The Political Past Tense

THE POLITICAL PAST TENSE….In his column this week griping about blogger bile, Joe Klein lets us in on a trick of the trade. He’s describing a blog post he wrote shortly after the vote on the war supplemental:

Congresswoman Jane Harman of California called as the debate was taking place. “Look, I would love to have cast a vote against Bush on this,” she told me.

….And then Harman changed her position. After we spoke, she voted against the funding. The next day, I was blasted by a number of left-wing bloggers: Klein screwed up! I had quoted Harman in the past tense — common usage for politicians who know their words will appear after a vote takes place. That was sloppy and… suspicious! Proof that you just can’t trust the mainstream media.

Huh. Is it true that politicians routinely speak in the past tense in situations like this? This makes sense (and I’ve done it myself) if you’re taping a radio show that won’t air for a while, which makes the time context unclear to the audience. But in news articles that’s not really true. The time context is usually obvious.

Anyway, I’ve never heard this before, so it’s an interesting tidbit to know. Do all politicians do this? For print and broadcast, or just print? Or what? Inquiring minds want to know.

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