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Friday, November 19, 2010

Fake Quotations

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently quoted Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

While we're at it, Abraham Lincoln did not say -- as Barack Obama claimed in 2008 -- "If you stop telling lies about me, I'll start telling truth about you." Nor did Alexis de Tocqueville ever assert, as Bill Clinton often said: "America is great because America is good." Edmund Burke said many interesting things, but not, as John F. Kennedy reported: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And Harry Truman certainly wouldn't have libeled the nation's capital, despite frequent citations by those who ought to know better, by proclaiming: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

So U.S. presidents pass along counterfeit quotes, and inaccurate quotes are often attributed to presidents, as well. Sometimes laziness is to blame. Frequently, the culprit is ideological blinders, as people employ all this fake Lincoln, false Twain, imagined Tocqueville, made-up Burke, and fictional Truman for perceived partisan advantage. Often, however, the purloined quotes don't sound remotely like the famous personage in question.