June 19, 2004

Transcriptional abduction

Did George W. Bush say "these kind of extremist thugs" or "these kinds of extremist thugs"? One excellent answer is "Who cares?" However, the relentless focus on Bushisms makes silly questions like this a matter of modest political consequence, and so yesterday I looked at the evidence. When I first posted the item, the evidence was equivocal -- the non-standard phrasing "these kind of" was on CNN's web page, whereas all other sources had the standard version "these kinds of".

So Abnu at Wordlab emailed some evidence from transcriptions past, strongly suggesting that "these kind of" is in W's repertoire. His conclusion, based on the citations that I repeat below, was that

One could go on and on finding these kinds of quotes, but I think it's a safe bet that CNN got it right, off their tape, and that other news networks worked from the official "transcript" which was guided by a scripted Press Release.

Fair enough; but, as it turns out, wrong. I later found the original video on CNN's site (to be more precise, I decided I was willing to pay $6.95/month for the right to access such videos), and verified that what W actually said was the standard version "these kinds of extremist thugs."

I haven't tried to track down the audio or video for the transcripts (some from whitehouse.gov) that Abnu cites, but in all such cases, there's a question of whether a particular property of the transcript is a fact about what the speaker said, or a fact about what the transcriber heard, or remembered, or wrote. This is similar to the problem of attributional abduction that we've discussed here over the past few months: when a journalist attributes nonsense to someone who ought to know better, we need to figure out who is really responsible.

Here are Abnu's examples:

(link) According to a recent official transcript, the President said, "We're a great country because we're a free country, and we do not tolerate these kind of abuses."
But Bush also seemed to plead with Iraqis to support the U.S. effort in the face of the attacks. "The people have got to understand, the Iraqi people have got to understand that any time you've got a group of killers willing to kill innocent Iraqis, that their future must not be determined by these kind of killers," he said.

(link) BUSH: Well, first let me kind of step back and talk about intelligence in general, if I might. Intelligence is a vital part of fighting and winning the war against the terrorists. It is because the war against terrorists is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations.

(link) Bush spoke during a White House press conference. He said U.S. troops will remain in Iraq to help maintain order and stability and help the Iraqi government set up security forces.

He said the U.S. forces in the country will remain under U.S. control. "The American people need to be assured that if our troops are in … harm's way, they will be able to defend themselves without having to check with anybody else other than their commander," he said. "At the same time, I can assure the Iraqi citizens as well as our friends in Europe, that we have done these kind of security arrangements before. Witness Afghanistan. There's a sovereign government in Afghanistan, there are U.S. troops and coalition troops there, and they're working very well together."

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 19, 2004 11:11 AM