Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

NOT SO LOST IN TRANSLATION....Did Der Spiegel, in its interview with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki published this weekend, correctly translate his endorsement of Barack Obama's timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq? We now know it did, but CJR reporter Clint Hendler spoke with Spiegel editor Mathias Müller von Blumencron recently and learned just how ridiculous it was for Centcom to try and cast doubt on Maliki's words in the first place:

During the interview, Der Spiegel spoke in English, and after listening to each question repeated in Arabic, and hearing Maliki's responses in Arabic, finally heard its answer in English via Maliki's translator.

....There's something else that journalists calling Der Spiegel would have learned. "We have a policy at Der Spiegel when we do a question and answer session to provide a transcript to our counterparts in case they want to have a minor thing changed," says Müller von Blumencron, who says Zand verified that Maliki's aides received the publication-ready advance copy. They had no response, and presumably no complaints, before its release.

The interview was conducted in English, Maliki's Arabic answers were then translated into English by Maliki's own translator, and the completed transcript was later provided to Maliki for his approval before publication. Hopefully this will be the last word on whether or not Maliki really meant what he said.

UPDATE: Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a media officer with CENTCOM, emails to say that the military had nothing to do with pressuring the Iraqi government to disown Maliki's statement:

In response to your post on the debate over the Iraqi PM's interview with Der Spiegel, I would like, as a spokesman for CENTCOM, make something clear. There was no attempt by CENTCOM to insert ourselves into the press operations of the Iraqi government over this, and the statement by Iraqi spokesman Dr. Ali al Dabbagh was not, as has been reported, released by, or "through," this office.

The MNF-I press office did, a few hours after Dr. al Dabbagh released his statement in Arabic to Iraqi and pan-Arab media, provide an English translation to Western media. This is a standard practice for MNF-I's press office, as the Iraqi government does not have the same capacity for such translations. But while we assist our Iraqi counterparts in reaching a wider audience, no one at MNF-I — and certainly not CENTCOM — has any influence in the content of their messages.

Kevin Drum 5:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Comments

Last word? Fat chance.

Posted by: optical weenie on July 22, 2008 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

There's something wrong with the journalistic process at the publications that ran with the administration's "translation error" claim without even checking with Spiegel for a comment. Some of those folks have been taking dictation from the White House for so long that they know of no other way of doing "reporting".

Posted by: Joe Buck on July 22, 2008 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

The last word? We haven't even checked the kerning on that interview yet!

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on July 22, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Hopefully this will be the last word on whether or not Maliki really meant what he said.

Yes, but not on whether Maliki really said what the Bush White House meant.

Posted by: Stefan on July 22, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Hopefully this will be the last word on whether or not Maliki really meant what he said.

No, the new line is that McCain said it first, and that Obama is following him around, even though Obama wants to lose the war, which makes it odd they'd have the same position.

At least on Afghanistan.

On Iraq, McCain has given up saying it's a bad idea, and is now saying that that's his idea, too.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on July 22, 2008 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

The approved translation is that Maliki endorses McCain, he wants us to stay for several thousand years, we can have all their oil for free, and he wonders why we haven't attacked Iran yet.

Any other translations are unapproved and dangerous to American freedom and security.

Posted by: Fox Noise on July 22, 2008 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't there at least one news organization that will ask why Centcom got involved in this at all?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on July 22, 2008 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't there at least one news organization that will ask why Centcom got involved in this at all?

They were trying to flush out any remaining gay translators.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on July 22, 2008 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Centcom to try and cast doubt on Maliki's words... so, this must be part where we lead in with the heavy rock dependent on foreign oil band.

The red OR how bloody is the black? I don't know, lets ask Bush about that!

My son likes Chevelle...and also wants to be a helicopter mechanic

But where does one get that kind of experience?

Don't even think about it son, don't EVEN think about it. Just stick with sandrails for now and live son, live.

Posted by: Me_again on July 22, 2008 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

When I see or read "What I meant to say was, ..." I look back to what was said for true intent.

