Scandal!

“PBS alters transcript to hide Obama gaffe.”
Only there was no alteration, and no gaffe.
And no retraction from any of the Red bloggers who spread the misinformation, even after it was corrected.

PBS alters transcript to hide Obama gaffe. 

All of the usual Red Blogistan outlets – Instapundit, Malkin, Hot Air, Human Events, even the usually sane Jonathan Adler at the usually sane Volokh Conspiracy – were all over the story like a cheap suit, and Memeorandum headlined it.

Only, there wasn’t any altered transcript:  the NPR story was the text as prepared, while the supposed “gaffe” was in the speech as delivered.

And there wasn’t any “gaffe,” either: Obama referred to Lincoln as “founder of the Republican party.” Perfectly conventional, and historically defensible: Lincoln was a leader of the outcry about the Kansas-Nebraska act that led to the formation of the Republican party, and led the Clay Whigs out of the dying Whig Party and into coalition with the Free Soilers under the Republican banner. The meeting at Ripon where the word “Republican” was first used didn’t found a national party: there was no national Republican convention until 1856. Lincoln was the headliner at the Decatur meeting that organized the Illinois Republicans, and headed the slate of Fremont electors in Illinois in that year.

OK. This sort of thing can happen, especially if you’re not very bright, very trapped in your echo chamber, and conspiratorially minded. But what’s striking – and a contrast to the way things are handled in Blue Blogistan – not a single one of the Red bloggers taken in by this nonsense has manned up and retracted. Not one.

You might almost think they didn’t mind spreading a little bit of misinformation in a bad cause.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

29 thoughts on “Scandal!”

  1. Perfectly defensible BS. He wasn’t even the Republican party’s first Presidential candidate. Lincoln simply, unambiguously, was not the founder of the GOP. It’s not even close. “One of” the founders of a state branch, maybe, at most.

    Look, the point here isn’t that there’s no way to rationalize this as kinda, sorta, vaguely similar to right, in a not insanely wrong sense, if you’re determined to, and squint really hard. The point is that the media do not routinely so squint for Republican politicians. It’s the double standard Mr. 57 states benefits from that grates.

  2. Mark —

    I never accused NPR of editing the transcript to hide the claim, and I specifically noted in an update that the original text distributed to the media did not contain the Lincoln reference, and that this explained why some media outlets had a different version of the speech from what was delivered and posted on the White House website. If you had provided a link, readers would have been able to see for themselves. The post is here.

    The point of my post was not any alleged “cover-up” but that if we spend our time searching for mistakes, factual errors, etc. in the speeches and statements of politicians, we’ll find them. As I wrote in the comments: “I think the bigger point is that any politician or public figure can be found to make mistakes and misstatements. Whether they garnet more attention is less a function of the statement than whether the mistake fits or confirms a broader, established narrative about the public figure.”

    As for the substance, I stand by the claim that Lincoln was not “founder of the Republican Party.” The Republican Party was founded in 1854. In that year, Lincoln ran for the Senate as a Whig. He was not even the first Republican Presidential candidate. That was John Fremont. It’s one thing to say the GOP is the “party of Lincoln,” like it’s the “Party of Teddy Roosevelt” or “Party of Reagan” (and just like the Democratic Party is the “Party of FDR”). But Lincoln was not a founder. That GOP leaders have at time made the same error — and many have — does not make it less of an error.

    JHA

  3. I actually think Brett has the better of this argument. But, really, who cares? If the Republicans don’t want the man widely regarded by historians as perhaps the greatest president in our history to be considered as having been the founder of their party, well, it’s their party.

  4. He wasn’t even the Republican party’s first Presidential candidate.
    Irrelevant.

    Lincoln simply, unambiguously, was not the founder of the GOP. It’s not even close.
    Tell it to Rudolf Giuliani (and National Review, RNC, and others from the link in the OP)
    Rudy’s quote from the link: Immigration was a core belief of a founder of the Republican party, Abraham Lincoln….

    The point is that the media do not routinely so squint for Republican politicians.
    They must have squinted for ol’ Rudy and most of the rest, ’cause I don’t remember reading about it in Time, though Huckabee didn’t get off so easy. Maybe they had something in their eye that day.

    It’s the double standard Mr. 57 states benefits from that grates.
    If it grates you that Obama does not receive enough petty criticism, from the media or anywhere else, you are extremely sensitive indeed. My sympathies.

