Monday, October 13, 2008

Quotes: Someone Said It. Or Not.

The headline over Charlotte Sun's top story this morning, an Associated Press piece by Ben Feller, tells readers:
"For Bush, last 100 days to feature 'no letting up.'" I defy anyone in the tri-county area to read this story and tell me who actually said the administration's last 100 days would be characterized by "no letting up." The headline uses this quotation, but no such words appear in the story.

The story's first quote is President Bush saying he's got a lot of work do between today [last week] and when the new president takes office. There's no evidence he said there will be "no letting up." The story's second quote, by a Bush staffer: "I suspect the last 100 days are going to feel more like the first 100 days than any of us would have hoped." That insight, essentially a non sequitur in this piece, isn't even close to "no letting up."

And finally, the only other quote is actually a paraphrase rendered without quotes: a staffer expects no drama in the end-time. In three dozen words, he says nothing in particular -- and nothing specific about "not letting up."

I suspect the story may have been trimmed a bit, which doesn't let the local headline writer off the hook. A headline opinion derives from some source within the story. If it doesn't, readers must assume it's the headline writer's opinion.

There's a lot in this story that's weak, soft, mushy and just plain silly (for one thing, it predicts the future), but we'll stick with the local effort: First: Editors shouldn't write their opinions into a headline. And: Editors shouldn't make stuff up. Corollary: Editors shouldn't use their opinion to make stuff up and then pass it off as someone else's speech.

Update: The editor e-mails OWW. The AP story moved with the suggested head and the Sun ran it. The problem is, the Sun cut the story from the bottom. The deleted last line reads: Said Gillespie of Bush: "People will not have any doubt that just because he's at the end of a second term, he's not letting up at all."

Cutting the source of the quote is bad. Worse is running the quote without checking it against what the guy said. No, the quote wasn't fabricated by the local copy desk. But it wasn't checked, either.

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