Justin Sink, "Santorum denies making a racial comment on welfare", The Hill 1/5/12:
Iowa runner-up Rick Santorum said Thursday that he would be "a much bigger player" than expected in the New Hampshire primary and denied saying that he didn't want "to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money."
Santorum allegedly made the controversial comments when discussing welfare in an interview Wednesday night with Fox News, but he maintained that people misheard the word "black" when he stumbled on a word.
“I looked at that, and I didn't say that. If you look at it, what I started to say is a word and then sort of changed and it sort of — blah — came out. And people said I said ‘black.’ I didn't," Santorum said.
Here's the passage in question:
|Santorum:||They're just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you
dependent upon them so they can get your vote.
That's what the bottom line is. I don't want
to- to make
((black)) people's lives better by giving them
somebody else's money —
I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money
|Santorum:||and provide for themselves and their families.|
Here's how Senator Santorum explained himself to Bill O'Reilly:
|Santorum:||I- I looked at that
and I didn't say that.
Uh if you look at it what I- what I started to say is a word and it sort of changed and it sort of bleugh came out and
people said I said "black", I didn't. No one in that audience
and I've talked to a lot of people …
|O'Reilly:||No we looked at it, and it is a little blurry …|
Here's a close-up of the phrase in question:
It is indeed "a little blurry" — in particular, the vowel seems closer to [ɑɪ] as in "Bligh" than to [æ] as in "black". Senator Santorum's explanation is also a little blurry — he tells us that "what I started to say is a word and it sort of changed", but he doesn't tell us what that word was.
One plausible theory is that he started to say "black" and used the vowel in "lives", as an ordinary sort of anticipatory speech error, perhaps enhanced by a sudden doubt about whether it was a good idea to bring race into the discussion. I don't see any other obvious source for the [bl] part of what he said. He offers "bleugh" (sp?) as a candidate, but that's not the sort of thing that we hear him sprinkling randomly through his stump speeches.
But when a public figure says something indistinct that might be interpreted in a politically damaging way, and then denies the damaging interpretation, it seems reasonable to give him the benefit of the doubt.