The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I got to see an old friend last night, somewhat unexpectedly. Jennifer Grinovich is the sister of my friend Tom, who's a local. Jen went to college with us, and has been in and out of the area since graduation. She's in town, along with other family, to see her newborn niece, Kaya.

Jen's been living in Oakland, California for the last few years, and so she had the opportunity to participate in last October's gubernatorial recall election. She clued me into her brief brush with celebrity during the election.

She was on her way to cast her vote when a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle tried to get her comment. She brushed him off while she tried to find the right polling booth. After casting her ballot, the reporter found her again. Despite protesting that she wasn't the ideal political interview, she gave a quote. Her words appeared in the Chronicle the next day:

"I like Peter Camejo the best, and I can't stand Davis, but I cast my votes to stop Schwarzenegger," said Jennifer Grinovich of Oakland. "I had to vote no on the recall. In the end, the most important thing was to try to stop the Republicans."

The catch? According to Jen, the above quote was only remotely similar to what came out of her mouth. The part about preferring Green Party candidate Peter Camejo and voting "no" on the recall are accurate, but she says she never explicitly said anything like "stop the Republicans". She did wind up voting for Democrat Cruz Bustamante, making a strategic decision to help the candidate most likely to beat Schwarzenegger; so the sentiments behind this misquote are pretty much on the money. But Jen was a little perturbed over having words put into her mouth.

It was an iffy move by the reporter to craft a new quote in order to make it fit the story's theme. It's one thing to clean up a quote for clarity (removing "uhs" and "likes", extraneous information, etc.) or even fact-checking it, but to plant a whole phrase like that, even if it mirrors the person's thinking, goes beyond acceptable practice. There was no real harm done--Jen's pretty laid-back about it even now--but things like this tend to erode the press' credibility.