October 11, 2004

Faulty Intelligence

I did a little interview on the Friday presidential debates on a local TV news program the other day, and in an effort to be "balanced," I noted some of the linguistic deficiencies of each candidate. To make a point about Kerry's difficulties in striking a demotic note, I mentioned the quote that Maureen Dowd ascribed to him, "Who among us does not like NASCAR?," observing that sentences that begin "Who among us does not like..." were more appropriately ended with something like "Placido Domingo."

"Wrong!," said my partner Michelle after we had watched the interview. "Kerry never said that." And indeed, he never did, as Bob Somerby pointed out in The Daily Howler last week. What Kerry said was "There isn't one of us here who doesn't like NASCAR..."

I suppose I could blame Dowd (who herself said she was told of the quote by someone else), or for that matter Frank Rich or Tim Egan or other Times writers who repeated the story. Or I could blame the Boston Globe reporter who has covered Kerry who originally told me about the quote.

But the fact is that the quote always sounded too apt to be true, like that quote ascribed to Bush about how the trouble with the French is that they have no word for "entrepreneur" — another discredited line.

But I repeated the line because I had a nice bit of shtick to go with it, which always got a laugh in media interviews, and because I figured that if Dowd and the rest had vouched for it, I was off the hook.

Still, I believe that if person makes an error based on faulty intelligence that the person should have received more skeptically, except the person had ulterior motives for wanting it to be true and figured he could get away with saying it because he'd heard it from ostensibly credible sources and anyway, everybody else was saying it, then when the story is revealed to be bogus, the person ought to own up to his mistake. So, I'm sorry about that.

Posted by Geoff Nunberg at October 11, 2004 12:16 AM