Obama was misquoted, but will it matter?

Comments Barack Obama made on Tuesday were reportedly taken out of context, but the remark is still being used to further a growing narrative that he is "arrogant."

Published July 30, 2008 3:15PM (EDT)

Say what you will about Karl Rove, but even as a TV pundit the man is able to influence an election. It has been only a little over a month since Rove called presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama "arrogant" on Fox News. Now, in the wake of Obama's Berlin speech and trip throughout the Middle East and Europe, Rove's accusation is developing into a major narrative about Obama. Both the media and the McCain campaign have been suggesting recently that Obama is an overconfident, pompous and, yes, arrogant candidate. Of course, as is so often true when narratives like this develop, sometimes the "evidence" for the charge is not as convincing as it seems.

At first glance, a post published Tuesday evening on the Trail, one of the Washington Post's blogs, appeared to support that meme. Jonathan Weisman, writing about a closed-door meeting Obama held with House Democrats on Tuesday, reported, "Perhaps [Obama]'s beginning to believe the hype ... According to a witness, [Obama] was waxing lyrical about last week's trip to Europe, when he concluded, 'this is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for' ... The 200,000 souls who thronged to his speech in Berlin came not just for him, he told the enthralled audience of congressional representatives ... 'I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,' he said."

Pretty damning evidence, right? Sure, assuming the quote hadn't been taken completely out of context. As Time's Mark Halperin and ABC News' Jonathan Karl both reported, according to a Democratic source who was present at the meeting, Obama wasn't actually speaking about himself, but about America. Halperin quotes the source as saying that the "entire point of [Obama's] riff was that the campaign IS NOT about him. The Post left out the important first half of the sentence, which was something along the lines of: 'It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol.'"

Of course, the simple fact that the quote isn't accurate isn't going to stop some on the right -- and in the media -- from using it as fuel for the emerging narrative about Obama. On NBC's First Read blog, Mark Murray and Chuck Todd write:

Regardless of the context now, this narrative has been ready to explode at some point and even a misreported quote was enough to spark this arrogance watch. Some see him violating the cardinal sin of politics, acting as if this campaign is about him. He needs to remember that he's latching on to the anti-Bush coattails; any Democrat would be up right now.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz. War Room