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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 04:49 PM ET, 01/03/2012

NPR on Santorum: ‘No reason’ to doubt veracity

NPR’s Ted Robbins and a producer were right there in the room when Rick Santorum starting talking about entitlement reform. They were preparing for a story on Santorum’s perfectly timed rise in the Iowa polls.

The resulting coverage aired yesterday on NPR, and it features a highlight of Santorum reaching for rhetorical splendor, invoking a “free” America. Then Robbins narrates:

For Santorum, that means cutting government regulation, making Americans less dependent on government aid, fewer people getting food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of federal assistance, especially one group.

At that point, NPR played some audio of Santorum at the campaign event. This is how NPR heard the audio:

”I don’t want 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 and provide for themselves and their families.”

Robbins then resumes his narration, saying, “Santorum did not elaborate on why he singled out blacks who rely on federal assistance. The voters here didn’t seem to care.”

A possibility: Voters there didn’t seem to care because they didn’t hear Santorum “single out blacks” or anyone else. Listen to Santorum’s words in the clip below. Then listen again. And again. Honest, I am not scheming to boost my employer’s time-on-site metrics.

Did he say black? Or, as this site suggests, did he say the following?

“I don’t want to make [pause] lives, people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

Now listen again with that possibility in mind.

The more times you cycle through, the clearer it becomes that Rick Santorum didn’t, in fact, make a racial gaffe in talking about entitlement reform. He didn’t say “black,” but rather a clumsily stated hybrid of “p-lives” or something along those lines. And when NPR’s Robbins said that Santorum didn’t “elaborate” on his singling out blacks, he was referring to Santorum’s remarks before the voters; Robbins wasn’t able to corner him afterward to ask followup questions about the apparent racial element of his talk.

NPR, an outlet that knows audio, isn’t backing away from its interpretation. “We have no reason to think that’s not what he said,” writes Anna Christopher, NPR’s director of media relations. CBS, which also aired the “black” version, hasn’t responded to questions.

And that’s where the story may well end. The Santorum campaign, after all, doesn’t appear to have made a priority of attacking the racial angle. Writes Christopher: “We haven’t been contacted by the campaign. We were out covering Santorum again yesterday, and will be back on the trail again today.” Nor did Santorum help his own cause in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. “I haven’t heard it,” said Santorum, referring to his taped remarks. He then defended his record on racial issues.

Santorum concludes, “This is just someone trying to cause trouble.”

Actually, it’s not that, either. It’s a reporter who honestly hears something and reports it. To understand how he reached that conclusion, just listen to the tape. To understand how it appears to be a mistake, listen again and again.

Just what prompted Santorum to address federal handouts in the first place? In response to that question, Christopher writes, “Ted tells me that a man in the audience asked what Santorum would do to stop foreign economic influence in the U.S. (citing a Coke can with a polar bear on it as evidence).”

By  |  04:49 PM ET, 01/03/2012

 
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