  5. The point is that the media do not routinely so squint for Republican politicians.

    Republican politicians do (or did until now) routinely make this claim about Lincoln. It’s a standard part of their origin story. (Which is why, I imagine, the President invoked it.) In most cases, it’s reported without comment. That’s the routine, and I doubt squinting has much to do with it.

  6. @ Jonathon

    Calling the GOP the Party of Theodore Roosevelt glosses his political life after leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, does it not? TR was at heart a progressive, and he found the GOP anathema after leaving the Presidency.

  7. Jonathan,

    I’m sorry, but that’s a pedantic, hyper-technical analysis whose only purpose is to find some excuse to sling mud at the President and impugn his intellect. Obama is not submitting a paper on the historical origins of the GOP, he’s engaging in political rhetoric. As such, he’s referencing the common opinion that Lincoln was the founder of the GOP, an opinion that you could easily find plenty of Republican concurrence with.

    Seriously, would you invoke the same criticism if he made a speech referencing Thomas Edison as the inventor of the light bulb? It’s plain nonsense.

  8. “Obama is not submitting a paper on the historical origins of the GOP, he’s engaging in political rhetoric.”

    Or to put it another way, politicians routinely say things which aren’t true, and we gloss over it if we like them, and explode with synthetic outrage if we don’t. It’s tiresome, and one of the things which enables politicians of all stripes to get away with being so habitually dishonest.

  9. Republican politicians do (or did until now) routinely make this claim about Lincoln. It’s a standard part of their origin story. (Which is why, I imagine, the President invoked it.) In most cases, it’s reported without comment. That’s the routine, and I doubt squinting has much to do with it.
    Indeed. I find I must squint pretty hard to see any controversy at all in the statement, whether uttered by Obama or Huckabee.

  10. K —

    The media has gone after Republicans for making the Lincoln claim. See, for instance, this article by then Time-writer Jay Carney: http://swampland.time.com/2008/09/03/huckabee_errata/
    which was covered by the NYT’s Opinionator:
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/03/huckabee-speaks-discourse-level-raised/#?wtoeid=growl1_r1_v5

    In any event, these sorts of gaffes and missatements are legion and tell us nothing about someone’s fitness to be President or effectiveness as a leader. We didn’t need Michele Bachman to confuse John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy to know she’s unfit for the Presidency, and if a candidate or politician you like made such a mistake, you wouldn’t care.

    JHA

  11. Or to put it another way, politicians routinely say things which aren’t true, and we gloss over it if we like them, and explode with synthetic outrage if we don’t.
    By “like them” I’m assuming you mean the politicians, not the things said which aren’t true. That is unless you can show an example of anyone exploding with synthetic outrage over anyone else making this same statement about Lincoln (and there are plenty of examples to be found of the statement having been made before). Bonus points if you can show anyone but conservatives exploding with synthetic outrage over a statement as trivial and hardly-controversial as this one.

    It’s tiresome, and one of the things which enables politicians of all stripes to get away with being so habitually dishonest.
    Poor Brett, all tuckered out from the media grating on him with their open hypocrisy because they won’t call the President out on his habitual dishonesty by jumping on the petty criticism bandwagon of the day. Sheesh, providing them with a podium and microphone “enables politicians of all stripes to get away with being so habitually dishonest”. You know how to tell if they’re lying, Brett? Hint: it’s when their lips move.

    I suppose Obama deserves all this for invoking a conservative meme. But it does raise an interesting point in my mind – apparently conservatives are keenly aware of the fallacy of some their rhetoric at times, being so quick to criticize others when they go and repeat it.

  12. We didn’t need Michele Bachman to confuse John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy to know she’s unfit for the Presidency, and if a candidate or politician you like made such a mistake, you wouldn’t care.

    Personally, I’d care enough to laugh at anyone making that mistake, whether I liked them or not.

  13. I’ll admit, I raised an eyebrow when I heard it, knowing it to be false, but decidng it wasn’t material and anyway, I know how much it hurts progressive Dems to admit that the Great Emancipator was a Republican (they still can’t talk about the fact that it was Dem votes that LBJ had to round up to pass the Civil Rights Act, the R’s were safely on board thanks to Everett Dirksen, et al. How the R’s bungled credit for that landmark I will never understand). But I digress. The real howlers were in the substantive part of the speech, or as it should be characterized, the non-plan, or if you must, “Stimulus 3.” Such as “it ‘s paid for.” The details on that, finally released yesterday, pretty much put the whole proposal in cold storage. There will be a hard enough time “paying for” the extension of the current payroll tax reduction and the 99 week unemployment incentive.

