12/13/06 - the perils of journalism

In today's excerpt - in a story that is well-known and much-loved, on November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg address. It was the first speech he had prepared ahead of its delivery in two and one-half years. The accuracy of reporting in the immediate aftermath was mixed:

"Most Americans first learned about the president's remarks from their local newspapers. However in the wry words of a Boston reporter the speech 'suffered somewhat at the hands of telegraphers' as it was wired across the country. The version that ran in the Sentinel of Centralia, Illinois on November 26, 1863 is a striking example of what could be lost in translation:

"Ninety years ago our fathers formed a Government consecrated to freedom and dedicated to the principle that all men are created equal. And [sic] that we are engaged in a war testing the question whether any nation so formed can long endure. And come to dedicate a portion of a great battle-field of that war to those who had died that the nation might live. He could not dedicate consecrate or hallow that ground for it was consecrated above our power to add or detract. The world would not long remember what was said there but it could never forget what was done there and it was rather for it to be dedicated on that spot to the work they had so nobly carried forward that they might not have died in vain and that Government for and of the people based upon the freedom of man may not perish from off the face of the earth."

Actual Text of the Address


Gabor Borritt


For Us the Living


American History


Volume 41 Number 6


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