When Is a Transcript Not a Transcript?

When it comes from FOX News, of course.

On Tuesday, July 31, FOX News published a transcript of Neil Cavuto’s “Common Sense.”  According to the transcript, Cavuto—supposedly a financial journalist—tried to claim that Apple had overpromised and underdelivered on its opening weekend of iPhone sales:

“Lo and behold, we”€™re told 146,000 iPhones were activated in the day and a half between the phone’s launch and the most recent quarter’s end.”

AT&T had indeed reported the 146,000 activations on Monday, July 23.  Two days later, however, Apple had reported that 270,000 iPhones had been sold over the opening weekend.  Six days after that, Cavuto (according to the transcript) mentioned only the 146,000 activations, even though he was using the number to discuss whether sales had lived up to expectations.

If the transcript was correct, it shows that FOX News has the same lax attitude toward truth in its economic reporting as it does in, say, its reporting on the Iraq war.  That’s significant enough.

But wait—there’s more.  After a few hours of vocal criticism of Cavuto’s “reporting,” led by John Gruber of Daring Fireball (perhaps the leading commentator on the web on all things Apple), FOX News changed the transcript.  The corrected version leads off with this explanatory note:

“Correction : FOXNews.com initially posted an incorrect version of Neil’s Common Sense. This is the correct copy that was read on air:”

The new—“correct”—version of the controversial lines reads:

“Lo and behold, we”€™re told 270,000 iPhones were sold in the day and a half between the phone’s launch and the most recent quarter’s end “€“ trouble is only about 146,000 were actually activated.”

Now, anyone who has ever transcribed something, or has had his own remarks transcribed by someone else, understands how easy it is to make transcription errors, even with electronic audio to work with.  On the other hand, such errors usually follow certain forms—most commonly dropping out several words in a row, especially if a similar series of words is repeated 10 or 15 seconds later.  And a transcript with one error usually has more than one.

Interestingly, FOX News made no additional “corrections” to this transcript—the only mistake, apparently, was in the disputed section.  But comparing the before-and-after texts, it’s hard to see how the transcriber could have made the mistake, which requires not only dropping two whole strings of words (in between other strings that were transcribed correctly) but also importing some, but not all, words from the second dropped string into the space occupied by the first dropped string.

That raises two other possibilities, neither of which would put FOX News in a good light: namely, the “corrected” transcript may be incorrect (in which case, FOX News clearly knows that it is); or the transcriber, for some unknown reason, made a deliberate error the first time.

None of this is surprising to those of us who know the score at FOX News.  But it might be worth keeping in mind next time one of your friends tells you that he watches FOX News for the facts, even though he disagrees with the analysis.  It seems that FOX News not only has trouble getting the facts straight; sometimes, they have trouble deciding what they are.



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