Ethics Quiz: Alex or Alexis?

Actually, his friends called him "Alex"...

Actually, his friends called him “Alex”…

The Daily Caller believes it has caught the White House in an attempt to erase a Presidential gaffe from history:

“White House officials have quietly changed an official transcript to hide President Barack Obama’s embarrassing historical error during his international press conference with French President Francois Hollande. Obama’s error came when he misnamed Alexis de Tocqueville, a clear-eyed Frenchman who explained the subtle miracle of American culture and democracy in the 1830s. His book is a classic, partly because his insights about Americans’ social equality and civic society have become commonplace among centrists and conservatives. But Obama called him “Alex” in front of the French and U.S. press, and while facing banks of TV cameras. The White House’s official transcript, however, hides the presidential error by using the correct name. It now says that Obama declared: “Alexis de Tocqueville — that great son of France who chronicled our American democracy.

“Obama’s error was slight, but badly timed, partly because Obama is holding a state dinner for Hollande tonight.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Is the White House transcript alteration of the President’s shortened version of de Tocqueville’s first name a mere edit of a trivial and immaterial miscue by President Obama (ethical) or an attempted cover-up, as the Daily Caller argues, of “an embarrassment for a President who claims to have been a constitutional scholar, and a judicious student of American history” (unethical)?

My answer:

This kind of exorbitant distrust is what a President risks creating when he and his spokespersons have repeatedly attempted to deny or distort his recorded words as Obama and the White House has done, with Bengazi, with Syria, with Obamacare. Nevertheless, this distrust magnified by ill will. There is no reason to preserve this verbal hiccup; Obama calling Alexis “Alex” is neither damning, significant, meaningful, or interesting. This has to be one of the most desperate “gotchas” ever.



Source: Daily Caller

31 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Alex or Alexis?

  1. Isn’t it pretty common for White House stenographers to clean up the transcripts? Even if it is common, Obama has put himself in a position that these types of things may be questioned.

  2. Ethical. Alexis de Tocqueville is a semi tongue twister.

    Now if the history writers start saying that Obama said any number of other things than “you can keep your health insurance” that’d be unethical. We’ll have to see if they do that… oh wait…

  3. Well as much as I hate to do it, the President calling de Tocqueville “Alex” just makes him sound kind of dumb. I’m sure the French will have a field day with this but Obama can remind them of their relatively low medal count at Sochi. Or better yet, remind them of the Normandy invasion which I don’t believe the French had a significant number of troops landing in, except for some French-Canadians 😉

    • 1. It was more substantive than “Alex.”
      2. It was wildly and unfairly overplayed by the news media.
      3. Quayle was an proto-Palin, a whipping boy of the left-biased media who had a penchant for providing ammunition for cheap shots, minor gaffes that played into the media narrative that he was an idiot.
      4. If Quayle had authored Obama’s “57” states misspeak, for example, it would have been a three year story.
      5. Joe Biden says something as dumb or worse than anything Quayle ever did essentially daily, and is given a pass by today’s media.
      6. Both of them were horrible, reckless choices for VP.

      • This may be an urban myth, but the way I understood the “potato/potatoe” thing was that Quayle had a card that the teacher had given him with the word spelled “potatoe,” and that’s how the thing got started.

  4. On general principle I don’t like “cleaning up” transcripts. Again, inner scientist coming out- a transcript is supposed to be an accurate record of what is actually said, not a polished memoir of what was meant to be said. I’d have preferred to see it preserved as “Alex (SIC)” or “Alex [Alexis]” to keep the record accurate while noting the simple slip of the tongue. I don’t think this is any sort of signature unethical coverup, though, just a polishing of the record that goes against my inclinations but is probably business as usual in politics. What I find more unethical also is likely a prime motivator for this cleaning of the records- the endless desire to jump on every tongue twist, stumble, or misspeaking as a “gaffe” that shows… something, something BAD.

  5. I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree here.

    “That’s one small edit for [a] man; one giant lie to mankind.”

    I’ll stipulate that the change is “of a trivial and immaterial miscue by President Obama”.

