Correction, or retraction?

Who wrote that press release?
What are the supposed “mistranslations”?
And why aren’t reporters asking these questions?

The more I think about the detail Kevin Drum noticed &#8212 that the supposed “correction” about Nouri al-Maliki’s Spiegel interview issued in the name of the Prime Minister’s spokesman was actually released by the CentCom press office &#8212 the angrier I get. First, of course, at CentCom, for acting as an arm of the McCain campaign. But second at the U.S. press.

The “correction” greatly cushioned the impact of what should have been an explosive development: the Spiegel interview, which should have dominated the front pages this morning, didn’t. But once you know about the provenance of that correction, the cushion gets rather thin. At minimum, the press outlets (CNN for example) that reported the “correction” without reporting how it was issued were seriously deficient in their reporting.

It seems to me some follow-up questions are called for:

— Does the PM’s office confirm the release?

— Has it been issued to the PM’s office’s press list, or only to CentCom’s?

— Is there an Arabic version, or is this only for U.S. consumption?

— How did it happen that a statement purportedly from the Iraqi government was actually issued by the U.S. military?

— Who drafted the release? Was the first draft prepared in the PM’s office and given to CentCom for distribution, or prepared at CentCom and then cleared with the PM’s office?

In addition, with der Spiegel standing by its reporting, I would want to know what specific words or phrases in the interview were supposedly mistranslated. The release as quoted seems entirely unspecific, suggesting a retraction under pressure rather than a correction of error.

Perhaps Sen. Obama’s meeting with PM al-Maliki will be the occasion for reporters to ask some of these questions.

Update The story in Monday’s Times doesn’t ask the questions above, but does move the story forward significantly: the translator was supplied by the PM’s office, not by the magazine, and a tape-recording backs up the magazine’s version of the key point. Apparently al-Maliki said:

Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.


Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.

(I don’t speak Arabic, but I’d bet “who” = “whoever” or “he who,” as in Shakespearean English [“Who steals my purse steals trash”].)

If that’s what the man said, then the correct headline is “Maliki Backs Obama Plan.” And that headline belongs on Page 1.

Not Page 1 of the WaPo, of course, which increasing looks like a Republican newspaper.

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: