Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ron Suskind on the Meaning of "Direct Quote"

Here's an excerpt from Terry Gross' interview with Ron Suskind, lifted from the NPR website:
GROSS: Just a question about the technique you use in telling the story, there's a lot of dialogue in the book. When something is in quotes, does that mean that it actually came from a transcript, a recording, or that's something that somebody directly told you?

SUSKIND: Yes, it's something someone directly told me, and the fact is almost all the quotes in the book are things that were directly told to me, and others in the room affirm. Yeah, that's pretty much exactly it. That's pretty much what I remember, too. And that's the way this reporting goes.
Boldface added, But read it again slowly.  What Terry is asking is "when you use quotation remarks, are you repeating the exact words that the quoted person said?" (as in, for example, the text I lifted above).   Suskind answers an entirely different question.  He's saying somebody directly told me that the quoted person said it (and I, Suskind, have independent confirmation).  In other words, when she asks: is the stuff in quotation marks an actual quotation, his answer is "no."

I'll give Suskind this much.  The ship has probably left the harbor on this one.  We're probably a dozen years--maybe more--away from the point where a "direct quote" was a "direct quote."  We've got to the point where "direct quote" means "at least two pieces of hearsay."  I suppose this is not the end of the world.  Maybe need,  maybe we are well served by, a word meaning "at  least two pieces of hearsay."  But we also need a word for "direct quote" in the old fashioned sense, and at the moment, we don't seem to have one.

Suskind goes on to say:

I have more than 200 sources here, more than 700 hours of interviews. I've been doing this, Terry, for 25 years. What's in the book is solid as a brick, and ultimately the White House will have to deal with it, whether internally or externally, in some way because this is really the history of this period.
Translated: I'm a player.  They're going to have to take me seriously.  And the fact that I put quotation marks around things that are not quotations--hey, as the fella in the blog said, "that train has left the station." 


New York Crank said...

The train left the station decades ago. Back in 1960, when I was a daily newspaper reporter in New York City, I kvetched to a rewrite man to whom I had fed a story over the phone.

"That's not what she said," I complained. "I gave you the exact quote and that isn't anything remotely like it."

"Of course it's what she said," countered the rewrite man, pointing to the story, over which both our bylines appeared. "It says right here in the newspaper, that she said it."

The only change is that we've kicked it up a few notches – from stories about random shootings in East Harlem to random acts of governance in the White House.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Anonymous said...

Suskind appears to have 1000x's the attribution than the idiot savant Pauli KKKrugman or the FatEarth Tommy Friedman (l)