When the White House official transcript is wrong — and how it gets fixed

Anytime President Obama speaks publicly, a transcript of what he says is published.  The transcriptions are compiled by official presidential stenographers who travel with Obama. The finished products are then disseminated to the press. The transcripts are both historical record and fact-checking help for reporters. This is a good thing.


But, like the rest of us, stenographers make mistakes too.

On Tuesday, President Obama dismissed Russia as a "regional power" that is not the U.S.'s most urgent security threat. It was a phrase that reporters and others seized on. The transcript, however, referred to Russia as a "region of power," significantly changing the meaning of Obama's statement.  The White House worked quickly to correct the mistake, sending out a corrected transcript. The transcribers have been working at a feverish pace during Obama's trip to Europe this week, transcribing dozens of events and disseminating them to the press.

Six stenographers work in the White House, performing a job officials and the press see as crucial. The number who accompany Obama on trips varies, but more tend to go abroad. They transcribe from a live feed. The transcriptions are sent by the White House press office but not typically proofed. But in an age where Obama's words are live-streamed and ricochet at lightning speed on Twitter and other social media platforms, an incorrect transcription of a key phrase garners notice.

It's not the first time an official transcription has been corrected. In 2011, the official transcript showed Obama taking a dig at Washington, D.C. "I'm mad living here a little bit," a transcript of Obama's remarks at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony read, according to USA Today. It was corrected the next day - Obama actually said "I'm ad-libbing here a little bit."

Sometimes, the official transcript makes the president look better than he did while delivering his remarks. After bungling the spelling of the word respect while introducing Aretha Franklin, according to The Hill, the transcript spelled the word correctly.

 

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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