Two Americans

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Entertaining mistake, from a statement by Barack Obama about Edwards dropping out of the race:

John and Elizabeth Edwards have always believed deeply ... that two Americans can become one.

--Blog entry "More on Edwards," retrieved 30 January 2008, 3:28 p.m. Pacific time

This was very widely quoted, and then very widely corrected--within a few hours after the quote appeared in dozens or hundreds of articles and blogs, it had virtually disappeared from the web.

Took me a while to track down the source of the error: the video of Obama's statement shows him saying, to a crowd at a Denver rally, "John and Elizabeth Edwards believe deeply that two Americans can become--that the two Americas can become one." (Starting around 0:50 in that video.)

A Salon blog entry explains that the Obama campaign sent out an email version of the statement that had it as "Americans." Clearly someone made a mistake somewhere. I wonder if Obama was reading from a teleprompter that contained a typo, and if the words on the prompter were from the same text source as the email that went out. Seems like the alternative would be that a staffer transcribed the statement from the speech but left the error intact, which seems unlikely.

The Obama website now gives it as "two Americas"; don't know whether that was originally posted as "Americans" and then corrected or not. Note also that the printed text has an extra phrase in the middle, a phrase Obama didn't say in the spoken version: "John and Elizabeth Edwards have always believed deeply that we can change this--that two Americas can become one." This leads me even more strongly to suspect that Obama was reading from a printed source (and modifying it on the fly), even though I had always thought he generally spoke without a prompter.

I don't mean to make a big fuss about this; people make mistakes, and typos, all the time. What made it worth an entry is that (a) it's funny, and (b) it was very widely reported for a brief time--and none of the articles that reported it seemed to notice the mistake. And (c) I'm intrigued by the ephemerality of the web--the fact that an error like this can be expunged so quickly that there remains very little evidence that it happened.