The White House’s Own Sourcing Problem

Much of the fury over the Newsweek article seems to be indignation at a reputable news outlet being sloppy over a source. Yet this indignation wholly forgets President Bush’s Castro misquotation last year, where he was so blinded by an anti-Cuba agenda that he wasn’t going to let a little thing like proper sourcing stop him:

A 7/16/04 speech by President Bush:

“We also face a problem only 90 miles off our shores, where the regime of Fidel Castro has turned Cuba into a major destination for sex tourism…The regime in Havana, already one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, is adding to its crimes. The dictator welcomes sex tourism. Here’s how he bragged about the industry. This is his quote, ‘Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world.’ He said that because sex tourism is a vital source of hard currency to keep his corrupt government afloat.”

On 7/20/04, only four days later, the Los Angeles Times did some investigating…


Inquiring into the White House’s source:

“Asked about the source for the quote, White House officials provided a link to a 2001 paper, written by [Charles] Trumbull, on the website of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy…Trumbull says the quote was probably a paraphrase of comments the Cuban leader made in 1992…But regardless of the exact wording, Trumbull says the president’s speech misconstrued the meaning, which he says should have been clear from his paper. ‘It shows that they didn’t read much of the article,’ Trumbull said in a telephone interview.”

The White House’s defense:

“[A]dministration officials acknowledged that they did not have a source for the wording of the president’s citation other than Trumbull’s paper. A White House spokeswoman defended the inclusion, arguing it expressed an essential truth about Cuba. ‘The president’s point in citing Castro’s quote was to highlight Castro’s morally corrupt attitude to human trafficking,’ White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said. She pointed to two other instances in which Castro boasted of the education level of Cuba’s prostitutes; in neither case was the context a direct promotion of sex tourism.”

How the fake quote made it through:

“The speech ‘was vetted the same way all the president’s speeches are vetted,’ [White House spokeswoman Claire] Buchan said, declining to provide details. A State Department official familiar with the matter said the Cuba material was added to the speech at the last minute. He said the White House contacted the department no more than a day before the speech and asked for material on human trafficking in Cuba. A quick search of the Internet turned up Trumbull’s paper; the official said there was inadequate time to find the original source for Castro’s quote.”

The real quote:

“The State Department official later found the original quote, which he acknowledged was much less succinct than the president’s version…’There are hookers, but prostitution is not allowed in our country,’ Castro told Cuba’s National Assembly in July 1992, according to a translation by the British Broadcasting Corp. ‘There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist. Those who do so do it on their own, voluntarily…. We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy, because we are the country with the lowest number of AIDS cases.’”

Public Reaction to the agenda setting:

“Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was one thing for an undergraduate to include an unsubstantiated quotation in a college paper, but it was another for the White House to include one in a presidential speech. ‘That’s incredibly sloppy, and it shows that when it comes to Cuba policy, they are willing to cut huge corners,’ Sweig said.”