Lost in transcription

The recorded phone calls of President Lyndon Johnson, held by the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, contain a wealth of historical information, but getting at it is not always easy. Although the recordings are being released to the public, no complete transcripts are available.

The National Archives and Records Administration, which administers the presidential library, does not allow NARA personnel to make transcripts of presidential recordings. The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, which has made the recordings available online, also is transcribing them. But after producing six volumes, the center has only gotten up to recordings made in May 1964. Johnson's staff transcribed some recordings, but their accuracy leaves something to be desired.

For example, in a Nov. 29, 1963, conversation Johnson, according to a White House transcript, tells House Speaker John McCormack, 'I've got a pack them bastards waiting on me.'

The recording reveals that he in fact said, 'I've got the Pakistani Ambassador waiting on me.' 'We always advise users to listen to the tapes themselves and not depend on transcripts,' said Regina Greenwell, senior archivist at the library.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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