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Speaker: How the Key transcription gaffe got fixed by State

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  • Russell Brown,

    I’m fascinated by this too Philip, although for slightly different reasons.

    I first became aware of the “next conflicts” phrase on Monday afternoon, when it was tweeted by Selwyn Manning, with a link to a copy of the official transcript on the 36th Parallel website he runs with Paul Buchanan. I retweeted it, and was a little surprised by the lack of response to what seemed to me to be an extraordinary statement.

    I decided I’d write a short post about it for Tuesday morning, when I needed to be away by about 8am to get to the airport for a meeting in Wellington (the flight wasn’t til 9.30 but I was determined not to be rushing). I wrote part of it, finished it early Tuesday morning and announced it with a tweet:

    “New post: The most disturbing thing John Key said at the Pacific Islands Forum. And hardly anyone noticed: pubadr.es/8149”

    The tweet got a much stronger response than my RT of Selwyn’s message had the previous day. That included replies from two journalists who had directly covered Key’s remarks on Sunday: Radio New Zealand’s Megan Whelan and NZ Newswires’ Laura McQuillan. They were both sure that Key hadn’t said what he was reported in the transcript as saying.

    I immediately annotated the blog post, and both Megan and Laura offered to send me the clip in question from their own recordings. My own departure time ticked past, but I didn’t feel I could leave the house with this unresolved. Laura tried to send me the clip from her phone, but it didn’t work. Eventually, Megan emailed hers through, I posted it in the comments, wrote a new intro for the blog post and fired out another tweet saying it as loudly as possible: Key clearly, very clearly, had not spoken the words in the transcript.

    Should I have dismissed the possibility that a comment like this would go unreported by New Zealand journalists? Perhaps. But this was a State Department transcript. By the time I read it, it had been widely circulated and by Tuesday morning it had been in place for a day. No one appeared to have directly contested it.

    It was understandable that journalists with their own sources wouldn’t have relied on the State transcript – but did this mean no one in the press bothers to look at official transcripts? And more to the point, that no one at all in government does? Even after the false quote was tweeted and debated on Monday? I have more than 9000 Twitter followers, and Selwyn and Martyn Bradbury, who also commented, have a few too.

    No one, it seemed, noticed until I actually established that the quote was false. Had I had time, I’d have re-written the post entirely, around what was now clearly the real angle – the transcription practices of the State Department and the potentially damaging error they had produced. (I think everyone agrees that the PM’s diction isn’t at fault in this instance.)

    The story ended up getting quite a bit of coverage. The TV3 online guys were first, with a story that mentioned me, followed by the Herald, with one that didn’t (and seemed to suggest the problem had been noted independently) and one on Stuff that misspelled my name. One News and 3 News both covered it that evening.

    It wasn’t so much the non-mention of my name that slightly irked me, as the absence of the context in which this gaffe became clear. It appears that no one noticed there was a problem until I wrote something. It’s hard not to wonder how many other times this has happened. It casts some doubt on the quality of State’s information outreach and the attentiveness of people in our own government.

    Anyway, I left the house half an hour late, encountered school traffic, roadworks and a showstopping smash on the motorway ahead of me and despite my most athletic efforts at the airport, missed the flight closure by about a minute. I was fucked off. I jumped back on Twitter and semi-jokingly expressed the view that State had made me miss my plane, which Alec Ross didn’t seem to take in good part. In retrospect, I guess he was never going to see the funny side.

    Oh, and that’s the original clip at the top of this comment, if anyone missed it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    How the heck did Alec Ross come to tweet me? I have no idea.

    You invoked his name. The internet has a long history of people who appear when you do that.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    That it is possible to engage government(s) by online communication. After all, they are all made of people who put their trousers on one leg at a time.

