Memo to media: Statement attributed to Clinton in Game Change is not a direct quote

Blog ››› ››› TERRY KREPEL

On page 218 of their book Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin write:

But Bill [Clinton] then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.

Note the lack of quote marks around the statement attributed to Clinton. That means it's a paraphrase, not a direct quote. That means that Heilemann and Halperin did not or could not verify that Clinton said those exact words -- their source is not Kennedy or Clinton, but someone else who was supposedly aware of a later, alleged conversation between Kennedy and a "friend." As The Plum Line's Greg Sargent points out, the authors do indeed admit in their book: "Where dialog is not in quotes, it is paraphrased, reflecting only a lack of certainly on the part of our sources about precise wording, not about the nature of the statements."

As Sargent notes, Clinton may have said something along those lines, but: "In cases like these, when people are hinting at racism, the precise wording is everything. And in this case, the whole claim is based on an anonymous source's recollection that someone who has now passed away told him or her that Clinton said something like this."

So why are news organizations treating this as an exact, direct quote?

New York Daily News:

"A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee," the former president told the liberal lion from Massachusetts, according to the gossipy new campaign book, "Game Change."

FoxNews.com:

"A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee," Clinton told Kennedy, according to the book -- a comment that angered Kennedy, who later endorsed Obama.

CBSNews.com:

When powerful Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was in the process of deciding which fellow Democrat to endorse, former President Bill Clinton reportedly made disparaging, apparently race-based remarks about Mr. Obama, commenting, "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee."

Los Angeles Times:

In a phone call in which he tried to get the late Ted Kennedy's endorsement for Hillary Clinton's campaign, the former president said of Obama. "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee." The book says the remark left Kennedy "fuming" and may have pushed him into the Obama camp.

From the January 11 edition of MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show:

coffee

You'd expect right-wing websites to make ignore the fact that Clinton's statement is a paraphrase and not a quote -- Fox Nation, for example, was quick to oblige. Shouldn't the "mainstream media" have higher journalistic standards than Fox Nation?

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Mark Halperin, John Heilemann
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