On October 17 2019, a Twitter user shared the following NBC News screenshot, purportedly showing its misattribution of commentary made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts):
The tweet said the following:
NBC took one of Bernie’s best quotes from the debate and attributed it to Warren. Totally shameless.
Multiple mainstream outlets are doing this. At least 3 of them. How does this happen? One is a mistake, but various ones doing it???? https://t.co/U9QkcKmbLOQuotes from the writings of Barack Obama-Truth! & Fiction!Quotes from the writings of Barack ...
— Secular Talk🎙 (@KyleKulinski) October 17, 2019
NBC and NY Mag attributed Bernie's best debate quotes to Elizabeth Warren… and Boston dot com did *even more* of Bernie's quotes. What the hell is this?? https://t.co/FCnG5PPfJ3
— Secular Talk🎙 (@KyleKulinski) October 17, 2019
Finally, @CANCEL_SAM shared video of Sen. Sanders speaking:
Another Facebook user shared the circulating screenshot on October 18 2019. A commenter said that the error was not present on the linked NBC News article, blaming overzealous Sanders fans for the social media controversy:
THIS IS FUCKING SHAMELESS PHOTOSHOP PEOPLE, COME ON!! That’s a fucking photoshop, the actual NBC article has the correct warren quote and you can go see it there right now. Godsdamned I hate the reddit factory side of the bernie campaign.
It was true that on October 18 2019, the error was not immediately visible on the NBC News item, but the ire of the comment was almost certainly misplaced. The relevant portion appeared to have been replaced entirely, with a correction added to the bottom of the article:
CORRECTION (Oct. 17, 2019, 3:10 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misattributed a quotation from Elizabeth Warren about “a corrupt and unfair system.” She did not say, “I get a little bit tired — I must say — of people defending a system which is dysfunctional, which is cruel, 87 million uninsured, 30,000 people dying every single year.” Bernie Sanders said that. The incorrect quotation has been removed from this article and one from Warren has been added.
Another organization linked on Twitter was New York Magazine, which as of October 21 2019 correctly attributed the quote to Sanders. It too bore a correction at the end, but it did not show a time or a date:
Note: this post originally attributed a debate statement made by Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren, due to an error in the Washington Post transcript. It has been corrected.
Corrections added to both NBC News and New York Magazine‘s articles showed that they did in actuality both misattribute the Sanders quote to Warren. The quote originally read:
I get a little bit tired — I must say — of people defending a system which is dysfunctional, which is cruel, 87 million uninsured, 30,000 people dying every single year, 500,000 people going bankrupt for one reason, they came down with cancer.
Boston.com also featured an undated correction on their article with the misattribution:
Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote by Sen. Bernie Sanders to Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It has been updated to correct the mistake.
As for how three sites all made the same error, it appeared the reason for that lay in an archived October 15 2019 Washington Post article, published at 11:18 PM. The context of that early misattribution looked as though it may have been an unintentional — but significant — error:
[Moderator Marc] LACEY: Senator Sanders, do you want to respond to — we were coming to you.
[Elizabeth] WARREN: I get a little bit tired — I must say — of people defending a system which is dysfunctional, which is cruel, 87 million uninsured, 30,000 people dying every single year, 500,000 people going bankrupt for one reason, they came down with cancer.
I will tell you what the issue is here. The issue is whether the Democratic Party has the guts to stand up to the health care industry, which made $100 billion in profit, whether we have the guts to stand up to the corrupt, price-fixing pharmaceutical industry, which is charging us the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
And if we don’t have the guts to do that, if all we can do is take their money, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
LACEY: Thank you, Senator Sanders.
An October 19 2019 capture of the same page updated the transcript to reflect that this quote came from Sanders, not Warren. Other than a notation at the very end of a very long transcript noting that it had been updated, readers of the page unaware of the hubbub over the misattribution would be none the wiser.
Claims that at least four news organizations misattributed the same Sen. Bernie Sanders quote to Sen. Elizabeth Warren were accurate when posted, but might have seem inaccurate to users who clicked through to updated pages. On October 15 2019, the Washington Post published a transcript of the debate, misattributing Sanders’ response.
That led to three other large news organizations uncritically repeating the misattribution, with one of the four posting a time and date-stamped correction. Two of the four noted the specific error without a time or date, and the original (Washington Post) only said the transcript had been “updated.” Sharp-eyed readers correctly noted the later-corrected misattribution, and later confusion over who said what seemed to stem from a vague update rather than a clear correction of the error on its first and most prominent iteration.