Last (and first) things

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A couple of days ago, I compared the rate of first-person-singular pronoun use in Sarah Palin's July 3 resignation speech to the rates in some other historical speeches, including Richard Nixon's 1962 speech conceding the California governor's race to Pat Brown ("I again", 7/13/2009). That 1962 news conference is  widely known as the "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more" speech, and I referred to it that way. But I also linked to an mp3 file of the speech, and in a comment, Tim pointed out that Nixon actually says "You don't have Nixon to kick around any more".

On the web, Google has won't ahead of don't 915 to 393 — Bing scores it 297 to 27. (Either way, Arnold Zwicky's 7/27/2007 LL post on "Illeism and its relatives" is one of those that get it right).

This is not the only mistake in the New York Times' version ("Transcript of Nixon's News Conference on His Defeat by Brown in Race for Governor", NYT, 11/8/1962, p. 18), which describes itself as "the transcript of Richard M. Nixon's news conference yesterday in Los Angeles, as recorded by The New York Times through th efacilities of the A.B.C. radio network". Aside from normal editing, there's another interesting mistake in the same passage:

The audio, and my transcription:

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Last point.
I leave you gentlemen now
and uh you will now write it, you will interpret it, that's your right.
but as I leave you
uh I want you to know
just think how much you're going to be missing
you don't have Nixon to kick around any more
because gentlemen this is my last press conference

The NYT transcription (image of passage as printed):

The last play. I leave you gentlemen now and you will now write it. You will interpret it. That's your right. But as I leave you I want you to know- just think how much you're going to be missing.

You won't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference

[Let me note again, in passing, President Nixon's tendency to end phrases on a rising pitch. More on this in a later post...]

The two omitted uh's are normal editing, and the choices about punctuation and paragraphing are reasonable ones. But turning "The last point" into "the last play" is a more interesting and meaningful emendation. Play is more dramatic than point, and it might have been a better choice for Nixon to make, especially because it follows three other passages that he similarly introduces as "One last thing":

This was a man who was finding it hard to leave the stage.

But there's another, larger, difference between the archival audio and the NYT transcript, one that I find much harder to understand. Here's how the NYT starts out (click for image of passage as printed):

Good morning, gentlemen. Now that Mr. Klein has made his statement, and now that all the members of the press are so delighted that I have lost, I'd like to make a statement of my own.

I appreciate the press coverage in this campaign. I think each of you covered it the way you saw it. You had to write it in the way according to your belief on how it would go. I don't believe publishers should tell reporters to write one way or another. I want them all to be free. I don't believe the F.C.C. [Federal Communications Commission] or anybody else should silence [word lost in transmission].

I have no complaints about the press coverage. I think each of you was writing it as you believed it.

I congratulate Governor Brown, as Herb Klein has already indicated, for his victory.

Compare the audio and my transcript, from the beginning of the mp3 version at American Rhetoric:

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I have no complaints about the press coverage
I will never complain about it
I think that each of you were- was writing it as you believed it
and uh I want that always to be the case in America.
Now.
The other thing I want to say is this. I-
I congratulate Governor Brown,
as uh Herb Klein has already indicated, for his victory

[There are those final rises again...]

Here's a side-by-side comparison:

Good morning, gentlemen. Now that Mr. Klein has made his statement, and now that all the members of the press are so delighted that I have lost, I'd like to make a statement of my own.

I appreciate the press coverage in this campaign. I think each of you covered it the way you saw it. You had to write it in the way according to your belief on how it would go. I don't believe publishers should tell reporters to write one way or another. I want them all to be free. I don't believe the F.C.C. [Federal Communications Commission] or anybody else should silence [word lost in transmission].

[Before start of audio recording?]
I have no complaints about the press coverage. I have no complaints about the press coverage
[Missing from NYT transcript?] I will never complain about it
I think each of you was writing it as you believed it. I think that each of you were- was writing it as you believed it
[Missing from NYT transcript?] and uh I want that always to be the case in America.
[Missing from NYT transcript?] Now.
[Missing from NYT transcript?] The other thing I want to say is this.
I congratulate Governor Brown, as Herb Klein has already indicated, for his victory. I congratulate Governor Brown, as uh Herb Klein has already indicated, for his victory;

Before the phrase "I have no complaints about the press coverage", a passage is apparently missing from the audio recording — this is too bad, but it's a plausible thing to happen. But of the next seven breath-groups in the recording, numbers one, three, and seven are rendered more-or-less normally in the NYT transcript, while two, four, five, and six are entirely missing.

Did the stenographer drop her pencil? Has the recording at American Rhetoric been edited to interpolate passages from another speech? I'm genuinely puzzled.

Except for the strangeness at the start, the quality of this 1962 transcript is better than what I'm used to seeing in the newspapers recently. And nothing very important depends on the details of this case. But perhaps someone familiar with the methods used to create transcripts in the news business, a half a century ago, can suggest a solution.

