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I often find that news agencies will quote political figures in "short form", sometimes quoting a sentence and paraphrasing the rest, and often quoting even less than a sentence. My recent experience prompting this question is this blurb from the Economist:

Joe Biden, America’s president, warned of “Armageddon”, if Russia were to use tactical nuclear bombs in an attempt to turn around its fortunes in Ukraine.

Which quotes Joe Biden using only a single word! For the rest, we are left to hope that the Economist's correspondent got the context just right. Is Joe threatening Armageddon, or is he worried about Armageddon? It's hard to tell.

Doing a web search for 'joe biden armageddon' reveals that basically all the news agencies have quoted him in single-word form.

Surely the words of Joe Biden, the president of the USA, should be more a matter of public record than the words of Joe Schmo, local Nebraska freelance news correspondent? And yet, I simply cannot seem to find anything approaching Biden's full statements surrounding this one word. A sentence, at least, would be nice. Better, a paragraph. Frankly, I feel as though I should have access to the whole speech. But where is it?

How can I find primary sources from the often extrememly short quotes of political figures offered by news organizations?

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    This question reads like a rant, which is grounds for closing. If you want any upvotes, I suggest you write it to be more neutral in tone. Because asking for the sources of speeches and statements is a reasonable question at heart; even if it is too big a question to answer for the whole world, it should be possible to answer for the US presidency.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 7, 2022 at 19:07
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    @StuartF On other SE sites, it is appropriate to have context for a question (e.g. why do you want to know the answer to this question, what is your specific problem, etc). I have attempted to provide context here to illustrate what my problem is, why I have a problem with it, and to illustrate what sorts of things might solve my problem. I am not familiar with the conventions on Politics.SE: Can you be more specific about what in this question needs fixing? Alternatively, please feel free to edit the question within the spirit of the question as you see fit.
    – Him
    Oct 7, 2022 at 19:17
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    Not sure why the downvotes. Is it "the crummy quotes of political figures offered by news organizations" and a bit of a street-y phrasing being used in the question? Edits might be suggested, but otherwise this seems like an interesting question that got an enlightening answer giving us some perspective on news sourcing and research. Which is 110% on topic here. Oct 7, 2022 at 21:06
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    I mean, some cosmetic cuts around crummy and Joe Schmo could be easily replaced with There is value in providing the wider textual context of statements as serious as these or the like. But a "rant", as commented above??? That's a streeeetch. Oct 7, 2022 at 21:13

2 Answers 2

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The reason that lots of news agencies often use the same quotes is that they're either syndicating their stories from AP or Reuters or similar, or are writing their articles using the same pool report. With this in mind, it's often easier to track down quotes like this if we check out official sources first, rather than just using a search engine, which will tend to just bring up other news articles. These sources will of course differ based on the individual in question, but for your example of the US President, a good place to start is the White House's own archive of the President's speeches, which may be found here.

In this specific case, a full transcript doesn't seem to have been provided, but we can go to a lower level and check out the White House Pool Reports, which are posted publicly here. In this specific case, the pool report that news agencies seem to be using is 'Travel Pool #15 (correct #) Remarks/Putin quote':

He said hes spent a lot of time trying to hold NATO together. Theres a lot of changes going on. Spoke of the CHIPS Act and his visit to IBM this morning. Went back to Putin:

We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. Weve got a guy I know fairly well, he said of Putin. Hes not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is you might say significantly underperforming. I don't think there's any such thing as the ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon. I didnt realize how much serious damage the previous administration did to our foreign policy. Pool listened to the remarks from a staircase next to the room where the event was taking place and could not see much. Looked like there were large art pieces on every wall around the room. We were ushered out at 7:53 as Sen. Peters took the mic.

As you can see, these remarks are obviously taken in haste, and don't provide a completely accurate transcript of the speech - it's possible one doesn't exist. Other alternatives might be to track down a video of the event on the C-SPAN archive, if the event was filmed.

For UK government speeches, one might try the Gov.uk News & Communications site, or track down a politician's speech in Parliament using Hansard. Many parliamentary bodies record a full transcript of proceedings and make these available online. To give another example, speeches from the French President are published on the Élysée website.

I'm afraid there isn't a one-stop shop for tracking down transcripts in general, but hopefully that gives you some ideas of where to begin your search in future.

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    C-SPAN is especially useful for any speech made on the floor of either chamber of Congress, because those are always recorded and transcribed (meaning you can do a full-text search over their contents, and they should be reasonably close to reality). With the White House, it's often more challenging, however, because the President can give all sorts of impromptu statements wherever he wants. For SCOTUS, I would recommend Oyez, which has full audio and transcripts of oral arguments, as well as the opinions, but usually no video (cameras are verboten in the Court).
    – Kevin
    Oct 8, 2022 at 19:51
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    @Kevin if you were to post this comment as an answer, I would upvote it.
    – Him
    Oct 9, 2022 at 20:47
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To the general question (not your example) there is also another possible answer.

There may not be a longer or full quote. I describe two different sources of quotes below where the quote doesn't really have a longer context in the way that you imagine.

When people write press releases, they know which parts of the release they would like to have quoted. And in the case of organisations, they know that journalists prefer quotes by specific humans rather than quoting a press release written by anonymous PR people. So the anonymous PR people write part of the press release already as quotes that they attribute to some prominent person from their organization. The person so quoted quickly checks what they supposedly said and give their ok. Sometimes they don't care or don't have the time and the press release is published with their quotes without them having ever seen the quotes. Journalists then quickly scan the press release, potentially without reading all of it, choose one of the quotes in the press release and use that in their articles. Press releases are often published on the web so you can find them as the source of the quote - but sometimes the press releases are sent directly to relevant news organisations and are not published.

Another source of quotes in newspaper articles is entirely synthetic and consists of a process of haggling between the quoted person and the journalist.

It goes like this:

  1. Journalist talks with person A informally, or asks person A some questions that person A answers. It may be explicit or implied that this conversation only happens on the condition that the journalist follows some variation of the rest of the process below.
  2. Journalist later writes their article, incorporating some quotes from their conversation with person A however they see fit.
  3. Journalist sends either just the quotes, the quotes and surrounding text or the whole article for review to person A.
  4. Person A may get the journalist to change the quotes, may rewrite the context around the quotes or may rewrite significant parts of the article.
  5. This may go back and forth until both parties agree to the quotes/article. Of course the journalist can publish the article as is at any time. This carries the risk of damaging their relationship with person A. There is also the risk that person A could publicly deny having said the quotes (truthfully or not) and verbally attack the journalist.

How much leverage person A has depends largely on how much the journalist is on the same political side as person A and how much the journalist hopes to get from person A in the future (like inside knowledge, exclusive coverage, relaxed honest answers, unrelated favours, whatever). But there are also inexperienced and/or lazy journalists who may agree to a lot to just get the article published without a hassle. Especially for journalists early in their career there is a strong incentive to cooperate: If they anger a few people early on, who go on to tell their colleagues not to talk to that journalist, then their career could be over.

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