Monday, April 25, 2011

For the Record

During the contentious debates in Congress over a plan to slash federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Senator John Kyl of Arizona erroneously stated on April 8 that “well over 90%” of the organization’s activity was related to abortion. After constituents and the media complained that the real figure was actually closer to 3% (CNN video), Kyl’s office claimed that the exaggerated number stated on the floor of Congress was “not intended to be a factual statement.” This odd retraction inspired much merriment by late-night comedian Stephen Colbert, who launched a humorous Twitter campaign of non-factual statements about Senator Kyl.

This week’s Time magazine reports that Kyl’s now-infamous 90% figure has been edited from the Congressional Record, the daily transcript of debates and remarks from the floor of Congress. Indeed, the April 8 issue of the Congressional Record now records Kyl as saying: “If you want an abortion you go to Planned Parenthood and that is what Planned Parenthood does.” (PDF page S2289).

But wait. Isn’t the Congressional Record supposed to be the, well, "record" of everything that happens on the floor of Congress? Yes and no. The Library of Congress explains the process on its “About” page: “Members are allowed to edit the transcript of their floor remarks before publication in the daily record or the permanent record.” This situation certainly makes one wonder what choice legislative words may have been lost to history before the age of the 24-hour news cycle.

For more information about the Congressional Record and other congressional publications, check out our research guide to Federal Legislative History.