C-SPAN posting inaccurate transcripts of Trump briefings -Updated

C-SPAN is publishing inaccurate transcripts of President Donald Trump's remarks during the vitally important national coronavirus task force daily briefings. 

Yes, really.

So Trump is being falsely attacked for what Trump never said (again).  The worst of it, lately, is Trump asking questions to scientists.  Those questions have been transformed into statements that Trump never made.  But as I endeavored to clear up the fog, I was shocked to discover that C-SPAN's textual transcripts are the source of the confusion.  The quotes that Trump-haters are throwing around happen to be accurate reports of the inaccurate C-SPAN transcript.

Not everyone knows that www.C-SPAN.org preserves a repository of video records of newsworthy events.  Not only can people watch events live on cable TV through C-SPAN, but if you missed it live, or want to study an event again, videos are available for viewing going back probably to 1995, searchable, of course.

Those inside the political loop know this.  Journalists are...well, in a hurry, shall we say.  And news outlets are hurting financially.  So when C-SPAN offers a textual transcript of the video, it is tempting when throwing together a newspaper article or television news script to simply lift the text transcript off the left-hand side of the screen at www.C-SPAN.org.  Why watch the actual video record?  It's so much faster in a rush just to use the "cheat sheet" version from C-SPAN.

On April 23, 2020, after Homeland Security's chief scientist, William Bryan, gave a presentation, Trump asked for clarification of the continuing future research that would be on-going.  See time segments 26:25–35:00 and 31:09–31:18 measured from the full video.

The actual transcript from the relevant segment (clip) on April 23, 2020 makes clear that (1) Trump never made any statements about anything, but merely asked the scientists to clarify (for the reporters' benefit) what further research the scientists would be working on in the future; (2) Trump was clearly discussing conversations with the scientists held before the briefing; (3) the discussion was about isopropyl alcohol, not bleach; (4) Trump repeatedly emphasized that all of this would require further research and testing; and (5) Trump said at the time, "Maybe it works.  Maybe it doesn't work."  Yet he is being attacked as claiming that he was instructing people to take specific treatments.

William Bryan concluded his remarks: We are also testing disinfectants readily available, we have tested bleach, we tested isopropyl alcohol on the virus specifically in saliva or respiratory fluids.  And... And I can tell you that bleach will kill the virus in 5 minutes.  Isopropyl alcohol will kill the virus in 30 seconds.  And that's with no manipulation.  No rubbing.  Just spraying it on and leaving it go.  You rub it and it goes away even faster.  We are also looking at other disinfectants.  We are specifically looking at COVID-19 virus in saliva.  This is not the end of our work as we continue to characterize this virus and integrate our findings into practical applications to mitigate exposure and transmission.  I would like to thank * * *

President Donald Trump jumped in: "So I will have a question that some of you are probably thinking about if you are totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting.  So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous uh, whether it is ultraviolet or just a very powerful light, and I think you said, that hasn't been checked but you're going to test it.  And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you are going to test that, too. Sounds interesting. 

And then I see the disinfectant, that knocks it out in a minute, 1 minute, and is there a way we can do something like that.  By injection, inside, or or almost a cleaning.  You see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs.  So it will be interesting to check that.  So that you're going to have to use medical doctors.  But it sounds interesting to me. So, we'll see.  The whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute. That is pretty powerful.

Trump addressing William Bryan during questions from reporters [Later at 31:09–31:18 from the full video]: 

Not injections.  We were talking about almost a cleaning.  A sterilization of an area.  Maybe it works.  Maybe it doesn't work.  But it certainly has a big effect if it's on a stationary object.

By contrast, the C-SPAN textual transcript says merely:

Here's a question that some of you are probably thinking about. Supposing we hit the body with the tremendous with her in his sight for are a very powerful light, and I think you said, that has been tested. What about the light inside of the body either through the skin or in some otAnd I think you said you would test to. Pres. Trump. And then I see the disinfectant, and is there a way we can do something like that. By injection inside. You say it's in the lungs, and there's a tremendous numbers. But it sounds interesting to me. The whole concept of the light, and one minute. That is pretty powerful.

The C-SPAN "cheat sheet" transcript presents the briefing out of context, and hides how clearly Trump was just speculating and talking purely about future research.

The video of the actual briefing shows that President Trump never made any claims or statements.  Trump never expressed any opinion about whether anything would work.  Trump merely teased out of the scientists at the briefing what further research they might be doing.  Trump not only emphasized that certain issues might be "interesting," but put it in the context of really obscure possibilities "So I will have a question that some of you are probably thinking about if you are totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting."  This was as far as one could get from Trump recommending anything.

Never has the president told anyone to take any medication or treatment.  Trump has merely given updates on what researchers are looking into.  (Perhaps he should be clearer.)  The attacks on Trump that he made any claims about treatments are scurrilous and defamatory.  But they are amplified by reporters and politicians spreading accurate repeats of an inaccurate transcript.

One action item:  The White House should be releasing its own transcript of White House events, not trusting any third party.  The White House should be routinely distributing citations, supporting documentation and sources for every statement the president makes.

Correction: Feb. 23 corrected to April 23.

Update: C-SPAN's director of communications, Howard Mortman responds:


Just some background on the process:

- We use the closed captioning immediately

- Because the closed captioning comes to us from a third party and is uncorrected and unofficial, we always warn the public and media to check what's in there against the video. Never copy and paste the closed captioning -- it's a guide only.

-The next day when the official transcript is posted we attach it to the video

-Sometimes the White House delays posting the official transcript as they did on the day you write about

-For us, that means we have to keep going back to check

-That's what happened in this case. 

-Now the official White House transcript is out and is attached to the video, like the other days

Please reach out to me anytime if you have questions about C-SPAN processes.  Happy to help explain, particularly before publishing... but after as well.

Jon Moseley responds:

C-Span's communication director informed American Thinker that the text version of televised events presented on www.C-Span.org (a) are not prepared by C-Span but by a third party, so they should not be understood as being C-SPAN produced material, (b) the text is generated for closed captioning purposes and is not presented as an accurate transcript, (c) C-SPAN views the text along the left side "as a guide only."  While this indicates that C-SPAN is not at fault, the author still believes that it is important for reporters and others to understand that the text version is not an accurate transcript.  The author still believes that political journalists -- notoriously in a rush and also inclined to think the worst of Republicans -- are at fault for failing to carefully listen to the actual briefing as presented on www.C-Span.org and should not mischaracterize what the president said.