Update: We've spoken with Congressman Kucinich's communications director, Nathan White, about why he thinks what Kucinich actually said during his press conference differs in terms of "the intent and the point and context" from what the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
In Kucinich's first quote about Assad's support among Syrians, White notes, the congressman is saying "that there are people who--and he doesn't say all people, he corrects himself and says 'many people'--still have love and respect for the president. Now I'll leave it up to you to determine if that's true. But he was saying people still like the president even if they don't like what the regime is doing" (a Damascus-based journalist also made this point when Kucinich met with Syrian opposition members on Tuesday, according to The Cleveland Plain-Dealer). SANA, White explains, "simply quoted that as [Assad] 'is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians'--not 'some people,' not 'many people,' as 'all people.' And that's where you're getting the mischaracterization."
As for Kucinich's second quote about violence in Syria, White notes that SANA transcribed something to the effect of "it's very important to stop the violence and this is the responsibility of the government." If "it's the responsibility of the government to stop the violence," he argues, "then it's justifying the crackdown that is allegedly occurring." Kucinich, White continues, "did not say it's the responsibility of the government to stop the violence. He said the violence must stop, it's absolutely essential. He says the government understands there has to be changes and that it's up to to the government and the people of Syria--meaning it's up to Syrians--to determine what's going to happen in Syria."
White reiterates that the mischaracterization "probably came from having translators." "Even with the Syrian Arab News Agency," he adds, "I'm hesitant to point the finger and say that it was intentional. I leave that up to other people. But it's clear that it was mischaracterized."
Original Post (4:51 pm)
Earlier today, we wrote about how Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich is getting criticized by his hometown newspaper, left- and right-wing commentators, and U.S.-based Syrian opposition figures for comments made after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week, potentially damaging his anti-war, pro-human rights reputation. To find out what Kucinich actually said, The Atlantic Wire reached out to CNN's Hala Gorani, who was present when Kucinich met with reporters and highlighted a few of his remarks on Twitter and in a TV spot. While Gorani wasn't able to transcribe the full press conference from a recording made by an NPR reporter (we're working on obtaining the audio ourselves), she was able to capture verbatim a couple of Kucinich's statements, which we can compare to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency's report of Kucinich's remarks.
According to SANA, Kucinich told reporters at his Damascus hotel on Tuesday that Assad's regime is taking the need to end violence in the country seriously and that Assad himself enjoys widespread support despite the government crackdown on Syria's uprising. Kucinich claimed SANA "mistranslated" some of his remarks without really distancing himself from the report. Kucinich's communications director, meanwhile, told The Atlantic Wire he believes SANA reporters at the hotel may have used translators while Kucinich was speaking and then translated their Arabic-language reports into English, which could account for the inaccurate transcription. (CNN's Gorani says it is possible that the regime had Arabic-language translators at the event, but can't confirm it one way or the other.) So, let's go to the transcripts. The first, shorter quotes are what appeared in SANA's report. The longer version is Gorani's transcription from the NPR audio.
SANA: "President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians."
Audio recording: "People have separated their estimation of the regime and their estimation of the president, that people still have a love and respect--many people still have a love and respect--for the president but they do not have a love and respect for the regime. So there's a dichotomy that exists and it's important for that to be understood because in Egypt and Tunisia, people did not like the leaders there. They turned them out in Egypt and they still have a regime."
SANA: "All whom I talked to during the last few days spoke about the importance of stopping violence. It is very important to stop violence, and this is a responsibility the government is aware of and deals with seriously."
Audio recording: "I've talked to enough people to come to an understanding of some of the basic issues that exist here. It is absolutely essential to end the violence. The government understands that there has to be changes but that's up to the government and to the people of Syria."
In at least these two instances, it is pretty clear that Kucinich did not deliver the verbatim quotes attributed to him by SANA. That could be due to Kucinich's multiple translation theory or deliberate massaging by a state media outlet looking to make the regime look good. But the actual verbatim quotes as transcribed by Gorani certainly don't leave Kucinich looking much better than before. Take the SANA "highly loved and appreciated" quote. It looks like Kucinich actually used the word "respect" instead of "appreciated." And while he may not have used the word "highly," he was clear enough in his expression that he repeated the phrase "love and respect" twice.
There is a chance, of course, that Kucinich did make the exact statements that appear in the SANA report, and that our incomplete transcription hasn't captured them. But the statements above line up pretty closely in terms of the topics covered. We haven't yet been able to check other quotes from SANA, like Kucinich's alleged statements that "there are some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria" and that "President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this." We'll update if we're able to cross-reference those as well.