NBC Leaves ‘Uhs’ in Duncan Hunter Quote to Make Him Sound Foolish

How many times have you read a quote from a major political figure that included words like “uh” or “um?”

Not often, right? Typically, journalists omit such disfluent pauses when citing America’s leaders in order to not make them look foolish.

After all, the vast majority of people commonly use such utterances to fill the silence as they assemble their thoughts. But, you rarely see them left in an article unless it’s part of a verbatim transcript.

Sadly, NBC’s Tracie Potts didn’t give Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California) such respect Friday in her article about the immigration bill before Congress (emphasis added throughout, h/t NB reader Mike Hatmaker):

California Congressman Duncan Hunter says "we should not trade amnesty for border security. That shouldn't uh, giving uh giving amnesty should not be a condition for border security."

Nice job of making the Congressman look like an illiterate fool, Tracie.

Yet, earlier in her piece, Tracie was much kinder to a popular Democrat senator who conceivably uses more disfluent pauses in his vocalizations than any member of Congress. Alas, none were present in his quote:

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy says "the time for action is now.”

What’s the likelihood that Kennedy actually said, “The, uh, uh, time for, uh, uh, uh, action is, uh, uh, uh, now?”

In reality, folks, if journalists quoted Kennedy accurately throughout the years, articles about him would have likely been twenty percent longer.

Nice job, Tracie.

*****Update: Tracie Potts and NBC News producer Nicole McManus e-mailed me the following on September 14 (published with permission):

I just ran across your June 16 article on my immigration story and thought I'd explain how the "uhs" appeared in Rep. Duncan Hunter's quote.
I report for TV -- not print. The article you saw is a local station's transcript of my broadcast story. Whoever transcribed it obviously did so verbatim, as you correctly note in your article. It's easy to edit "uhs" in print -- not so easy in broadcast. From a technical standpoint, unless there's a shot of the speaker at a different angle (which we often don't get), you can't make that type of edit at all.
So sorry - there's no conspiracy here to make Rep. Hunter look like "an illiterate fool," as you suggest. I actually chose that sound because I thought he made the point most succinctly and effectively. And apparently in that particular quote, Sen. Kennedy did not stumble (though I'll agree he does, and we all do, frequently.)
Why didn't I choose a sound bite where Rep. Duncan didn't stumble? I no longer have the transcript of his comments but assume it's because, on deadline, that's the best I had to choose from to represent his viewpoint. Believe me, we avoid "uhs" in broadcast whenever possible. With less than 90 seconds to tell the story, I don't have even a second to waste.
I appreciate your interest. You make a valid point but in this case, it's not applicable.
I'm not registered on Newsbusters.org, but in the name of journalistic integrity, I hope you'll post this information for your readers.
Tracie Potts
Correspondent, NBC News Channel
In addition to Tracie's note, I produced the audio/visual package and we verbate our sots, mainly for audio and video references for other NBC entities who often like to use portions of our package if it is not used in it's entirety. It's good to know exactly what someone says and how long it takes them to say it in broadcast pieces. The two sentences were stated back to back during Hunter's sound on tape (sot). If we changed it to take out the uh's, it would require an edit showing a cuts angle of his news conference (which was not available) or file video (which would not have made sense at that point in the package), would look awkward, and creates more unnecessary work under deadline. If you really read Duncan's quote, he changed thought mid sentence but conveyed his point directly. He almost has more substance then the Kennedy sot so to attribute this to liberal bias is a stretch indeed. It's good to know someone is paying attention, let's make sure it's attention on the right element the next time. If you notice the length of the quotes, it is quite possible that Kennedy did not stutter and in fact he did not at that moment (although you are right about that fact alone, that he tends to stumble with words). Thanks for reading this note and I assume you will correct your article.
By the way, did you notice on the link you provided that you could have watched the video package and actually seen the item you wrote about? It's still on there. You can take a look at it and see what I am referencing regarding Duncan's back to back sentences and Kennedy's as well.
Nicole McManus
NBC News Channel


Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.