Quotation Mark Defense Pins Trump Lies On Bad Punctuation

The talking heads are attacking Spicer for all the wrong reasons.
03/16/2017 12:38 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2017

Donald Trump didn’t lie when he tweeted about being wiretapped by President Obama.

He just got the punctuation wrong.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to make this clear when he launched the Quotation Mark Defense (“QMD”). Spicer pointed out how Trump’s use of quotation marks around the words “wire tapped” changed the entire meaning of the tweets.

Last night, Trump confirmed that Spicer was on the right track with the QMD. Employing the familiar four-finger air-quote gesture, Trump explained that “wiretap covers a lot of different things.” That should be the end of it, right?

Unfortunately, no. Spicer’s explanation, now officially endorsed by Trump, is still being widely ridiculed.

But the talking heads are attacking Spicer for all the wrong reasons.

Spicer doesn’t deserve scorn because the QMD was ridiculous. Or because he’s an idiot. If he’s to be faulted at all, it should be for not taking the QMD far enough.

Spicer should have walked the press through a full correction of the punctuation of Trump’s tweets. If he had, even the most rabid Trump hater would have been forced to admit that Trump’s tweets were getting a bad rap.

As an erstwhile English major, I will now demonstrate how correcting the punctuation in Trump’s tweets reveals that media’s obsession with the so-called “truth” is really much ado about nothing.

Here are the tweets properly punctuated, with helpful interpretative “clues” (I’m also a trained “lawyer”) showing how making just a few minor changes in punctuation changes everything. The helpful clues are in brackets:

  • Terrible! “Just” [six weeks ago] “found out” [remembered] that “Obama” [or somebody else] “had” [might have heard about] “my” [somebody else’s] “wires tapped” [already explained by Spicer] “in” [probably near] “Trump Tower” [or someplace else] just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

  • How low has “President Obama” [or somebody who worked in government while Obama was President] gone to “tapp” [notice] “my” [foreign intelligence officers’] “phones” [or speeches and written communications] “during” [or before or after] the very “sacred” [rigged] “election process” [that I won]. This is Nixon/Watergate. “Bad (or sick)” [in the way hipsters use the words “bad” and “sick”] guy!

Could anything be more clear?

Has the level of political discourse gotten so low that we can no longer forgive a guy for leaving out some quotation marks?

Really, folks, it’s time to give Trump a break. If it makes you happy, call him a buffoon, a moron, a liar, a groper, a narcissist or a bully. Whatever.

But criticizing him for sloppy punctuation crosses the line.

Philip Rotner is an attorney and an engaged citizen who has spent over 40 years practicing law. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he has been associated. Follow Philip on Twitter at @PhilipRotner.

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