The Transcript Isn’t A Transcript

The White House said it was going to release a transcript of the phone call between Trump and President Zelenskyy of the Ukraine. They’ve now released a document, but the document itself gives us a pretty strong warning that should give us all pause about how this disclosure is being reported:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty “Officers and-NSC policy staff assigned t_o listen.and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. A numper of factors can affect ‘the accuracy of the record, including poor telecommunications connections and variations in accent and/or interpretation.

The word “inaudible” is used to indifate portions of a conversation that the notetaker was unable to hear.

Nonetheless, USA Today gives us this:

Trump administration releases transcript of call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky amid impeachment inquiry

CBS News gives us this:

Trump call transcript shows he pressed Ukrainian president to probe Biden — live updates

CNBC’s article is headlined:

Trump authorizes release of transcript of controversial Ukraine call that mentioned Joe Biden

And no less than that vaunted bastion of journalism, the NY Times writes their headline without any ambiguity:

Transcript: Trump’s Call With the Ukrainian President

Forbes, of all sycophantic outlets, is actually the voice of reason and caution here, despite calling the document a “transcript” in the headline:

Trump’s Ukraine Transcript Reportedly Won’t Contain Entire Conversation

What Forbes says is actually a fair summary of the problem

President Trump said he would release the “complete” and “unredacted transcript” of his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Wednesday, but multiple reports state that what gets released is unlikely to be word-for-word, per longstanding White House rules.

  • According to Reuters, White House rules on phone calls between the president and a foreign leader would likely mean a transcript would be put together from notes taken by several U.S. officials who listened in.
  • The note-takers are typically National Security Council or Central Intelligence Agency officials.
  • The final official document of a phone call can range from what looks like a word-for-word transcript, a memo or a short summary.
  • And the Washington Post reported that Trump is unlikely to have tape recordings of the phone call. Recordings have not been made since the 70s.

So when you hear that a “transcript” has been released, don’t believe it. Maintain your skepticism. There may very well be no recording back to which we can compare Trump’s document and every single person involved in the preparation of the document we do have answers solely and ultimately to Trump. If in conversations with others who refer to it as a transcript, it might be useful and appropriate, depending on context, to correct the “transcript” language of the person or persons with whom you’re speaking.

And if they doubt you, refer them right back to the official warning on the actual document released:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.