A screw-up (mine)

About half an hour ago I put up a post (“Did CNN edit out a bit about the Jews from Martin Luther King’s last speech?”) about Martin Luther King’s famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech, comparing a transcript from CNN with an “authenticated” one from American Rhetoric. As the website FirstOne Through noticed, the former had left out a bit about the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, taking this to mean that CNN had a bias against Israel or Zionism and deliberately edited out the passage.  I did a “compare documents” for the two transcripts, and while I found some changes in wording between them, I couldn’t find an omission as big as the removal of the phrase about the Exodus. So I left the CNN omission as a mystery, possibly, but not strongly, suggesting an anti-Israel bias.

Greg Mayer did a similar comparison, but using a better version of “compare documents” that shows all three documents (the two originals and the highlighted differences) in a single window, and found a number of disparities between the CNN and American Rhetoric transcript, mostly involving omissions of stuff from CNN that appeared in the “authenticated” transcript. As Greg wrote me:

Regarding the “Mountain Top” speech draft, the CNN transcript lacks a number of lines, scattered throughout the text– involving Greeks, sanitation workers, Vanderbilt University, etc.– that indicate there was no animus in the errors (assuming American Rhetoric is a correct transcript). The CNN transcript includes named mentions of Jews— “Amos”, the “Levites”— while the “redacted” bit is only an allusion.

The guy at First One Through may most charitably be viewed as paranoid.

Clearly I didn’t do due diligence in the comparison, so I’ve taken that down that post and apologize if you had to read it. CNN’s treatment of the speech must be regarded as slipshod and inaccurate, but there’s no indication of malfeasance or anti-Zionism.


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 7, 2020 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    It’s good to be made aware of this – and I thought the original post was fully in the form of a serious question, with substantive material presented, so in the total sum, it was effective.

  2. BobTerrace
    Posted September 7, 2020 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    What I don’t understand is why they edited it at all. They didn’t save paper; since digital photons are not costly.

    MLK made a speech; you either publish it or not. If they want brevity, then truncate it or take out an entire section.

    • BJ
      Posted September 7, 2020 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Some lowly intern probably copy-pasted it from the wrong website. Things like making sure your information is accurate aren’t exactly top priorities at news outlets these days. It’s all about churning out as much material as quickly as possible with as few resources dedicated to it as possible.

  3. bill
    Posted September 7, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    the first one through site guy doesn’t seem paranoid to me, more a bad faith rhetorician defending things tough to defend. for instance, according to him, i can’t be against (sorry, ‘hate’) israeli policy without being anti-semitic.

    i am critical of much of the religion, including the founding of ancient israel as told in the bible. the modern founding was much better, substituting ethnic cleansing for genocide. i see folks of jewish descent as intrinsically no different from anyone else and share these objections with some of them, but we’re all antisemitic according to this fellow.

  4. BJ
    Posted September 7, 2020 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    It takes a strong person to admit mistakes, especially so publicly. This is one of the reasons I appreciate you and your website. You’re willing to update your views with new information and to admit errors when you make them.

  5. Caldwell Titcomb IV
    Posted September 7, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    It’s true that CNN dishonestly removed the phrase “and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt” from the middle of a sentence, but it’s not true that CNN’s version “is sanitized of its Jewish essence”.

    • Posted September 7, 2020 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Well, they didn’t necessarily remove it, which was my point. It could just be an incompetent transcriber who didn’t write it down.

  6. Posted September 7, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    MLK’s “mountaintop” speech, although lacking the raw emotional power of his “dream” speech, is so poignant and eerie in seemingly foreshadowing his death the day before it happened.

  7. Posted September 7, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The only way to appreciate that speech is to watch recordings of King’s performance. It was his last speech, as he was assassinated the following day. Previously, his home was bombed, his family was threatened, and he was physically assaulted and stabbed, yet never before did a single word that would imply his impending death ever escape his lips. That came to end when he gave this speech. Of chilling importance is how his expression changed toward the end of the speech, and he blinked heavily at times, perhaps fighting back tears that he didn’t allow to fall. That’s when he spoke the final part of the speech that would become the last one he would ever give. He was assassinated the next day. Personally, I believe he knew time was running out.

    The following is from Wikipedia:
    “Toward the end of the speech, King refers to threats against his life and uses language that prophetically foreshadowed his impending death, but reaffirming that he was not afraid to die:

    Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

    To heck with transcripts. Watch it. King was both inspiring and chilling at the same time.

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