By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Boehner puts words in Obama’s mouth

It looks like House Speaker John Boehner put out a fake quote attributed to President Obama, and that no one is going to call him on it.

Here it is in the New York Times: “President Obama likes to talk about being ‘the adult in the room’ — but there’s nothing ‘adult’ about political grandstanding.” Politico’s got it, and so does the Hill. What’s missing from these accounts is the fact that, as best as I can tell, Obama never said it, even though Boehner’s statement helpfully places the phrase in quotation marks.

If you hop on the Google, you’ll find numerous references to Obama’s being “the adult in the room.” It’s a line being promoted by his aides and denigrated by his critics. Fine. But there’s a huge difference between having someone say it on your behalf and saying it yourself. The former is a tactic; the latter is kind of icky.

As journalistic sins go, this one is kind of minor. But when the Speaker quotes the president in a derogatory way, using words the president never actually spoke, the media ought to call him out on it, no?

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  1. Mike Benedict

    That darn liberal media!

  2. C.E. Stead

    Actually, the quote marks belong to the NY Times – unless the Speaker did ‘air quotes’ with his fingers? Did they ask for a citation?

    And since the WaPo articles paraphrase conversation, are we sure the President DIDN’T use the phrase? Or did that reporter put the phrase in his mouth?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: Nope. Boehner issued a written statement, and furnished his own quotation marks.

  3. A Google search of “Obama, the adult in the room,” before Bohner said it, serves up a ton of paraphrasing by the media and political aides stating that the president perceives himself as the adult in the room. It may be the case that Obama said something during those private budget meetings that none of us heard but has been leaked out.

  4. Jerry Ackerman

    No longer recall the specifics but a New Yorker profile of Boehner last fall put him on record saying that his about-to-be-inducted Tea Partiers were going to have to confront an “adult moment.” Have to wonder if he thinks this moment has yet arrived. Only then would he have, in my opinion, the right to turn the phrase in another direction.

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