Quotation mark abuse

I saw this implausible headline at the Huffington Post today:

Santorum: Separation Of Church And State ‘Makes Me Want To Throw Up’

It’s pretty obvious Rick Santorum wouldn’t say something like that, so I clicked through to see what he actually said. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Santorum said:

Well, yes, absolutely, to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?

Alana Horowitz, the author of the HuffPo piece, reprocesses Santorum’s statement — that people of faith ought to be permitted to participate in the public debate — into opposition to the separation of church and state. Perhaps the two propositions are the same to her; perhaps she believes that separation of church and state does require religious people to remain silent, but that doesn’t give her license to write her own extreme views into a quotation.

In fact, even the part of the quote that lies within quotation marks — the part that is supposed to be a direct quote — isn’t verbatim.

Horowitz’s abuse of quotation marks doesn’t end there. In the article, in order to get “separation of church and state” into the same quote as “throw up”, she uses a very creative ellipsis:

“The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country…to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.”

The ellipsis hides the fact that these were two different statements made in response to two different questions. She deletes twelve sentences of Santorum explaining what he meant, a new question from Stephanopoulos, and the beginning of Santorum’s answer to the new question, and she puts it together with a lower case letter as if it had been all one sentence.

POSTSCRIPT: The ultimate context of this was a remark made by Santorum that John Kennedy’s 1960 speech on his religion almost made Santorum throw up. I could understand the sentiment (although throwing up still seems a little strong) if Kennedy had really been saying that faith had no place in the public debate. I guess Santorum reads the speech that way, but I don’t. I read the speech to say that politicians should not take orders from clergy, which seems like a very different proposition, and one I agree with.

I’m confident Kennedy meant it that way, because, in historical context, this speech was pure politics. Kennedy was running for president and needed to defuse the “Catholic issue”, so his purpose was to reassure Protestants that he would not take orders from the Catholic Church. His intent was certainly not to tell them to keep their faith out of the public debate, because it would not have served his political purposes to do so.

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