    Oh they are fallible all right. Still IRD, if you only have a mobile makes you call a landline no. and you still have to put up with mind numbing muzak which is costing you money to tell them about their glaring basic maths error. Then the wheels, well you can almost hear them clanking, are set in motion. Hope it hasnt happened to anyone else.
    As for the US coming election hopefully they might get past the shallow politic and see people

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

  • Amanda Wreckonwith,

    Almost on the topic of Miss-speaking...
    Not wishing to derail a thread Russell but I wonder if you may wish to enlighten your good friend BernardChickey on a more appropriate description of homosexuality. "lifestyle choice" really?.
    My nudges and winks are falling on deaf ears over at Interest.co.nz. I was thinking that (in this month of prostate awareness) you may wish to give him a brotherly poke to awaken him from his slumber.
    No apology needed - just a wording change, will stop my Inner Bitchness from being unleashed.
    Amanda XX

    Since Sep 2012 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Phil Lyth,

    I know I am at maybe 110% of what I can fully absorb on Twitter. I know I miss stuff and I certainly missed Russell's first RT of Selwyn.

    Re invoking a person's name, there are a lot of people called Alec Ross on twitter. I am still surprised he found my mention of his name (not his Twitter handle.)

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 458 posts Report Reply

  • Phil Lyth,

    And more to the point, that no one at all in government does?

    Indeed. I didn't blog it but I asked the PM's office yesterday. The first they knew of the transcript error was when a Kiwi journalist from the Gallery rang them. None of Murray McCully's people had informed them.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 458 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Phil Lyth,

    I know I am at maybe 110% of what I can fully absorb on Twitter. I know I miss stuff and I certainly missed Russell’s first RT of Selwyn.

    Sure: time of day, syntax, etc.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Amanda Wreckonwith,

    Not wishing to derail a thread Russell but I wonder if you may wish to enlighten your good friend BernardChickey on a more appropriate description of homosexuality. “lifestyle choice” really?.
    My nudges and winks are falling on deaf ears over at Interest.co.nz.

    Really? Link?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    You invoked his name

    State also have advanced real-time semantic monitoring beyond what the rest of us have access too.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    State also have advanced real-time semantic monitoring beyond what the rest of us have access too.

    Maybe. I don't think it's out of the question that there's just people in the State Department who are genuine followers of Russell as an opinion leader in this country. The "real-time semantic monitor" could be someone who follows social media, has NZ as one of their charges, and read the tweets and blog and went "Oh fuck, better tell Alec". So there's one person getting a slap for poor transcription and another getting a pat for keeping their ear to the ground.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Phil Lyth,

    ears lookin’ at you kid…

    I am still surprised he found
    my mention of his name

    Perhaps a Vacuum Tube system from Waihopai to back room of US Embassy, filternet… + context parsing… + flag for immediate action!
    GCSB finally does something useful (for New Zealand)…

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7943 posts Report Reply

  • Amanda Wreckonwith, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Tuesdays Top 10. Comment on Colbert segment.
    It's only a little thing but I'm a sensitive soul you see...but he could be a 'grower, not a shower' and needs correctional squeeze.
    I think he will see the error of his ways when your push comes to shove...
    Amanda XX

    Since Sep 2012 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce, in reply to Phil Lyth,

    Re invoking a person's name, there are a lot of people called Alec Ross on twitter. I am still surprised he found my mention of his name (not his Twitter handle.)

    Plenty of Social Media monitoring services he could be using or just vanity searches ? Especially considering he's just been here.

    For Corporates in NZ the Trade Me forums are a favourite for monitoring.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 504 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    Maybe. I don't think it's out of the question that there's just people in the State Department who are genuine followers of Russell as an opinion leader in this country.

    Possibly. former journalist Sean Gillespie handles media duties for the US Embassy in Wellington and looked after Ross while he was here, but he doesn't follow me. I think it was Philip's heads-up to the Embassy that got things rolling, and that may have been how Ross became aware of the issue.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Amanda Wreckonwith,

    Tuesdays Top 10. Comment on Colbert segment.
    It’s only a little thing but I’m a sensitive soul you see…but he could be a ‘grower, not a shower’ and needs correctional squeeze.

    Ah, I see. I think he was going along with the Colbert faux-Conservative irony there. It was an item about how homosexuals cause hurricanes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It was an item about how homosexuals cause hurricanes.

    I wish it was true - though one's Evil Namesake should be profoundly thankful it isn't. :)

    So the point of this column? That it is possible to engage government(s) by online communication. After all, they are all made of people who put their trousers on one leg at a time.