Agendas abound, and if anything, the Iraqis realized how tethered they still are to Bush Co. But at least this moment of truth slipped out and we know how the Maliki government truly feels.

Posted by: Jeff on July 22, 2008 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK
There's something wrong with the journalistic process at the publications that ran with the administration's "translation error" claim without even checking with Spiegel for a comment.

Verification minimizes the number of news cycles of controversy, and takes time and resources. Controversy brings readership and viewership and sells advertising space. So, the kind of journalistic process you envision would reduce revenue while increasing cost. Adopting such a process would, therefore, be contrary to the fiduciary duty the management of the for-profit media corporations have to their stockholders.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 22, 2008 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

Withholding my opinion until I know what kind of countertops Maliki has. They'd best be from Home Depot.

Posted by: trollhattan on July 22, 2008 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Why am I being withheld?

Just curious?

[the software automatically halts posts with multiple links on the suspicion that they are spam until a human approves them. Sorry for the inconvenience - mod.]

Posted by: Me_again on July 22, 2008 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

[Verification] would reduce revenue while increasing cost [and] would, therefore, be contrary to the fiduciary duty the management of the for-profit media corporations have to their stockholders.

Posted by: cmdicely

That's why Faux News just makes the shit up to begin with.

Posted by: Econobuzz on July 22, 2008 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

Do you suppose obama can try this same trick, claim that FISA was "mistranslated" to him and he meant to cast a strong vote FOR the 4th ammendment.

Instead, he cast a strong vote AGAINST the 4th ammendment - selling us all out. This is not the first time he has sold out his constituents. It will certainly not be the last.

Just ask Chicago residents about his record on housing - sold those folks down the toilet.

But maybe now he can proclaim things are MISTRANSLATED.

Just like in this case, we all know it isn't true, but that doesn't matter. Corporate shills will say what they need to say to protect the real interests they represent.

And guess what - obama doesn't represent our interests.

Posted by: on July 22, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

But maybe now he can proclaim things are MISTRANSLATED

Hey, that's what happened to Johnny boy. His wife thought he called her a "cunt." But he was just using the pluperfect subjunctive of "can't."

Posted by: Econobuzz on July 22, 2008 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't there at least one news organization that will ask why Centcom got involved in this at all?

Nope. Joe America wants to believe America is not an empire, Iraq is not a colony and that Maliki's government is a sovereign one and the American elite gains hugely from this pretense. What's in it for the media to point out the lack of clothes?

Posted by: snicker-snack on July 22, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

Whenever I read the discussion of what Maliki said or didn't say, I just remember the verdict of the American people on such learned debate; George. Bush. Twice. All you need to know about voting: Fear and Greed.

Posted by: EL on July 22, 2008 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

Did Der Spiegel, in its interview with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki published this weekend, correctly translate his endorsement of Barack Obama's timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq?

Well, of course al-Maliki endorsed Barack Obama's timetable. Duh! They're both Muslims, right?

Posted by: Joe America on July 22, 2008 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

Course, the point of the Centcom story wasn't to challenge the facts of the interview, it was to give the US press something to run with in their quest to save the McCain candidacy.

Posted by: Boronx on July 23, 2008 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

During the interview, Der Spiegel spoke in English, and ... heard its answer in English via Maliki's translator.

So the mistake must have happened during the English to German translation, ja?

Posted by: thersites on July 23, 2008 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

The last word on whether Maliki means what he says will be when he says what the Bush, CENTCOM, McCain and the neocons want him to say.

Posted by: allbetsareoff on July 23, 2008 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

Centcom was just throwing up a smokescreen, since often times the first thing people hear about something is the last thing they hear about it (or remember about it, since its not news anymore after that).

That said, it was still a smokescreen, noone including Centcom expect anyone actually paying sustained attention to believe Maliki was misquoted, and the story has already started shifting with that reality in mind.

Posted by: Jimm on July 23, 2008 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

I'll go with the version I like also.

Posted by: Luther on July 23, 2008 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

I have a new post on this over at my blog.

http://www.swanpoliticsblog.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Swan on July 23, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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