Talking Points Memo Still Hyping Possibly Imaginary Rick Santorum Gaffe

ryan reilly Talking Points Memo Still Hyping Possibly Imaginary Rick Santorum Gaffe

Mr. J. Reilly.

Talking Points Memo reporter-blogger-videographer Ryan J. Reilly believes he caught former Pennsylvania senator and liberal whipping boy Rick Santorum in an incendiary gaffe during the GOP debate Monday night. “Rick Santorum Explains How GOP Can Attract ‘Illegal Vote — I Mean Latino — Voters’ (VIDEO),” screams the headline on the story, which was picked up by the Huffington Post and repeatedly promoted on Twitter by Mr. Reilly, TPM publisher Josh Marshall, and on the blog’s official feed.

But upon a casual listen, Mr. Santorum’s quote is ambiguous at best. In fact, it sounds like Mr. Santorum merely stumbled over his words and said, nonsensically, “the legal voters,” then immediately corrected himself to say “Latino voters.”

After criticism from the peanut gallery, TPM appended an editor’s note: “Some viewers contend that Santorum said ‘the legal’ and not ‘illegal'”–but didn’t change the headline on the post, which was retweeted more than 100 times and appreciated on Facebook almost 600 times.

One TPM reader, an NYU linguistics Ph.D candidate, mapped the sound waves of Mr. Santorum saying “illegal” earlier in the debate versus the disputed quote in the clip, and calls it a “slam dunk” for the more charitable interpretation. Mr. Santorum’s pronunciation of “illegal” is shorter than the quote in question, the student, Simon Charlow, wrote in an email to The Observer. He also noted that the quote in question is marked by a drop in amplitude at the beginning consistent with the word “the,” and goes on:

Additionally, “legal” for “Latino” seems a marginally more likely speech error than “illegal” for “Latino”, since “legal” and “Latino” both start with [l]. By my lights, the only way to conclude that he said “the illegal” instead of “the legal” is an utter lack of charity—or hackery.

Most importantly, the vast majority of speech errors don’t reflect the latent intentions of the speaker at all! Instead, speech errors have to do with things like phonological priming and the workings of the human motor system. Attributing significance to speech errors, which have none, is hackery.

“Altogether, it’s overwhelmingly likely that Santorum said ‘the legal’ and not ‘illegal,'” he said.

The Observer is no expert on phonetics, but we’d hedge Mr. Reilly isn’t either.

“I listened to it several times and believe he says ‘illegal’ based both on his previous pronunciation of the word ‘illegal’ and the context of the statement,” Mr. Reilly wrote in an email. “Saying Perry is giving benefits to ‘illegal’ immigrants to attract ‘legal’ voters simply doesn’t make sense. As we noted, some readers disagreed. And it was for that reason that we added an editor’s note to that effect and encouraged people to listen for themselves. We stand by the story.”

Here’s the tape:

Comments

  1. ZebZ says:

    Grinding water or wordsmithing for something to do