    So what is the purpose of a transcript? One would think that it exists to document what was said . . . accurately.

    So if it’s trivial and immaterial (and I agree that it is), why bother changing it? Why not simply document “Alex” and let the record stand. Okay, the President mis-spoke during a live event. Big deal. If they want to make sure the public knows that the President doesn’t REALLY think that “Alex” was the correct name, then document it as “Alex [sic] de Tocqueville ” or “Alex* de Tocqueville” with a footnote clarifying that is was a minor error.

    As you’ve written many times here (usually in reference to President Clinton), little lies of no consequence have significance because they erode our trust in the person that he or she won’t lie when there ARE consequences.

    Let the facts of the event stand in the official documented account, unedited and unparaphrased.



    • We share sentiments about the role of a transcript and the proper way to note the actual words said while making it clear that it was a minor verbal misstep. I’m simply less inclined to rule it unethical, and more inclined to rule it irritating and not how I’d do it but understandable- it DOES make transcripts more readable to have them cleaned up, after all.

  6. Well Dan Quayle got a J.D. degree from Indiana University so he *can’t* be that dumb, right? 😉 The “Potatoe” incident imho was a “tempest in a teapot”. His biggest mistake was the “Murphy Brown speech” which pissed off feminists across the land. Candice Bergen herself said “. . . his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did.”

  7. I agree that on its own this is a minor lapsus, and correcting it is irrelevant… BUT the Administration’s record of deceit makes it a target. Just for tactical reason’s I’d have let the error stand in the transcript. Opponents would use it against Obama either way, but accusing him of ignorance is grasping at straws, while accusing him of changing the record is an accurate – while unfair – characterization.

    • It’s the record of deciet which bothers me. The administration has shown that they will edit, erase, and undo every single thing which doesn’t appear to support the meme of the president’s perfection, from small to large. His slip of the tounge is inconsequential, I feel – the editing of the transcript is part of an ongoing whitewashing (oops – I’m a racist now) of the president. The Winstons over at Minitrue must be stopped, and that does mean calling them out on the little fibs as well as the whoppers.

  8. I am sure that 100 years or so from now, it will be OK for some head of state to say “Barry Obama,” and have the transcript corrected without reflecting badly on the mis-speaker.

    Nah, never mind – I’m dreaming – the cry of “RACISM!” will never die.

  9. Even I know about Alexis de Tocqueville and Democracy in America and I am neither POTUS or any sort of politician.
    Plus a little bit of common sense and you would be thinking, no Frenchman in 1830 is called “Alex”.
    Perhaps Alexis, perhaps Alexandre, but Alex…nah.
    But that would mean you know something about history and other cultures; which since they are white AND French means Obama isn’t interested.
    I’m sure all of Europe is still snickering over that baffoonery.
    Imagine if Pres. Bush would have said it.

    • Of course if Bush had said it it would be because he was a bumbling dolt worthy of being flayed alive for backwaters rube ignorance. Hell, evidence of his collosal incompetence at being any elected official, let alone president.

      Of course, Obama saying it is just proof of how calm and erudite he is; so cool and hip he can use de Tocqueville’s lesser known nickname used only by friends and close associates.

      • Which is more or less what I was saying about the ridiculous “gaffe” hunting that goes on. Of course most of the media give Obama a pass and would have been on Bush like dead on Elvis, but there are those who are against Obama who give this (the misspeaking, not the cleanup) some sort of significance about his abilities or his intelligence, like they did wth “57 states.”

        It’s why I never want to be a politician. I enjoy being able to have something obviously wrong come out of my mouth and say “Whoops- obviously I didn’t mean THAT, slip of the tongue” and have the reply be “yeah, I figured” and not “GOTCHA”

        • There’s capitalizing on gaffes in a destructive manner and there’s capitalizing on gaffes for a lighthearted laugh amongst professionals.

          I suspect more of the former goes on than the latter. And both sides do it, I’d love to see a survey of history to see where it began in our political arena… Where the initial seeds of distrust and get you for anything culture was born.

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