  14. Redwave72 says:

    “I’ll admit, I raised an eyebrow when I heard it, knowing it to be false, but decidng it wasn’t material and anyway, I know how much it hurts progressive Dems to admit that the Great Emancipator was a Republican (they still can’t talk about the fact that it was Dem votes that LBJ had to round up to pass the Civil Rights Act, the R’s were safely on board thanks to Everett Dirksen, et al. How the R’s bungled credit for that landmark I will never understand). ”

    Perhaps actually reading about the era would help – the Southern White Dem Politicians were not happy with any civil rights, and eventually left to join the GOP (in general, some hung on because they could be re-elected by the local Dems endlessly, but still vote with the GOP).

    Then, in 1964, St. Goldwater started the ‘Southern Strategy’, courting white southerners who were mysteriously suddenly eager to break with over 100 years of hard-core solid Democratic support.

  15. See? Both sides do it. Bush exaggerated claims about Iraqi WMDs and links to al Qaeda that led us into a foreign policy debacle, Obama exaggerated claims about Lincoln’s role in creating the Republican party. Like…uh…Republicans always do… Anyway, it is axiomatic that either the Dems are worse about everything, or the two parties are equally bad in some respects. So this is one of those equal things…

  16. I find it amusing that Jonathan Adler can find Obama’s statement about Lincoln to be on the same level as Bachmann thinking that the battles of Lexington & Concord occurred in New Hampshire. Or her mixing up John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy. Or her belief that John Quincy Adams was a Founder when he was barely into pre-teen years when the Constitution was being debated. Or that the Founders, particularly the Southern ones, were really, really anti-slavery. Or the right wingers who think Founders like Jefferson and Washington were devoted Christians at their most personal levels. Or the wacko history presented by Mike Huckabee in his videos.

    That’s quite amusing, that…

  17. “That GOP leaders have at time made the same error — and many have — does not make it less of an error.”

    But it sure makes it less noteworthy. That anyone would treat this nit as a gotcha betrays a farcical desperation.

  18. Then, in 1964, St. Goldwater started the ‘Southern Strategy’, courting white southerners who were mysteriously suddenly eager to break with over 100 years of hard-core solid Democratic support.

    Actually, Herbert Hoover started the Southern Strategy in 1928. He just didn’t call it that.

  19. The media has gone after Republicans for making the Lincoln claim. See, for instance, this article by then Time-writer Jay Carney: http://swampland.time.com/2008/09/03/huckabee_errata/

    “The Media”, Adler? One writer whose “nitpickiness” has then been mentioned in a less than approving manner in an NYT blog is now evidence of “the media going after Republicans”? And gives you enough justification for asking if anybody in the WH knows history? Not sure if your problem is reading comprehension or rank hackery.

  20. Jonathan H Adler: See, for instance, this article by then Time-writer Jay Carney …

    I assumed readers were aware of the Carney example, which has figured prominently in this episode, esp. since his phrasing keeps getting repeated. (Carney writes that Lincoln “wasn’t even” the first Republican nominee, which is a pretty poor a fortiori argument, given that one can be a founder without being the first nominee. Most founders weren’t.)

    Adler’s “for instance” suggests he has other instances at hand, but I’m doubtful. One counterexample doesn’t establish that the media “routinely” declines to give Republicans a pass on this point. That was the question at hand. (Neither does it routinely “explode with synthetic outrage” at them over it.) On the contrary, what the media does “routinely” is report it without comment when Republican politicians invoke this claim, as they have for generations.

  21. Right, a better argument would be something like, “Lincoln, far from being the founder of the Republican party, ran for Senate as a Whig after the Republican party was founded.” Mighty peculiar for the founder of a party to run on the opposition’s ticket.

  22. I agree that Adler is usually sane, but he sure doesn’t help himself by claiming the alleged point of his blog post – it’s easy to nitpick – can be found in a comment he appended that he couldn’t even bother including as one of his updates. The normal, vast majority of readers never read the comments – only weird ones do that.

