Don't tell me words don't matter (updated)

1apalinOkay, we're getting quite a bit of reader reaction to Charlie Gibson's interview of Gov. Sarah Palin airing on ABC. Apparently Gibson messed up big time when he tried to explore Palin's religious views. Here's a portion of the transcript:

GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God." Are we fighting a holy war?

PALIN: You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: Exact words.

Nevermind the asinine "holy war" question. Gibson was completely wrong in his quotation of Palin because he didn't mention her introductory clause that completely changed the meaning of the statement. Let's go to Jake Tapper for the actual quote with, you know, the "exact words" that Gibson omitted:

Palin asked the congregation to "pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

Oh, so she didn't say that we were in a holy war. And she didn't even say that leaders were sending soldiers on a task from God. She just encouraged people to pray about the war.

Despite Gibson's error, Palin's answer is consistent with her previous prayer request:

PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln's words when he said -- first, he suggested never presume to know what God's will is, and I would never presume to know God's will or to speak God's words.

But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that's a repeat in my comments, was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side.

But Gibson tries to "get her" again -- and again misquotes her. Remember that she said, "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan." Okay, so now let's look at how Gibson mangles that:

GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln's words, but you went on and said, "There is a plan and it is God's plan."

PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That, in my world view, is a grand -- the grand plan.

GIBSON: But then are you sending your son on a task that is from God?

PALIN: I don't know if the task is from God, Charlie. What I know is that my son has made a decision. I am so proud of his independent and strong decision he has made, what he decided to do and serving for the right reasons and serving something greater than himself and not choosing a real easy path where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer.

Charles Gibson Perhaps Gibson wouldn't have looked so bad here if he had, you know, watched the actual footage of her prayer request instead of just relying on whatever poor sources of information are floating around the ABC newsroom. Unfortunately that includes this completely erroneous Associated Press report by Gene Johnson.

Palin's statement isn't difficult to understand. She repeatedly encourages prayer about the topic. Her comments are not atypical when it comes to Christian prayer requests. As reader Patrick O'Hannigan wrote:

Praying that your actions conform to the will of God is not the same as asserting that they do.

Not getting the difference between these things is a key error. Did Gibson think that people wouldn't be able to check his characterization against the facts of what she said?

It seems to me that if you have the first major interview of Palin since she was nominated, that there is an incredible burden on you as a journalist. With the media reputation in the tank when it comes to Palin coverage, these questions should have been well formulated and really thought out. Palin's religious views are interesting and completely worthy of coverage. Her real religious views, that is. Not some slice-and-dice media conception of what she said.

I mean, he misquoted her, denied it after she called him on it, and then misquoted her again. That's just not good journalism. Come on guys, these are vitally important interviews and we just can't afford more of this ham-handed coverage.

UPDATE: I watched the Nightline clips of the interview and they'd been severely edited. So instead of Gibson's embarrassing "exact words" exchange, they had a clip of Palin's direct quote followed by the response cited above. But in the clumsily edited piece, there is no mention of how he botched it. Seems kind of odd. While it's good ABC recognized the error, it's not like interview subjects ever get to edit out things they wish they hadn't said or add things they wish they'd said. I suppose it's just a good reminder of how many people are involved in putting out a news product.

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