You know, as a writer and occasional journalism student, it was driven home to me repeatedly that you always check your sources. If a source for something is questionable, then you don’t use it or you could end up with egg on your face. And if you’re George W. Bush in an election year, you may not have that much un-egged face left.
Well, it’s time to fry some more up for our beleaguered President. As found in this link from BoingBoing, it seems that Bush used an unconfirmed quote from Castro—relating to Cuba’s sex-trade industry—in a speech to Florida law enforcement officials on July 16th that Castro has since denied, calling President Bush “sinister.” But it gets better. The student who wrote the paper, one Charles Trumbull by name, says the unfootnoted quote was “probably a paraphrase” and taken out of context by President Bush anyway.
So, how would you like to be the college student whose paper caused an international incident? I can’t feel too sorry for him, though—as fellow web journalist Matt Lavine points out, he had it coming. I mean, even if Castro really did say something similar to the paper’s claim, if it’s not a direct quote, you don’t quotate it, you paraphrase it. And you footnote it so the reference can be checked for veracity later on. But that being the case, I would assign a far larger portion of the blame to Mr. Bush’s wonderful speech-writing fact-checking department, who really should have known better by now. Even if the paper did win a prize from Dartmouth College, that doesn’t automatically mean everything in it is correct.
The most amusing thing to me, though, is Castro calling Mr. Bush “sinister.” This is, after all, a fellow who has been ruling the same little Caribbean communist country for fifty years…the fellow who was being satirized twenty years ago for his longevity (see a little book called The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison, involving a dictator of a Spanish-speaking rum-exporting planet who has been using anti-agathic drugs to prolong his life and his reign for 200 years) and he doesn’t look any older now. (Another bit of fun-poking comes from the recent James Bond movie Die Another Day, which obliquely suggests Castro is using gene-therapy to stay young.) This is a man who has survived multiple administrations’ attempts to oust him, a man who goes around in military uniform all the time, a man with a very impressive presence whatever else you can say about him, a man with a beard that is capable of concealing small children…and he calls our funny-looking little President “sinister”? This is the pot calling the kettle black…and the kettle is actually shiny.