I misunderstood myself

Anyone who has been a reporter for very long has to deal with someone who claims a news story misquoted the news source or the reporter misunderstood what the news source said. In the old days when reporters scribbled quotes of newsmakers in notebooks it was easier to make that claim. But in these days of telephones that shoot video, internet sites that capture audio and video and spread it throughout the world, and just basic old recorders it’s hard to shrug off a statement as a misquotation or to put a good face on an ugly statement.

Their spin doctors sometimes find themselves trying to explain that what was said was not what was meant. Would that we all had someone who had our permission to make sure somebody understood what we meant no matter how inartfully we said it. Reporters often deal with those people. Many reporters don’t like the idea that a public figure pays someone to shrug off something the speaker should have been smart enough to keep to himself or herself. Haven’t we heard one widely-listened-to talk show figure remind us that “Words mean things?”

Congressman Todd Akin, who is running for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate is the latest Missouri public figure to find the taste of shoe leather unappetizing even if many people completely agree with something he said. In that kind of situation, an “apology” has to be craftily worded so that those who agreed with the original statement don’t think he’s backing away from something they appreciate him for saying while at the same time offering an olive branch to those who found his comment offensive or worse.

For those who live apart from the mini-hurricane that political hot air sometimes produces, here’s what happened:

Congressman Akin, who is loyal to his conservative standards and who has been in all of our dealings with him a decent and committed public servant, ws on a radio program sponsored by the Family Research Council’s President Tony Perkins. They took off on NBC’s deletion of the phrase “under God” in playing the Pledge of Allegiance before the broadcast of a golf tournament. NBC had apologized for the edit and said it was “not done to upset anyone.” Remember that phrase for later.

Akin asserted the omission was deliberately done and is “tremendously corrosive in terms of the values and everything that’s made America unique and such a special nation.” Had he stopped there, the comment would have been just another very conservative view of the situation. But then he went on: “I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God.” He then embroidered the statement a little.

Criticism was immediate. Akin was unmoved as late as Monday night when he was on KMOX in St. Louis and told the host of the show the he wasn’t going to apologize although his comment might have been more clear. It’s kind of hard to be more clear than “at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God…”

And then yesterday Akin apologized:

“People, who know me and my family, know that we take our faith and beliefs very seriously. As Christians, we would never question the sincerity of anyone’s personal relationship with God. My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, Liberalism, not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies.”

NBC said it didn’t want to upset anyone. Congressman Akin says he was not directing his comment to anyone.

Political movements, whether liberal, conservative, or whatever, are made up of a lot of “anyones.”

That’s why reporters find themselves too often writing about someone who apologizes to one group of anyones without disappointing anyone else that might have agreed with someone’s original remark.

We report. Anyone can decide

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