BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A purported remark by U.S. Sen. Mario Rubio has ignited a national furor in Argentina. The only problem is that Rubio never said it.
The false report in the newspaper La Nacion on Friday was due to a "transcription error," the newspaper's Washington correspondent later said.
The newspaper incorrectly quoted Rubio as saying Argentina "does things that not even North Korea" does, when in fact the senator never mentioned North Korea in his remarks during a confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador in Buenos Aires.
Other newspapers and the Argentine state-run Telam news agency, apparently following La Nacion's lead, reported the remark as well with some changes and embellishments. The Buenos Aires Herald's story, for instance, reported Rubio as saying that "not even North Korea has dared to mock us in this manner."
The erroneous reports brought another low point in relations between Buenos Aires and Washington.
Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said comparing his government to North Korea's was "foolishness, of which one could laugh if in Argentina it hadn't been made a front-page newspaper headline." House leader Julian Dominguez said the comments "lack the truth without even bothering to check the facts."
The Associated Press, which accurately covered the hearing, checked a video and written transcript. Rubio's only reference to Korea came when he reminded the nominee that Timerman violated diplomatic protocol in 2011 by personally breaking into classified U.S. equipment that had been flown to Argentina for a training session previously authorized by the Argentine government. Timerman's exposure of secret codes for military communications cost U.S. taxpayers more than a million dollars and soured diplomatic relations.
"I do not recall the last time Israel, South Korea, Japan or any of our other real allies seized our equipment," Rubio said.
In a follow-up story Saturday, La Nacion's Washington correspondent said the error resulted from a "transcription error," but even then three headlines on the same page repeated the false quote as if it were true.
The English-language Herald repeated the erroneous quote in more stories and an editorial Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Monday evening, its editor-in-chief promised to publish a correction in Tuesday's paper.
Rubio's spokesman, Alex Burgos, said in an email that the senator "stands by every word he actually said regarding his concerns about this Argentine government under its current leadership."
Full recording of the hearing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSln_fDjn24