Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Reporters and Quotes

First off, I admit I am not perfect; mistakes of spelling, grammar, and fact slip past me, sometimes making it all the way into print (and more than a few of them make it into my blog, but I still hold that I have different processes going on in my mind and eye when writing vs. editing, and I don't edit my blog too closely).

That said, sometimes I wonder about the state of my profession these days.

Over the past few days, there have been a lot of articles about the new flag the Coalition Provisional Authority is floating for Iraq [ BBC | AP (via Salon) | The Guardian | al Jazeera | The Globe and Mail | Daily Farce (satire) | Muslim Wake Up! (satire) ]. Most of the commentary, such as the article from The Globe and Mail, have been pretty good with explaining vexillology, the old flag, and the new flag, but the initial AP report by Lee Keath claimed that Saddam Hussein addاللهُ أَكْبَر to the old Iraqi flag in the 1980s:
The old Iraq flag had red and black bands across the top and bottom, and a white band in between with three green stars. During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, Saddam added the words "Allahu akbar" to boost the religious credentials of his secular regime.
But the addition was actually made in 1991, just prior to the first Gulf War. Later reports fixed the error, but many papers seem to have only run the original AP report.

It should have been a simple thing to fact check (especially since the argument about boosting religious credentials was something Saddam needed when facing Coalition forces in 1991, not during the Iran-Iraq War -- at that point it was his secularism that was drawing support from Washington).

The other one that made me stop and wonder was in an article (subscription required) by Patrick Day in the 19 April Los Angles Times (I picked up a copy while in Las Vegas):
Revenge may be a dish best served cold, according to the Klingon proverb, but apparently a single serving is all moviegoers wanted this weekend, as "Kill Bill Vol. 2" easily beat "The Punisher" for the top place at the box office, according to estimates released Sunday.
Okay, I admit I didn't immediately place the origin of "revenge is a dish best served cold" -- it's from Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses: "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid." -- but I knew it wasn't originally Klingon.

It was a throw-away lede that attempted to be cute (something I tend to dislike anyway), but still. Revenge is central to both Kill Bill and The Punisher, but the Klingon reference did nothing for that theme or the story. Instead it seems the author (or editor) never bothered to track down the originator of the quote.

And, by the by, the Klingon version is bortaS bIr jablu'DI', reH QaQqu' nay' ("When cold revenge is served, the dish is always very good"), according to the Klingon Imperial Diplomatic Corps message boards. And to totally geek out about it, in pIqaD, the phrase is (using the KlingonTNG TrueType font) BORTAS BIR JABLU'DI', REH QAQKU' NAY'.

[ADDENDUM: Margaret pointed out in the comments that the connection of Klingons and serving suggestions for revenge was made in the opening of Kill Bill Vol. 1, so I there is a reason for the connection in the LA Times article. Also, it looks AP movie writer David Germain addressed the quote-sourcing issue when Vol. 1 came out.]

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