The attorney general of Malaysia has a remedy for media outlets dealing with politicians who claim they were misquoted: Sue them.
In a luncheon talk last week, Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali told editors, “Once in a while you have to teach them a lesson. When it is clearly recorded proving what the journalist has written is indeed true, but he denies it, then take him to court. Use the available legal remedies.”
Would that work here? Probably not, nor is it likely to work in Malaysia. Sonia Randhawa, director of the Center for Independent Journalism in Malaysia, called the attorney general’s solution “topsy-turvy.”
“The onus should be on politicians to take action against false news reports, rather than on journalists to take action against politicians. This ignores how journalists rely on politicians as news sources. Further, in the recent case where a politician accused a journalist of lying, the journalist faced the threat of a police investigation. The proposed solution would not protect journalists from this threat,” she told the Malay Mail Online.
Randhawa was referring to the case of Kow Gah Chie, (now pulled from Sibu state for her safety) who is being investigated and accused of causing public mischief after a politician said his speech at a seminar was taken out of context.
Politics-as-usual has no borders, obviously, since that’s what so many politicians here and elsewhere seem to claim when they’re caught saying something especially inconvenient to their campaigns. Yes, sometimes there are contextual shenanigans, especially by “news” sources that aren’t exactly nonpartisan. But as an attorney quoted in the Malay Mail Online story said, the best recourse for journalists would be to publish proof that the politician was quoted correctly.
Seriously, can you blame the Washington Post for publishing both the transcript and the audio of its editorial board’s interview with Donald Trump? That’s how you get out in front of something like this.
But what recourse do the founding fathers have? How can they stop politicians and others from constantly misquoting them, taking them out of context and attributing things to them that they didn’t say?
Haunting seems like so much work, especially when the spirits of some of the founders would have to be in a million places at once … and that’s just on social media.
In Washington state in February, a legislator introduced a gun bill including several quotes from the founders … except half of them were completely fake. One of those quotes was the infamous “liberty teeth” quote supposedly uttered by George Washington: “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.”
But according to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, that quote (or anything similar) cannot be found in Washington’s writings.
Researchers at Monticello also pooh-poohed a quote misattributed to Thomas Jefferson: “Those who hammer their guns into plowshares will plow for those who do not.” Those who follow Jefferson’s actual writing know he was not prone to such fortune-cookie-ready aphorisms. He and pith weren’t exactly best buddies.
Some of the other quotes combined words from different speakers, such as a Thomas Paine “quote” that included Patrick Henry’s words. Staff for the sponsor, Rep. Matt Shea, told The Olympian he would happily amend the bill if necessary so that it contained only accurate information.
Representative, for all of us who care about facts, it’s necessary. And you might want to check out GunCite’s repository of debunked gun quotes; using false information hurts your argument. And ticks off people like me.
The story also noted: “Another part of the bill seems to prove Godwin’s rule of Nazi analogies, which says that the longer an online discussion (or a bill?) goes on, the more likely it is to bring up Hitler: ‘… The world has witnessed six million Jews murdered by Adolf Hitler, 15 million Russians slaughtered by Joseph Stalin, and an estimated 60 million Chinese murdered in communist China, none of whom were allowed to possess firearms,’ the bill says.”
I’m willing to bet the representative hangs out on comment boards in his off time.
Rand Paul has been tagged as a serial “quote” offender, in both his speeches and books. Last year there was a little bit of a kerfuffle after two BuzzFeed reporters, Andrew Kaczynski and Megan Apper, published an open letter to Paul, asking him to stop using fake quotes from the founders.
Having previously fact-checked and reported on Paul’s books and speeches, the two were fact-checking his latest book on presidents and prayer and said they had to stop with the Washington chapter. Apparently there were just too many references to Washington’s prayer journal (which has been debunked by Washington scholars).
They wrote: “You did a chapter on every president and we don’t have the time to check them all.”
Yep, fact-checking can take a lot of time, but it’s worth it, if just to save yourself some embarrassment.
Among other quotes Paul used was one supposedly from Abraham Lincoln:
“I know there is a God, and that He hates the injustice of slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and a work for me, and I think He has, I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right, because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God.”
The reporters contacted Harold Holzer, one of the country’s foremost Lincoln scholars, to ask about the quotation, and he replied, “Oh, not this again.” They noted that Holzer was very clear about the quote.
“I hope Sen. Paul can find another Lincoln prayer to console him because Lincoln never uttered anything like this. It’s totally apocryphal. ‘Do unto others’ was more in Lincoln’s line. Not this.”
Paul was more than dismissive of the complaints, maintaining that one of the reporters has an axe to grind with him. Maybe he does, but I too have an axe to grind with those who spread fake quotes and debunked tales.
Can someone sharpen that up for me, please?
The National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, while saying that “No rational person would vote against Paul because of this flap,” countered that “People who are writing books or giving speeches should take reasonable steps to make sure that what they are saying is true. … If it’s worth listening to the founders, it’s worth trying to figure out what they actually said.”
What he said. And amplify that by about a million.
Quotes that just sound too perfect tend to be far from it. I have to agree wholeheartedly with what historian Thomas S. Kidd wrote on Huffington Post in 2012 in a piece on people misquoting Patrick Henry:
“But bogus quotations help no one’s case for anything. The Internet has ushered in a strange new era of both exploding information and misinformation. A wealth of reliable books, articles, and archives is just a mouse click away, as are legions of errors, misleading arguments, and, yes, false quotations. Pause, then, before your next retweet. A founder’s saying may charm the ear, but is the quotation legitimate?”