    Another takeaway from this: Admitting you fucked up, and putting your ego to one side while making a prompt good-faith effort to put things right? Yes, Internet, it can be done without undue trauma.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Amanda Wreckonwith,

    Irony. Yes. I concur wholeheartedly.
    And yet... 'twere it Micheal Laws who would not respond to a request for clarification, me thinks you would have a different view? perhaps?
    I was genuine in my questioning of his wording and I thought a reply would be forthcoming - even if it were to suggest that the joke would lose it's magic upon explanation.
    But no response? Mmm.
    Maybe Emma or Craig would wish to take up my cudgel.
    Guess I will have to attend to my reddened areas and apply the salve more generously.
    Thank you for your prompt and considered replies.
    Amanda XX

    Since Sep 2012 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Still some wriggle room...

    After all, they are all made of people who put their trousers on one leg at a time.

    Hmmmm... doesn't that leave you with only a 50/50 chance of getting the fly facing the right way?
    I also know people who eschew standing, and pull both legs on from a sitting start, sometimes boots 'n' all!
    What we need is a some kind of strident Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press of good standing to report all this for us... oh hang on...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7943 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    I also know people who eschew standing, and pull both legs on from a sitting start, sometimes boots ‘n’ all!

    I had a boyfriend who liked to stand and jump into his jeans with both feet at once. His success rate was about 50%, pretty good really.

    Russell, I think you showed up a lot of slackness here, both in government and the rest of the media. I particularly can't understand why Key himself doesn't seem to have been bothered. This matter could have been sorted by his office immediately, I would have thought.

    And yeah, win for social media. Or how social media let the people with brains and initiative and the people with influence talk to each other.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    I think you showed up a lot of slackness here, both in government and the rest of the media.

    Yes. The transcript *was* a story. If the journalists had heard the Prime Minister's actual words, and could confirm that he had not said "conflicts", then the correct response was to report that.

    To say (in effect) that the State Dept had made a serious error, and therefore it wasn't a story, would be a failure of journalism. I don't subscribe to the conspiracy theories ("MSM = Key's PR"!1!!) but I would like to know why the gallery reporters didn't immediately see this as news. Because it clearly was.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1329 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Price,

    I thought what Key said was perfectly clear. But I'm wondering: who is Sectry Clinton, and more alarmingly, why are we supporting the US rebouncing toward Asia and the Pacific?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 29 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    I have more than 9000 Twitter followers,

    Twitter, the highest pantheon for egregious self promotion.

    we welcome the opportunity to cooperate with the U.S. in the next conflicts.

    Off the rocking horse that sounds about as honest a (mis)quote as you're going to get from a politician these days - welcomed as warmly as all the others, if history be permitted to get a breath in edgeways.

    These wars are superb fodder for state funded TV shows and blogs where reasons for said cooperation can be retrospectively amended, where bold comparative statements intimating lost eras when the question of Afghanistan was any less urgent, can be spuriously and gainfully employed.

    When all is said and done, this shit sells copy.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to mark taslov,

    Twitter, the highest pantheon for egregious self promotion.

    It's a broadcast audience. I can tell a lot of people something at one time, which is useful in various ways. Feel free to ignore me though.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward, in reply to Phil Lyth,

    Re invoking a person's name, there are a lot of people called Alec Ross on twitter. I am still surprised he found my mention of his name (not his Twitter handle.)

    Social media monitors like Radian6 would certainly be tuned to something like that - they can do a lot with paid access to the Twitter firehose (as well as these very blog comments). It's almost certain that US State et al use one of those tools...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    I still have no idea. Alec modestly demurs possessing superpowers, saying:
    9.58am @philiplyth Not omnipotent. Attentive.

    and Ian's 50's contributuon:

    Perhaps a Vacuum Tube system from Waihopai to back room of US Embassy, filternet… + context parsing… + flag for immediate action!
    GCSB finally does something useful (for New Zealand)…

    Fi Fi Fo Fum....ah ha.....Echelon???? Nicki?

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

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