  23. I have found no record of a Republican running against Lincoln, it still remains that people do not typically found a party, and the immediately run under a different party’s banner. Especially back when they didn’t have to deal with difficult ballot access laws intended to quash new party efforts.

    Lincoln was, at most, “a” founder of a “state branch” of the Republican party. Can you rationalize that up to something kind of like “the” founder of the national party? Sure, just like you can rationalize that Paul Revere warned the British. Feel any particular urge to cut slack for that remark?

  24. That’s right, Brett! The Republican name may have been coined by then, but the party wasn’t established to the point of running a national candidate at the time. One might say it hadn’t been fully founded yet. And what was the relationship between the disintegrating Whig party and the newly-forming Republican party? Would that explain why Lincoln ran as a Whig?

    From the “perfectly conventional” link in the OP: Don E. Fehrenbacher, a well known historian of 19th century United States history had this to say on the subject: As much as any man in the country, he was a founder of the Republican party. Follow the link and see what he had to say about the importance of the “state branch” of Illinois at the time.

    Obama said “Founder of the Republican party”. Not “The founder”. What Michael Drake said.

  25. “Actually, Herbert Hoover started the southern strategy in 1928. He just didn’t call it that.”

    What utter nonsense, and you know it, Mr. Neal. As a member of the Society of Friends, Herbert Hoover could never have even entertained the idea. Besides, his election in 1928 was a foregone conclusion even if the Solid South had voted for his Democratic opponent as per usual. It happens that his opponent was a New York Catholic, and that would have been unacceptable to southerners of that era.

    Time for a history lesson for you guys. The idea of a “southern strategy” for Republicans was a Nixon era concept. Nixon stategist Kevin Phillips included the idea in his book detailing the emerging Republican majority. In 1960, Nixon had taken about half of the Solid South against JFK, who still bucked anti-Catholic bias in those states. Needing southern states like Texas to win is what caused JFK to put his chief rival, LBJ, on the ticket.

    In 1968, the strategy was thwarted by breakaway Dem George Wallace who split the south with Nixon. Nixon won a narrow victory anyway. By 1980, the Reagan triumph in the South in the post Jim Crow era was more along the lines of what we see today – an appeal to state vs federal authority, and traditional conservative economic ideas.

    My point, much earlier in the thread is valid. For a number of years after the GOP had breached the Solid South, their success was confined to Presidential elections. Until the 1970’s, GOP officeholders at all levels of government in the South were few and far between. This was certainly the case in the House and the Senate. In fact, winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning the election. This changed during the 1970’s, when southerners, particularly whites, gravitated to the GOP for all kinds of reasons. The ill-fated McGovern campaign was certainly a catalyst.

    The fact is that in 1964, LBJ’s challenge in passing the Civil Rights Act was in his own party. You can call them Dixiecrats or whatever you want, but they were D’s, part of the caucus, and they were responsible for allowing the Dems to run both houses of Congress, and they did combine with Conservative Republicans on certain matters of spending and defense. But on Civil Rights, let’s be clear – the Dirksen Republicans were the good guys, and they teamed, first with JFK, then LBJ to put the bill in play and get it done.

    Republicans should have built on this tradition to recapture the Black voters they lost during the New Deal. Instead, the Goldwater campaign’s buffoonery allowed LBJ’s campaign to portray Republicans as being opposed to Civil Rights. This was a collossal mistake for them, and it has done great damage to our political discourse.

    To be fair, Senator Goldwater was much more forthright about his enlightened Civil Rights position in his last years, and it was no accident that in the end, he was revered by his colleagues.

  26. At the 9/11 commemoration, George W. Bush ascribed the famous Bixby letter (the letter to the woman whose 5 sons allegedly died in Civil War) to President Abraham Lincoln.

    Idiot! Does he not know there is no evidence that Lincoln ever wrote it? If anybody in the White House actually wrote the letter, it was probably Lincoln’s Secretary John Hay, who could do a fair imitation of the Lincoln style.

    http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/scams/lincoln_forgers/index.html

  27. That’s right, Brett!

    Apparently, the only thing Brett Bellmore isn’t certain about in our universe is whether Barack Obama was born in these united states. Everything else – he seems to know exactly what’s what whether it happened 15 years ago or 150 years ago. I am sure it is a coincidence that the answers from his metaphysical certitude seem to line up in the same way as his lack of metaphysical certitude about the one small matter of Obama’s birthplace.

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