvious that the Times cleaned up his language.

Why the apparent double standard? During the interview, it seems, Kennedy annoyed the reporters by dismissing one of their questions: "Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?"

Perhaps, like, the verbatim transcription was, you know, uh, payback.

3 comments:

King Politics said...

She'll learn. She better. But, it is surprising that the Times would be this petty.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Times was being petty. Tina Fey didn't usually use word-for-word repetition in her portrayals of Sarah Palin, but she did once and to great, revealing effect. The reporters probably were shocked at how not-ready-for-prime-time Ms. Kennedy really was. Journalists will use a verbatim account -- i.e., even including curse words or epithets -- when it's essential to convey the meaning or essence of a person's delivery. I'd guess that's the case here.

verbatim transcription services said...

It's true that there is a double standard in transcription now days but the actual fact of the matter is that we still don't have an oil law. We still don't have provincial elections. We haven't dealt with Kirkuk, and the argument for staying is that we haven't made sufficient political progress and that is responsible for this situation.