[One last thing :-)...

President Nixon closes with a pathetic plea:

unlike some people
I have never cancelled a subscription to a paper
and also
I never will
I believe in reading
what my opponents say
and I hope that
what I have said today
will at least
make television, radio, the press
first
recognize the great responsibility they have
to report all the news

and second
recognize
that they have a right and a responsibility if they're against a candidate
to give him the shaft
but also recognize if they give him the shaft
to put one lonely reporter on the campaign
who will report what the candidate says now and then

So here, 47 years later, is my transcript of his news conference -- or at least the only part of it for which I could find a recording. I'm sure that there are some mistakes, since I did it in a hurry, but still, Dick, I tried.]



8 Comments

  1. Vijay John said,

    July 15, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    It actually sounded like "last play" (rather than "last point") to me when I listened closely to that recording. I could certainly be wrong, though. (I do, admittedly, have bad ears).

    [(myl) Try listening with headphones. I agree that the SNR is pretty bad on that syllable, and I can sort of force myself to hear "play" if I try -- but I think it's "point".]

    As for the more substantial excerpts missing from the NYT transcript, I noticed that when Nixon said "I will never complain about it," he appeared to be mostly just reaffirming what he had said in the previous sentence ("I have no complaints about the press coverage"). And the last three lines that are missing? Maybe the stenographer did drop her pencil, but again, Nixon didn't seem to be adding much new information in those lines.

    [(myl) There are plenty of redundant bits in the rest of the news conference, but nowhere else that the NYT transcript just leaves out whole phrases. So something out of the ordinary happened at the beginning. The fact that the recording at American Rhetoric is missing the beginning may offer a clue -- perhaps the NYT made a tape that was missing even more of the beginning, and had to reconstruct it from a reporter's notes? But this is not consistent with the note about "word lost in transmission". So I'm still puzzled.]

  2. Ransom said,

    July 15, 2009 @ 11:36 am

    In your transcription from American Rhetoric, you have Nixon saying "I will never complain about it", where my ear gives me "I've never complained about it".

    Just sayin'.

    [(myl) Really? http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/NC2.mp3

  3. Ransom said,

    July 15, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    Huh. I retract my previous statement.

    Seriously, though, I listened to it several times, and really thought it was the other way.

    [(myl) It's not surprising. What we hear is an amalgam of what we expect to hear and what comes in our ears, and the worse the signal quality, the easier it is for expectations to override it.]

  4. chronicle of wasted time » Nixon: a lesson in rhetoric said,

    July 15, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

    [...] Language Log has some comments on the 1962 NY Times transcript of the speech and links to the MP3, so you can hear the man himself. [...]

  5. Mark Feeney said,

    July 15, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

    That's a fascinating post. Something similar has been the case with Nixon's "I am not a crook" press conference, from Nov. 1973. It's almost always referred to that way, without the contraction–whereas in fact, if you watch the video (widely available on the Web), you'll hear that what he says is "Well, I'm not a crook." It's much more matter of fact that way, and thus sounds less like a flat-out assertion. Whether this common emendation is due to the ear preferring the latter, or that it *sounds* more characteristically Nixon, I don't know.

    It's worth pointing out that the "pathetic plea" you note at the end commences with a misstatement. On at least one occasion, Nixon *had* canceled a newspaper subscription, to The Washington Post. The reason, he said at the time, was that he didn't want his young daughters to come upon Herblock's political cartoons of Nixon, in which he invariably figured as a dark, ugly figure. That's certainly reasonable. But to lie about it, quite unnecessarily, several years later? Oy! As Jack Shafer, Slate's press critic has observed, Nixon is the gift that keeps on giving.

    Finally, there is a tape available of "the last press conference." I know this because a friend made it for me some years ago. But where he got it, I don't know. So at least in theory you could find out about those missing chunks.

  6. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 15, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    @Mark F., this is extra-linguistic, but re Herblock's depictions of Nixon, there's nothing new under the sun. If you're ever trying to figure out who's who in a political cartoon from late 18th century England, assume the guy with the obvious five o'clock shadow is supposed to be Charles James Fox. Or so I think I learned from the splendid coffee-table book Edmund Burke: A Life In Caricature.

  7. John Cowan said,

    July 16, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    I darkly suspect that the NYT may well have not transcribed the speech at all, but rather printed an advance copy of Nixon's remarks provided to them, in which case the deviations would be Nixon's rather than the paper's.

  8. Sili said,

    July 17, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

    It sound to me like /pɔɪ/ – I can't hear the /nt/. But compairing to "complaint" and "complain" it seems obvious that the diphthong can't be /ɛɪ/. Unless "play" is American is much odder than I'd expect it to be.

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