Lessons from Bremner
This is the eighth lesson from editing extraordinaire John Bremner. (Anyone tired of him yet?) Click here for Tuesday's.
Bremner is discussing the sanctity of quotes.
Do we ever change a quote? Well, let me give you my principle.
I would never make an ordinary citizen look bad. I'd never make it appear that I were being condescending or, rather, that I were showing this guy up if he goofed in speech.
What do you do,however, if you get a public figure who goofs in a quote? Are you going to correct it? Suppose you have to use it. You can't paraphrase. ... No answers? Quote it the way he says it? I'm not talking about obscenity here, I'm just talking about usage, grammar. Anyone disagree?
[Comment from teacher] Very imporant, the television bit ... because if they read it in the paper one way in the afternoon and then see it on the television that night or the next morning or whatever. A great example of that--
Remember when Alexander Haig was president of the United States? Remember that, that day? What the hell happened? Ronnie was sick, wasn't he? Wasn't that it?
No, he was shot. That's right, I'd forgotten the circumstances. And they couldn't find George anywhere; he was flying around Texas, as I recall. And Haig stepped in and took over. There was no way under ... constitutionally, he had no right.
Anyway, they finally got George back to Washington and propped him up in front of all the cameras and microphones. And George said, I quote exactly, "I want to reinsure the American people."
Now, I was on the road the next day and able to see different papers. The AP story said "I want to reassure," which is probably want he meant to say to the American people. The L.A. Times/Washington Post story said, "I want to assure the American people." And one paper -- in fact, it was in Indiana, a small paper up here that said (and you may disagree with this, you may say it's editorializing; I like it) said, "As a sign of his nervousness, Vice President Bush began his remarks with, "I want to reinsure..."
I thought that was a great way to handle it. It got the thing across and explained it, and I don't think it's editorializing at all. Watching it, Bush was nervous.